In a recent webinar on creating an inclusive learning environment, we were joined by Kayla Warburton, M.Ed, Educator, parent, and customer success specialist at HiMama! She walked us through how to create classrooms that are set up to accommodate all children and shared real-world examples of bringing anti-oppressive practices into childcare centers. We also gained valuable strategies for how we can learn to understand our own biases and how to address them so that all children feel welcome and safe in their classrooms.
It is important that our childcare center spaces are expecting of everyone so that we don’t have to work to accommodate individuals. Everyone should feel welcome and accepted from the start.
Oppression and privilege in a childcare classroom
What is oppression? Oppression is defined by Kevin Kumashiro: “Whether it be from a feminist, critical, multicultural, queer, or another perspective, there is agreeance that oppression is a situation or dynamic in which certain ways of being are privileged in society while others are marginalized.”
What is privilege? Privilege is defined by the oxford dictionary as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. The example given in the oxford dictionary is “education is a right, not a privilege” – this is a great example and we hear this often.
However, education is denied to people indirectly all too often. For instance, children with English as their second language (ESL) may not have the ability to gain the same knowledge from a math class in English as someone whose first language is English. If an educator does not account for the additional barriers ESL learners have to overcome, then those students are being denied the right to education simply because they do not have the privilege of being native English speakers.
We see education as a right, yet only privileged people have access to it. In another example, consider a family that relies on its children to help with income from a young age. Their focus is not on education.
So, how do oppression and privilege affect the learning space?
They hinder children from engaging and learning. Learning is a vulnerable action and most people will not allow themselves to be vulnerable if a space is not safe for them.
Now, I would like you to think about the ways that oppression and privilege might affect your classroom. It is not easy to admit that our classroom spaces, our words, or even our actions have oppressed others.
The truth is that most people have done something that contributes to another individual’s oppression at some point in their lives. The point is not to condemn anyone. This is something I have done as well!
So, how do we proceed?
We work hard to continuously self-reflect, ask questions, research, and take professional development courses. These are all steps toward expanding your knowledge in ways that will reduce the amount of harm you may cause to others (directly or indirectly) through oppression and privilege.
The more aware we are of the consequences of our actions, the more thoughtful those actions will be.”
For example, if we think about which books to choose from the perspectives of all children in our classroom, we may come to a different conclusion about what material to present or how to present it.
If we are having a group discussion and ask the question of who has been to Disneyland, we need to consider who we are excluding from the conversation. Perhaps we have low-income families who can not afford this. Or a family who just moved and has not had an opportunity to go.
How could we engage this discussion in a way that is not oppressive or privileging to any one group? Maybe we could ask children about their favorite place they have been, or somewhere they would really like to go. The ladder is more open-ended this way and allows everyone to start from a relatively even playing field.
Intersectionalities in childcare curriculum
Intersectionality is a framework that describes how our overlapping social identities relate to social structures of oppression, power, and privilege. Intersectionality merges many identity markers to create a more truthful and complex personal identity.
Why does this matter in childcare?
Because people do not fit into neat little boxes and every child’s circumstances are unique. Consider a child with a physical disability from a low socio-economic household, a child from an LGBTQ+ family who is biracial, or a child who is an immigrant, does not speak English, and has ADHD.
These individuals have multiple entry points for oppression.
Knowing this allows educators to use this lens when they are lesson planning. Understanding that not all books about black people represent all black people, and that not all LGBTQ+ movements represent all members of the LGBTQ+ community–in other words, recognizing the intersectionalities in your classroom–will help to ensure the environment and materials are truly inclusive.
Of course, it may be difficult to find materials with an accurate representation of each child in your specific class, but this is when you can get creative! For example, making books together as a class is such a wonderful way to ensure each child feels represented. You can make books that follow a journey of certain extended activities in your classroom, books with children’s art, books with photos of the children and/or their families, books that have photos the children took, etc. You can even write a group story and have the children create the images for each page. All of these options and more will help ensure that all children feel represented in the classroom space.
Intersectionalities create a space, represented by all the overlaps in the chart above, where an individual may feel part of and not part of a group at the same time.
How to expect instead of accommodate in your classroom
Practice expecting all children in your lesson planning. This means planning activities that all children have equal access to, rather than modifying an aspect of an activity for an individual. Consider whether your modified version could be the main activity you plan. Would any children lose out doing it this way for everyone?
For example, if you are playing hide and seek and have a child with a sight impairment in your class, rather than assigning a partner to that individual child, consider playing a version of hide and seek where everyone gets a partner.
Expecting all children in your classroom environment means having representative materials always accessible. For example, Black History Month is not the only time to have materials with black characters, these should be available year-round.
Finally, maintain a welcoming space in every room of your childcare center. Think about who the space is currently welcoming to: if the answer isn’t everyone, something needs to change.
We should not have to modify and accommodate daily. For instance, if you have a child who has mobility issues, you should not be clearing a path anytime they need to move around. Your space should be set up in a way that the child can navigate with as little assistance as possible.
Never make assumptions about what an individual needs, just ask them or their caregiver!