If the idea of talking with your child about racial diversity makes you break out in a cold sweat, take a deep breath.
Try one of these simple, fun activities to spark conversation with your child about racial diversity. Together you can explore and answer your child’s questions about race through play.
Why should I teach my child about racial diversity?
Believe it or not, your child notices racial diversity. In fact, kids begin showing racial preferences as early as six months of age. Even if your child hasn’t started asking questions, he or she is drawing conclusions about racial diversity by observing the world around him or her. If we don’t take the time to help our children understand racial diversity, the world will do it for them.
Fun Activities to Teach Kids About Racial Diversity
Activity 1: Skin Colored Playdough
Who doesn’t love playdough? Whip up a batch of this super simple DIY skin-colored playdough and spend the afternoon creating your community out of playdough.
Be intentional about creating different shades of each color.
Activity 2: What color paint are you?
Even within the same family, skin color varies. We want to help children realize that these variances are a normal part of life.
Step 1: Head to your local hardware store and explore the paint chips section.
Step 2: Find the paint-chip that most closely matches your skin color.
Step 3: “Rename” your skin tone using the name of the paint color that matches your skin. Instead of just being white, brown, or black we can become Winthrop Peach, Cinnamon Brandy, or Sarsparilla.
While playing with paint chips, ask your child:
- How does having a fun name for your skin color make you feel?
- Should we find a funny name for your hair/eyes/clothes too?
- Do you see how many different colors are here? Did you realize there were so many colors in the world?
- Remind your child that skin color is another feature that makes us unique, just like hair and eye color, no two people are exactly the same.
Extension: You can take your paint chips home and use them to make a collage or self-portrait to remember your experience.
Activity 3: M&M Exploration
This is one of my favorite activities about race because it is simple and delicious!
Step 1: Open a pack of M&Ms and ask your child to explore them. How many different colors are there? How many total M&Ms are there?
Step 2: Have your child separate the candies by color.
Step 3: Conduct a taste testing of each color.
Step 4: Ask your child, do the different colors have different tastes? Why not?
Step 5: Explain that people are similar. Although we all look different on the outside, we are made of the same ingredients on the inside. The M&M is made of chocolate. We are made of skin, bones, blood, organs, etc. No matter what someone looks like on the outside, they have the same (biological) ingredients as you do on the inside.
Activity 4: Learning From Crayons
“We could learn a lot from crayons… (They) all are different colors, but they all exist very nicely in the same box.” -Source Unknown
Step 1: Give your child a sheet of construction paper and a crayon of the same color.
Step 2: Ask him or her to draw you a picture.
Within a few seconds, your child will begin to complain that the crayon “doesn’t work”.
Step 3: Ask your child why he or she thinks the crayon isn’t working and how we could solve the problem. If he or she isn’t sure, give some tips. Encourage him or her to try the crayon on a different color of paper, or to use a different color of crayon.
Once the child sees that the crayon is “working” take a look at the crayon box and begin a conversation that goes something like this:
“Isn’t it good that we have all these different colors? Imagine if we only had one color in the whole world..then we wouldn’t be able to draw! People are very similar. If all people looked and thought alike, our world wouldn’t work either. It is good that the world has a variety of people.
Sometimes people get upset with one another because we look and think differently. We have to learn to be like the crayons a get along together, even though we are different. We can make much prettier pictures when we work together and use all of the colors.”
Activity 5: Self Portraits
For this activity, you can use the free printable in the Families Embracing Diversity Talking to Children About Race eBook or just a regular sheet of paper.
Using your crayons (make sure you have a variety of skin-colored crayons) draw self-portraits. Encourage your child to accurately portray themselves as much as possible. Keep this age-appropriate- I mean encourage him or her to use a color that matches the skin and hair they actually have to draw their stick figure.
If your child chooses a color that doesn’t accurately represent him or her, don’t scold or correct but ask why he or she chose that color. It could be that he chose green because it is his favorite color or he wanted to be the Hulk that day.
Be sure to draw your own portrait of your child and compare the two drawings. If you have your paint chips, you could also use those to create the self-portraits.
After drawing a self-portrait, encourage your child to draw one or two family members or friends. When the drawings are finished, take some time to talk about what is unique or special about each person.
Jot down something your child appreciates about each person below their drawing. (This makes a great gift!)
Point out the fact each and every person in the world is unique and that we all are special in our own way.
Activity 6: The Egg Experiment
This is a great science-related activity about racial diversity.
Step 1: Purchase white eggs and brown eggs.
Step 2: Place one of each on the table and allow your child to explore the eggs using their five senses. Ask your child guiding questions like: Why do you think one is brown and one is white? Is there any difference in how they feel, smell, and taste? Do you think they look different on the inside?
Step 3: Break the eggs and again use the five senses to explore.
Step 4 (optional): Cook the eggs and taste them.
Do you know why some eggs are brown and some are white? White eggs are laid by white-feathered chickens and while brown eggs are laid by red-feathered chickens.
The brown eggs are more expensive and many people think brown eggs are better but they are actually the exact same. The brown eggs cost more because the red-feathered chickens are bigger and have to eat more so it costs the farmer more to care for them. (According to BestFoodFacts.org)
People are similar. A long time ago, people with light skin used to think they were more important than people with dark skin because the lighter-skinned people made dark-skinned people work as slaves (that means they had to work for them without being paid).
Now we know that is not true. Light skin and dark skin do not make people good or bad. Our actions are what makes us good or bad. On the inside, we all look exactly the same. Neither group of people is better than the other.
Activity 7: The Spiderweb
This activity takes things a little bit further and illustrates the impact of racism and how difficult it is to remove from a culture.
- Place your family in a circle.
- Take turns throwing the ball of yarn in different directions across the circle so that you end with a spider web. (Optional) If you really want to go deep into the illustration, each time you throw the yarn, say something mean someone has said to you. If that is too much or possibly triggering for your kids, choose a lighter topic like going on a picnic game.
- Once you have a big, tangled spider web. Ask your family to untangle it. Allow them to attempt for a while and then pause for a chat.
Did you see how easy it was to throw the yarn back and forth but how hard it is to untangle? Racism and discrimination are similar. Although it is often easy for people to make mean comments or treat people differently based on the color of their skin, it is not so easy to undo the damage later, once we’ve realized our actions were wrong.
Just like you remember mean things people have said and done to you, our world remembers the mean and difficult events racism causes. Although many people now realize that the color of our skin shouldn’t divide us, we are still trying to untangle the web.
It will take time and we all have to work together. The best thing you can do to help untangle the web is to be kind to everyone you meet, regardless of what the person looks like, where the person was born, or what language they speak.
Kids learn and understand the world through play. Help them understand racial diversity in the same way.
It is our job as parents to help our children learn how to view the world and the people they share it with. Pick one of the activities above and start a conversation with your child about racial diversity today!
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