the Dream to Preschoolers
our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, inclusion classroom of three
and four year olds at the Bank Street Family Center, we teach
the children from the very beginning that every single one of
them is special and unique, and that differences are something
to be valued. We also teach them to use their words to negotiate
problems and we help them to respect each other’s feelings. The
classroom is an ideal environment, and we hope to send them into
the world with these same values. This year our class was invited
to an assembly to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. As a team of teachers, we reflected on how to introduce
this piece of history and the importance of the work of a great
leader to our children. We realized that the children were already
familiar with the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. because
they are taught his teachings in the classroom every day.
The history of segregation and the Civil Rights movement is complex,
and we needed to present it to the children in a concrete way
that they could relate to. We decided that a combination of literature,
discussion and song would give the children images, words and
key vocabulary to hold onto as they worked through the concepts.
We started off the circle-time by asking the children what they
knew about Martin Luther King, Jr. and only a few of them shared
any information. With the help of the illustrations from Faith
Ringold’s book If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks
and the Civil Rights Movement, we told the children that many
years ago in our country, before many of their parents were even
born, things were different. There were some rules called laws
saying that white children and black children couldn’t go to school
together, and that people with darker skin had to ride in the
back of the bus. We asked the children “what would you feel like
if you came to school and you were told that because you had brown
hair (to a girl with brown hair) or blue eyes (to a boy with blue
eyes) or because you were a girl, that you weren’t allowed to
come to school?” Immediately the children chorused that they would
feel bad, sad, angry, and that they might even cry.
One child said that you have to follow rules even when you don’t
like them. We had to tell her that most rules are important, for
keeping people safe, but that this time the rules were wrong,
the laws were unfair. The looks on the children’s faces showed
their processing of this information. We then told the children
that Martin Luther King was like a teacher, who spoke to many
people, both black people and white people, Latino, Asian, every
kind of person, and taught them to stand up and say that the laws
were wrong. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that all kinds
of children would go to school and be friends, and that when people
worked together, they were able to change the laws.
As the children absorbed these new ideas, our music teacher taught
us the songs we would sing at the assembly. Lyrics of the songs
that repeated were “Hold the dream of Martin Luther King…he was
a peace loving man…change that law.” At the assembly, parents,
teachers and children sang these words together.
What is the most rewarding is that weeks later, when they request
the Hold the Dream song, we know that they now have a concrete
connection to this great person who worked to change laws that
were “unfair.” We remember Martin Luther King when we discuss
differences, when we use words and peaceful methods to solve problems.
As one four-year-old pointed out, “when someone had good ideas
and then they died, we can still use their ideas.” Martin Luther
King has been brought to life again for the next generation. #
Blachly is a 3’s-4’s Teacher at the Bank Street Family Center.
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