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Educators Embrace Juneteenth As Opportunity To Teach Kids About Race

Psychologists say age-appropriate conversations on race and history should start early, and Juneteenth is the perfect opportunity to begin.
Posted at 11:58 AM, Jun 17, 2021

Welcome to a world where monsters come to life and thespians transform into furry fantastical creatures. Here at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, performers like Brian Harrison are using puppets to educate. Today’s lesson, just in time for Juneteenth, is on the African Diaspora.

“These are three stories that come from Africa that allow me to highlight different things about each story and the people that created those stories. So we look at Africa, the continent, we look at Southern Africa and with the Bantu people, we go to Ghana and explore some of their traditions,” Harrison told Newsy. 

Harrison's virtual performance incorporates something educators have been saying for years: Teaching complicated lessons to children is easier with puppets. 

"Puppets are often very disarming. It's amazing to see how easily a child gravitates to a puppet. And so you can really infuse a lot of education into basically what might be considered a toy," Harrison explained. 

"If we all have melanin, why are we different colors?" asked Elmo. 

It’s something Sesame Workshop is also doing with the new Coming Together Program, telling Newsy they’re in it for the long haul with the bilingual initiative meant to provide parents with online resources on race and racism. A new study from Sesame Workshop found 86% of American children 6-11 years old don't believe people of different races are treated fairly in the U.S. 

Across the country people are finding unique ways to teach young children about Juneteenth, the day slavery ended in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Those lessons include everything from virtual story times and museum visits to performances.

"There are lots of resources, and books are one of my favorites, even increased access to videos of just introducing what Juneteenth is about, what it means, and that's for parents of all backgrounds, right? All children certainly need to know the history," explained psychologist Maryam Jernigan-Noesi.  

Children's author and psychologist Maryam Jernigan-Noesi says contrary to what many parents have been taught, studies show children are not "colorblind." 

“A 2-year-old who may not understand the concept, you know, they may not understand racism, right, but they may understand the concept of what it means to not be treated fairly, or to be treated differently. They begin to reason about their treatment related to race,” she explained. 

She says age-appropriate lessons about race and history can prepare them for harder conversations in the future. 

“There are opportunities for us to really build the positive aspects of their racial identity, and that really serves to buffer some of the experiences that they may have, unfortunately, for youth of color, across their lifespan,” she continued. 

"Even though these are just, you know, fun folk tales, and stories that I'm telling, and none of them are hard-hitting or anything like that, my goal is to spark conversation around Black history and Black stories. So you get to see these Black characters being heroes in their own stories," said Harrison. 

Amber Strong, Newsy.