Each year, June marks Pride Month: a time to celebrate, learn, and reflect on the history, struggles, and inclusion of the LBGTQ+ community. Pride Month is an opportunity to share and express being proud of our identities and draw awareness to the issues that LGBTQ+ people face.
As an LGBTQ+ educator, Pride Month has been a time to have meaningful conversations with my colleagues, as well as the children in my care and their families. Being able to celebrate Pride in my childcare programs has allowed me to be more open about my personal identity and reinforce concepts of inclusivity, diversity, and belonging which I strive for throughout the year.
Having worked in a number of childcare centers, I have often heard my fellow educators’ reservations about speaking to children about Pride Month and LGBTQ+ topics in their classrooms. Some question whether the topics are appropriate for young children to learn about and discuss, and many are unsure of how to handle any backlash they may receive from families or colleagues. Some fear they do not have all the information to share with children or are not sure how to approach the topic, and so they tend to avoid it altogether.
While these concerns are certainly valid, I think it is especially important for educators to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and discuss topics that may be uncomfortable for others. We have to remember that we are shaping the minds of young children, and how we talk about people inside and outside of our own community will shape how the children in our programs think.
What conversations should we be having about the LGBTQ+ community with the children in our care?
1. Focus on acceptance and celebrating diversity
As early childhood educators, we are already experts at creating inclusive environments, recognizing that children come from diverse backgrounds, and teaching empathy and understanding. We already have the foundation to extend this to social issues and LGBTQ+ topics.
When bringing up LGBTQ+ topics in childcare, keep that focus on acceptance, inclusion, and diversity. We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, family structures and have our own identities. Pride Month is about celebrating all of our differences and being accepting and kind to everyone.
Children may ask what Pride Month is, or what LGBTQ+ means. When these questions come up, explain that Pride is about celebrating who we are, being accepting and kind to people regardless of who they are and who they love, and including everyone.
The best way to teach anything to children, as we know, is through modeling. Take note of your language and responses when children ask questions. If you are already talking about including others, accepting people for who they are, and allowing children to be themselves, the concepts discussed around Pride Month will be a natural extension of your program.
2. Unlearning to learn
Society is becoming increasingly accepting of LGBTQ+ people and more people are challenging harmful ideas around stereotypes and gender expression. A lot of these concepts were simply not as mainstream as they are today when we were growing up. Having a good foundation for teaching children about gender and sexuality is unlearning a lot of harmful biases that we were accustomed to in the past, challenging those internal biases we may have, and learning new ways to think about things.
For example, we often hear people talking about “boy” and “girl” toys, colors, or activities. Some educators address their group as “boys and girls.” This can be very alienating for children who don’t feel that they fit in the gender binary, children who are transgender, or children who just have different interests. Making an effort to think in a more gender-neutral approach and challenging those stereotypes can only benefit your program.
As educators, we are lifelong learners by nature. We are always putting in the time for professional development, researching new ideas around curriculum and pedagogy, and learning and adapting to new research in child development.
While we can easily extend our learning to LGBTQ+ issues, rights, history, and inclusion, it is important to be mindful of how we learn and the source(s) of our information. If you aren’t familiar with a term, take time to research it. This is a great jumping-off point to empowering yourself to have the information to give to others.
Listening to the LGBTQ+ community and seeking out information written by LGBTQ+ people is the best way to learn. Seek out community resources in your area and talk to people who have experiences that differ from your own. It is important to get information that is a good representation of the LGBTQ+ community.
If we are empowered to learn and grow, we can share this with the children and give them the confidence to learn and seek out information that they don’t know on their own. If you don’t know the answer to something a child asks you, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know! This is always a great opportunity to learn together and teach children how to find the answers they are looking for.
3. Create an LGBTQ+ safe environment
You may have LGBTQ+ youth in your programs, and letting children and families know that your classroom is a safe place and that you are a safe person to talk to is the first step in making your childcare center a comfortable space for learning.
Include pictures or posters of diverse families in your classroom. Find some books that deal with LGBTQ+ topics that are developmentally appropriate for your age group and read them to the children at circle time. Talk about how everyone’s family is different and all the different ways families can be made up.
Being more gender-neutral in our language: how we talk about colors and activities, being mindful of what words we use to describe boys and girls, and not limiting ourselves to a heteronormative viewpoint are crucial in creating a safe space.
4. Open a dialogue with your center
If you are worried about potential backlash from talking to children about Pride, start a dialogue with your colleagues and supervisor. What is the culture of your center? How will your center support you if you receive a negative comment from a parent or fellow educator? Is your center celebrating Pride Month or showing support by having a rainbow color day, or hanging a Pride flag in the hallway?
Starting a conversation with your center and knowing how your center supports and advocates for people in the LGBTQ+ community will give you the confidence to discuss these topics with the children and families.
5. Remember children are incredibly capable
We always talk about how children are like sponges: every bit of information they take in in the early years shapes how they think about themselves, others, and the world. Children are also incredibly open-minded! They learn what we teach, and they aren’t born with biases. When you respect people’s identities, gender, or pronouns, it makes a huge impact on how those children will think about the LGBTQ+ community. If you are open about the topic, children will be more open to learning and asking questions.
Children are also exposed to many more diverse topics nowadays: young children hear and see things about LGBTQ+ people in books, on TV, and on the internet. They may have LGBTQ+ friends or family members or are LGBTQ+ themselves.
As society shifts to being more open and accepting of LGBTQ+ people, more children are being open about their own identities at a younger age. We need to be open as educators to discussing these topics with them, not shying away from them or omitting them entirely. Children need to see us as a safe space and a resource, as well as an advocate, as they may be discovering their own identity or have questions and don’t feel they have any way to find an answer.
Discussing the LGBTQ+ community in your childcare center
It may seem like an uncomfortable topic to discuss in your program, but including the reality of LGBTQ+ people’s experiences is crucial in fostering an inclusive and safe environment for your children and families. Being prepared with answers to questions that you can anticipate arising around this time of year can help you feel more confident, but don’t wait until the topic comes up to introduce LGBTQ+ stories and visuals to your program. Remember who you are advocating for and that we are shaping the minds of the next generation every single day!