Sometimes homeschoolers get a reputation for sheltering our kids and limiting their experience of the world. But as homeschoolers (and afterschoolers!), one of our great opportunities is to give our children a wider view of the world than would be possible otherwise. We can use all of our “out of the classroom time” to dramatically increase their exposure to all kinds of different people, locations, and experiences.
Experiencing diversity is a high priority in our home education.
I’ve already told you that I prioritize talking to my kids about sex. I also think it’s essential to talk to kids early and often about race. If your child is not White, it’s important to empower her. Studies show that experiencing racism takes a measurable toll on physical and mental health, but that toll is mitigated if a child has a positive view of their own cultural background. Education and protest are literally good for the health of children of color. If your child is White, we have learned that avoiding the topic of race (which is generally possible if your child is White) has serious negative consequences because children develop implicit bias in the vacuum you create. I get that this is hard for us, as White parents! But, just like with talking about sex, we need to put on our big kid pants and go bravely with our child into the uncomfortable. While we’re on the subject, we need to talk about differences in physical ability and neurobiology. We have such an opportunity to normalize diversity for our kids!
Today I want to talk about the books we read. For us, this has been a big issue. Kids need books that are “mirrors,” wherein they can see themselves. They also need books that are “windows,” through which they can see the perspective of people who are different than them. If you’re raising White children, it’s hard to find windows. If you’re raising children of color (or different abilities), it’s hard to find mirrors. But we need to do the hard work of finding all of these books!
We use Sonlight, which excels at finding books from different places in the world, but (so far) doesn’t do a great job with diverse characters in the read-aloud books. So we have supplemented these with others to give a wider view of the world.
I want to give full disclosure here, that I am working on this myself. Following Lee and Low Books and A Mighty Girl on Facebook has been incredibly helpful to me as I learn more about this for myself. But I thought I would share some great books we’ve found already, in case someone else may love them too! (These are all my affiliate links. See my disclosures.)
- The Story of Ruby Bridges I’m listing this one first because my daughter loved this book so much! She was 6 when we read it, which is the same age as Ruby herself when she changed the world. My Sweet Pea was absolutely captured by the idea that she could do something so brave at such a young age.
- Baseball Saved Us This is a great book about something it’s hard to find books about — Japanese Internment.
- Let’s Talk About It: Extraordinary Friends Someday I’ll write a post about what a hero Mr. Rogers is to me, but this book is him, through and through. He had such a great, instinctive understanding of child development and what kind of questions kids might have. He explains wheelchairs and other helps that some people use, and really takes the mystery out of it.
- Milo and the Mysterious Island Okay, this one is about mice, not people. But this book directly deals with the way we approach differences. The kids can literally choose to approach cultural differences with love or fear — and thereby choose which of the two endings they will experience. Great message!
- The Case for Loving This story is so effortlessly beautiful that it’s hard to believe it’s not fictional. Great history lesson!
- Freedom on the Menu The protagonist in this book is a young child observing the Civil Rights movement in her own town.
- Tales of the Menehune We loved this one! We read it as part of our preparation for a trip to Hawaii, and the stories are fun and give a lot of insight into Hawaiian culture.
- Discover America: From Sea to Shining Sea This book is geared toward younger children, and the words are the lyrics from “America the Beautiful.” I love the picture that it paints of America! Each page is a different scene, with diverse people. This one includes a woman in a hijab and a buggy in Amish Country, among others.
- My Name is Sangoel I use this in my free Refugee curriculum, but I include it here because the bulk of it takes place in the US, and because it addresses the importance of names — learning them, saying them correctly, and not giving people unwelcome nicknames.
- Half a World Away A friend sent this to us to help our kids accept a loss. It’s a sweet story about a friendship between a boy and a girl, and the girl moving to Asia with her family.
These are books we own and love and have read at least once (generally lots of times!). This list doesn’t include all of our books with diverse characters, but it is representative. There are big gaps I want to warn you about:
- The kids are still young, so although we have some books for older ages we haven’t read them yet!
- Our books are too focused on the fight for equality, or on bad times for people. This focus can create a limited view of other cultures as always being oppressed. Our next goal is to change this aspect by getting more books that just celebrate people living their lives, enjoying family, etc. Onward and upward!
For more lists and ideas, check out We Need Diverse Books. And read those mirrors and windows!
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