As early educators, Horizons knows the power of example and spoken word. Children are observant, and they absorb interactions like sponges in water. We take this responsibility seriously and work to create classrooms and playrooms that reflect a diverse and inclusive environment for every child in our care.
This piece is the first in a three–part series highlighting the intersection of Horizons’ work and the impact of systemic racism. In this article, we’re sharing insights that might be helpful to families or other childcare providers looking for best practices we’ve found to be successful in our work with children, particularly those who have experienced homelessness. In the weeks ahead, we’ll dive deeper into how Horizons addresses equity as an educational institution and how we’re taking steps to operate in a landscape where diverse perspectives ensure Horizons’ ability to continue fulfilling its mission.
The financial and social realities families living in poverty face are often the result of systemic racism that has existed for generations. In impoverished families, young children miss out on early education because it’s not within financial reach. Flipping the norm upside down, Horizons’ high-quality early education program is only open to children living in poverty. We also meet children where they are, installing trauma informed playrooms in 90+ shelters across Massachusetts. By providing these experiences beyond our education centers, we ensure an additional 1,300 children have access to early education each week, even if they are not able to attend the classroom setting in our Boston sites. We recognize families’ unique challenges and work to foster a safe, diverse, and nurturing learning environment, using anti-bias curriculum and best practices to encourage a child’s optimal potential.
“Inclusion and education are paramount – but for a child between birth and five, setting the foundation for equitable thinking begins with love and language,” shared Sheila O’Neil, Horizons’ Executive Director of Programs. Ensuring that curriculum, philosophies and classroom materials map to this inclusive world view is important too, which is why educators and staff at Horizons have vetted resources for young children on the topics of inclusion and diversity. Below is a list of a few of their favorites:
Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism with Sesame Steet and CNN
This 60-minute kid-friendly program features children and a cast of colorful Sesame Street characters to help explain what racism and privilege is, why people are protesting (and what a protest means), and how everyone can do their part to help promote equity in their communities.
Hair Love – Oscar-Winning Short Film by Matthew A. Cherry and Sony Pictures Animation
In this 7-minute short, Hair Love features a Dad giving his daughter’s natural hair care and style that promotes self-confidence and his love for her. This story celebrates embracing what makes you unique and what connects you to the people you love. This is also available as a children’s book by the same author.
Happy in our Skin by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Lauren Tobia
“Sometimes skin has freckles or birthmarks or dimples” and comes in a wide spectrum of colors and cultures. This book teaches young children to be happy in their skin and uses simple rhymes to convey the message of self-love and social acceptance.
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story – By Reem Faruqi, Illustrated by Lea Lyon
Lailah is a ten-year-old girl who is fasting for Ramadan and finds it challenging to explain this to her classmates who don’t celebrate this significant part of her family’s culture. She finds some sage advice from a helpful librarian on how to speak to this part of her life with her non-Muslim peers.
Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! Celebrating Diversity with Empathy. By Maria Dismondy, Illustrated by Donna Farrell
This story features a young boy named Gabe on his first day of school in America. He doesn’t speak English as a first language, and his story demonstrates how kindness speaks louder than words.
Horizons is mindful of how the materials and toys children interact with shape their outlook of themselves and the world. Representation is incorporated in numerous ways beyond books – from crayon boxes and markers that reflect a variety of skin tone shades, to dolls and puppets of diverse races and the narratives that accompany them. These mindful choices are present in both classrooms and Playspaces to ensure children are exposed to characters with whom they can relate while also expanding their world view.
Horizons’ Playspace team has also created a helpful Tip Sheet used in Playspaces to help parents and trusting adults talk about race and diversity in ways children will understand. Tips include spreading optimism, modeling kindness, and sharing diverse and engaging resources with children like music and art.
There’s so much we can all do to advance a more equitable world. If you’re a parent of a young child, we hope these resources help move you and your family forward on that journey. The team at Horizons will continue to find ways and implement change to build classrooms and environments where each and every child and family member is welcomed and treated with the dignity, respect and opportunity they deserve.
This piece was written by Andrea Drag, a regular contributor to Horizons’ Blog.