How to Explore Race with a Toddler Through Reading

My daughter is four years old and is multiracial. She is Irish and Trinidadian from my side and black and Puerto Rican from my husband’s side. Here are 5 things related to reading that we do to help explore race and her racial identity with her. 

  1. Diverse Books: We read to her every day. Reading is her favorite thing to do so this is already part of her routine. We ensure that she has as many diverse books as possible. We like books that have a variety of characters, strong female characters and black characters. We also focus on non-fiction books related to diverse historical figures to emphasize that these people really lived and made a difference in the world. 
  2. Focus on Action: While reading the non-fiction books, we focus on their actions. The steps they took, how they stood up and spoke up and why. We impress upon her that these were regular people but they did extraordinary things like speaking up for those that did not have a voice. That standing up for what’s right is the good thing to do and that’s what she should do. We then give her everyday examples she can relate to and reinforce that she will never be punished for standing up for herself or others. She associates people of color with strength and courage (as it should be!). 
  3. Celebrate the Differences: While reading, we spend time pointing out the characters and what is different and the same about them. We then correlate those differences and similarities back to people she knows- like me, my husband and other family members. We want her to see that everyone is different and this is something that should be recognized and celebrated. 
  4. Words and Tone: We never speak down to our daughter. We make sure to use words that she knows but we also sprinkle in new, bigger words to help her expand her vocabulary. While reading and discussing, no question is off-limits and no topic is too controversial. She is free to ask anything and we will answer it. There are words and topics in some of these books that are not easy to understand but we try our best to break it down into concepts that she can relate to and comprehend (like slavery, oppression, racism). 
  5. Her World: We relate everything we read and see back to her world and the things she knows. If we read about a child in a wheelchair, we relate it back to another time she saw a child in a wheelchair. We stop and spend time on the subject. We explore all aspects of it- why might this child be in a wheelchair? What is different about her? What is the same about her? How would we treat her if we met her tomorrow? We try and make it real for her and relate it to her world as she knows it. 

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