In the 2s, we begin our social justice curriculum by exploring ourselves. We consider what we like/are drawn to, what makes us unique and inevitably what connects us to others. When children enter the classroom, they are often for the first time, encouraged to participate and engage in a community that is most likely more complex and multi-dimensional than what they’ve grown accustomed to or seen. To support children in navigating and working within their new school community, they are introduced to a variety of routines and structures that help them connect with others more meaningfully with adults and peers.
When working alongside and with others, we encourage children to ask for materials and tools they would like to play with as well as provide language for them to use if they would like to express to others that they are not quite finished with a material, tool or exploration. The modeling and acquisition of appropriate language supports children in learning to transition from comfortable parallel play to productive cooperative play.
Through the creation and exploration of family books we learn about the variety of family structures within our class and that each of our families are unique. We invite families into our classroom to share traditions or special activities.
At this age we also feel that representation is important as children are learning about the world around them. We focus on providing books and materials that represent a diverse community. Many of our read alouds include characters from a varied a variety of racial, ethnic and social backgrounds such as City Shapes, Corduroy, Regards to the Man on the Moon. We provide toys and materials that represent multi-cultural families and children such as figures in the block area and babies in dramatic play.
3/4s — All About Me, Family Connections
In the 3/4s, we begin our social justice curriculum by exploring the complex concept of identity. This is a collaborative process involving teachers, the children, and, of course, their families. We begin this journey by exploring skin color. We will be noticing and examining the colors of our own skin, as well as discussing similarities and differences in the classroom community. We will then move to likening our skin colors to food items in an exciting, hands-on, concrete activity. Parents become active participants in this study, accompanying their child in finding a food item that best matches their skin color. Children then bring in this item and share it with their peers. We will also approach this topic from a scientific perspective, exploring how melanin affects our skin color. Many read alouds will accompany this curriculum such as The Skin We Live In; Same, Same, but Different; Happy In Our Skin; All the Colors We Are; and Skin Again. We have spent the past two years honing and developing social justice curriculum across the ages. At Corlears we strive to foster change-makers and leaders in this world, and this is where the work starts. We are continually reflecting and assessing our practice along the way, with the ultimate goal of building the foundation for our children’s future social justice learning.
K — Identity and Community
In Kindergarten we begin our social justice curriculum by discussing ways that we can become a kindergarten community. As a class we brainstorm ways that we can keep each other safe, care for each other, and make everyone feel that they are an important member of our community. We agree to be aware of how our words and actions can impact others and discuss strategies that we can implement to assure that everyone feels respected and valued. As we continue to grow as a community we begin to explore what makes each of us special and unique. This self exploration leads us to ask the questions, What does identity mean and what is my identity? Through read-aloud stories we discover that we have a lot of similarities and same interests, yet at the same time we can appreciate our differences. The children begin to notice there are many different skin colors that they want to describe, and from this curiosity we read The Colors of Us. This story celebrates the variety of skin tones and the children describe these shades using concrete words such as food and everyday items. Through self-exploration, the children begin to seek out their skin color and proudly identify their shade of brown. They also become curious in learning about the skin colors of their peers. Through these activities, each child discovers the name of their skin color, takes ownership of this part of their identity, and this translates into their independent work, such as our self-portraits.
6/7s — Identity and Taking Care of Our Community
In the 6/7s we continue to explore identity and the ways community and culture impact and influence how we understand ourselves and others. Exploring aspects of the city and the people who live within it, allows students to venture outside of their school experience and begin to develop a deeper understanding of community and diversity. The children explore big thinking questions like: How does our community shape our identities? How does our identity impact our community? What is race, culture and ethnicity? How do we develop cultural bias and prejudices? How can we undo these biases?
Using real-life experiences and inquiry, art explorations, and a variety of picture books and reflective discussions, the 6/7s begin to develop more clarity around who they are as individuals and to understand and embrace difference.
8/9s — Identity, Stereotypes and Activism
The 8/9s focus on different ideas and themes of Social Justice and community throughout their curriculum. Much of this exploration is grounded in our work around identity. We use the exploration of our own identities as a launch pad to thinking about the stereotypes and injustices members of our own communities may face, concentrating at first on gender stereotypes. Our focus then shifts to thinking about ways to dismantle and/or change these biases. Once we have built an understanding of what stereotypes are and how they affect people, students are able to seek out stereotypes in our social studies contexts (Immigration, Harlem Renaissance, The Lenape & New Amsterdam). Our social studies work often features a piece of action-based writing, in which students use their voices to advocate against the injustice of biases. In all social justice based work and discussions, we help support students as they expand and deepen their understandings of identity. These conversations are teacher facilitated and guided by the interests, questions and comments of the students. The conversations can and do, look different from year to year, and class to class. In the 2018-2019 school year we have discussed identity through marginalization, and the experiences of immigrants from long ago and in modern day.
10s — Identity, Social Justice and Action
As students grow into their fifth grade year, they develop a larger awareness of the world around them as well as their ability to impact it. To encourage this growth, the fifth graders host a variety of activists based in New York City working for a variety of causes: climate change, disability justice, labor rights, and free speech, to name just a few. Recurring morning meetings also give them an opportunity to discuss current events, share what they know, and gain clarification around lingering questions or concerns. Identity work also continues in this space, and as older students they are able to speak more clearly about their different and intersecting identities, and how these are related to larger social structures.
To bring their learning to life, each year the 10s choose one cause to work on in support of people or communities outside of Corlears, based on current issues and their innate sense of fairness and equity. They brainstorm on how they can be of help, come up with strategies for achieving their goals, and reflect on what they’ve learned from the process.