A Jewish preschool in Creve Coeur is taking a proactive approach to talking about diversity.
Over the past few months teachers and parents with Temple Israel’s Deutsch Early Childhood Center have taken part in anti-bias workshops taught by the Anti-Defamation League.
The latest on Sunday brought the preschoolers into the mix.
“We’ve learned that students as (young) as 2 years old understand that people look different and understand eye color is different and understand that skin color is different,” said workshop facilitator Anyta Wilson, “and more importantly at 2 and 3 children are already starting to show signs of bias that they’ve picked up from their environment.”
“So if we wait until they get into middle school to start talking about let’s be nice to people who are different that’s a little bit late because they’ve been spending about 11 years of their own life figuring it out themselves and listening to their friends who are figuring it out themselves.”
From learning about how to say hello in different languages to mixing paint to match their skin tone, the point of the workshop was to help the room full of 3- and 4-year-olds notice that there’s lots of variety in how people look and talk.
Wilson told the parents avoiding talking sensitive topics like race can send the wrong message to children.
“If you’re not comfortable when your child is in a grocery store and points to some other customer and says ‘why does that lady (look different)’ … your child will start to notice. Even though they may not know what’s making you uncomfortable they’ll start to notice maybe I’m not supposed to talk about that. Maybe it’s a bad thing that that person is different. Maybe I shouldn’t like people like that,” Wilson said.
Parent Lara Oberman said she wanted to bring her 3-year-old Max because she and her husband, Brian, wanted to know how to talk about diversity with her children.
“Our son and our daughter are growing up in a very diverse world and we want them to be exposed to people of all different colors, races, backgrounds. But we also want to have them be open to asking questions about those differences,” Oberman said.
A public question in a store about a year ago prompted Temple Israel’s preschool to start the Anti-Defamation League workshops.
Education director Leslie Wolf said a mom came to her for advice after her young son asked her why a man at Target had dark skin.
On Sunday Wilson advised parents to make conversations about diversity part of their routine by reading books and doing activities like the ones in the workshop.
“Make sure that some of the books that you’re having them read and the stuff that they’re watching has people of all ages, sizes, and have kids their age figuring out stuff. Doing some problem solving. And that way when you’re in that situation and they say something like ‘Why is that person so fat’ you can say ‘Well remember we have a book that talks about (how) it’s not nice to point at people and folks come in all different sizes,” Wilson said. “You can kind of right there remind them of something else that you’ve already been talking about.”
Wolf said the preschool has an ongoing commitment to talking about diversity and bias, from discussion groups with parents to a partnership with St. Louis Public Schools’ Monroe Elementary.
“We’re going to start with pen pals. We’re going to do video chats with these kids,” Wolf said. “Also with the parent groups … we’re going to have groups goings to different playgrounds in the St. Louis area just to bring more diversity in their families’ lives, which not all of them have but they want to,” Wolf said.
Wilson said the Anti-Defamation League holds a lot of anti-bias workshops, but the Miller Early Childhood Initiative shared Sunday is less common.
“I’ve been doing the Miller trainings probably for about five years now and basically I think this will probably be the 15th one I’ve done,” Wilson said.
Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.