A friend of mine recently took a 10-day vacation to the Bahamas. While she was away I watched her adorable Yorkshire Terrier named Darcy. Every morning and every night (plus a few extra times) Darcy and I went for a walk. During those times, I realized we humans have a lot to learn from our four-legged friends. Dogs share the same child-like wonder with their surroundings that preschoolers experience. Man’s best friend seems to approach the world and the creatures in it with curiosity and love. Wouldn’t it be great to model and encourage some of these very same traits in our children? A lifetime of love or hate, prejudice or anti-bias can all be effected by lessons learned in childhood. Let’s look at how Darcy handled it…
Lesson One – It’s great to get out, stretch and take a walk in the community…every day!
While I was watching Darcy, I took 20+ walks I probably would not have taken. I am a walker, however the cold and snow has kept me on the treadmill versus pounding the pavement. Since I had Darcy, I had to walk outside and it was wonderful! The cold air was invigorating and refreshing. In the wee hours of the morning in NYC, there is a world of activity from seafood deliveries, to joggers, commuters to green markets. Everyone seems to be happy before the push of the crowds set in for the day. Darcy taught me to put aside routine and explore the world! There is so much to see and so much to do: it’s a shame to not get out and walk everyday!
Lesson Two – Smell the world!
On our walks, Darcy and I didn’t quite hit the 15-minute mile pace of my usual walks. We walked and stopped, walked and stopped. Darcy likes to stop and smell the roses and the garbage and sidewalk and the walls… She likes to look into parks, peak in a shop and check out stray objects. So many times on walks, people are lost in thought on a familiar route or in a rush to get where they are going. Children share more of this hyper-awareness and excitement. “What is that?” “Why is he standing there?” and so on. This curiosity should be encouraged! Once again, there is so much to learn from our surroundings and from others. Take the time to answer questions and curiosities. Stop and smell the world with your child!
Lesson Three – You should greet everyone that comes across your path, regardless of their color, size or company.
Darcy, the Yorkshire Terrier from New York City is a lover of all! It doesn’t matter the size, the color or the brand of the leash, Darcy greets dogs that pass by and shares her own dog version of a hand-shake (or sniff.) She meets so many friends along the way instead of making a judgment about a fellow canine being too young or too old, to nice looking or potentially troublesome.
Parents can easily incorporate some of lesson three (anti-bias) into their own home environments by following some simple strategies from “Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves” by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards.
- Encourage children to express their emotions and work out conflicts – Read books about feelings, play games making faces to portray emotions and give them words for their feelings. When there are conflicts, use dolls to role play and solve problems.
- Never allow personal attributes to be a reason for exclusion or limiting children – An example of this would be a game “just for girls.” Ask children to think of a role so everyone can play. Make it clear a person’s identity is never a reason to exclude. To respect children’s choice of playmates help them learn language like ” This time, we want to play by ourselves. We will play with you another time.”
- Help children to try all activities – Encourage all children to play with dolls, blocks, dress-up clothes and vehicle toys although they may have a different style of play. They will experience a rich range of materials and activities.
- Use holiday traditions and celebrations – Celebrate holidays throughout the year, in a way that honors and explores diversity. For example, on International Women’s Day show photos of significant women in the world that have impacted the lives of children.
- Customize December Holidays – Read books about all the winter holidays including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza. Find and display materials that illustrate Santa’s or children from multiple races and discuss traditions.
Preschoolers can learn more about different shades of skin color through in ‘The Colors of Us’ by Karen Katz
There is so much to learn from being out in the world and being a part of the community. Think what a difference we could make in the world if we spent our time focusing on what makes people special versus judging what makes us different.