Identity, Social Justice, and Activism

Kindergarten–2nd Grade Curriculum

by April Greene, Tasha Jackson-Jones, and Kristin Peck
We firmly believe that we cannot expect children to engage in fluent conversations around identity, equity, and inclusion if these topics are, in any way, “off limits” for young children. Instead, we believe that if we normalize difference and teach children how to share and appreciate difference, the groundwork for equity and inclusion conversations will be that much more firmly laid.
Below are very brief excerpts from a presentation we gave at the 2017 NAIS People of Color Conference on how we teach young children about identity, social justice, and activism at Lowell.

IDENTITY

Developing cultural competency in Kindergarten–2nd grade at Lowell begins with children’s identities and helping them explore “all the parts” of who they are. Teachers focus on the major social and cultural identifiers that children bring forth and build from there. Then, teachers help children in their classroom communities celebrate both the ways they are the same and the ways they are different. As Tasha Jackson-Jones explains, “Children will naturally gravitate toward commonality. We want them to develop confidence in and appreciation for unique experiences and perspectives, and in order to do that we need to normalize difference.”
• Kindergarten classes spend a significant amount of time engaging in getting-to-know-you activities that celebrate each child and encourage classmates to take a genuine interest in one another. Family photos are shared, and children create self-portraits and an “All About Me” book to highlight various aspects of their identities.

• First graders explore the origin of their names. In a lesson adapted from Teaching Tolerance, they identify the different ways they learn and what their bodies need in order to do their best learning. In the model town unit, they answer the question Does our community work for everyone? and consider how their town could meet the needs of people who rely on public transportation, have disabilities, or who don’t have housing.

• In 2nd grade, children review what they have learned about identity in Kindergarten and 1st grade. Several of the major social and cultural identifiers are named and presented as categories for more specific identifiers. Students then create self-portraits that highlight various aspects of their identity, touching on at least four different categories of identifiers.

SOCIAL JUSTICE and activism

Part of helping children develop a strong sense of self includes showing them that they each have a voice and they can use that voice in service of a cause they are passionate about. This lays the groundwork for teachers to begin addressing issues of “fairness” and ways that children can make a difference in the world.

•Through a regular “News Share” activity, Kindergartners explore what is fair and unfair in the world around them. They begin to learn important questions to ask such as Why are things the way they are? Are they fair? What would that feel like if it were me? How can I help?

• In 1st grade, students study community heroes and think about how they could be a hero. They set personal goals and identify ways they can take action to help their communities—for example, reading to Pre-Primary children, participating in the Peace March, or cleaning up the front field.

• Second graders identify “big problems” (global warming, natural disasters, homelessness, cyber hacking, people hurting people who are poor) and are asked to consider Which of these big issues do you think that you, as a 2nd grader, could use your voice to do something about? Teachers then support children in taking the next steps to raise awareness about the issue or make a positive change.