Tools for talking about race with kids

Last year, the founder of local Facebook group Raising Race Conscious Kids in and around Oak Park reached out to us. Although she had been raised to be “color-blind,” Andrea Kovach wrote, she is raising her 3- and 6-year-olds differently because “research has shown that instead of dismantling structural racism, that way of parenting just reinforces it.” The library would be the perfect place to have “race explicit” storytimes, she added.

In July we held a Race Conscious Readers family storytime workshop, sharing tools and strategies for caregivers and educators, especially those who are white, to talk about race with young children.

“Developmentally, kids notice difference. It’s about engaging in the conversation rather than shying away,” said Multicultural Learning Librarian Naomi Priddy. “Otherwise, a kid learns that talking about race is bad, that difference itself is bad or shameful. Then maybe they hear another kid say something at school, and it snowballs. This is about disrupting that process.”

Storytime with Multicultural Collection

Talking points

Ask questions. Instead of rushing in for a “teachable moment,” ask kids what they already know and where their question is coming from: “What do you think? Did you see or hear something that made you ask that?”

Prepare what you’ll say. Think about how you want to talk about big topics before they ask, and practice out loud.

Take time before you answer. “Wow, what an interesting and important question. Let me think and learn a little more before I answer.”

Share your feelings. “It makes me mad/sad/confused when I see _________.”

Share when you are learning too. “I want to learn more about that too! I am going to read a few books, and then let’s talk more about it.”

Revisit missed opportunities. If you said the wrong thing or nothing at all, it’s not too late. “Remember in the store when you said___________? I want to talk more about it.”

Something Happened in Our Town

Check it out

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, designed to be read with kids ages 4–8, shows the different ways a white family and a black family discuss a police shooting of a black man. It models conversations about race, sparks discussions about racial injustice, engages young children, and provides messages of acceptance, empowerment, and community support.

Neighborhood Services Librarian Sarah Yale: “News cycles are full of stories of violence and racial injustice right now, and young people are seeing and hearing about it. Having a book like Something Happened to use as a jumping-off point for discussion about bias and communities in crisis is an invaluable resource. I particularly like that this picture book from our Multicultural Collection follows both a white family and a black family and includes extensive back matter to support adult caregivers.”