Early Childhood Education Initiative to Develop Healthy Racial Identity
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has announced the expansion of its Early Childhood Education Initiative (ECEI) with a $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Structured to be joyous and fun, this museum-based curriculum is designed to help young children of all backgrounds develop healthy racial identities and other social skills. Bridging the fields of early childhood education, human development, museum education and developmental psychology, ECEI programming encourages young children to be comfortable with human diversity, recognize unfairness and develop the capacity to stand against prejudice. In addition to the on-site programming, the grant funds national outreach efforts and digital instructions and resources for research-based publications, adults, educators and young children from birth to 8 years old.
“Early childhood education has the power to change the future,” said Spencer Crew, interim director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “To begin the process of racial reconciliation and healing, we must have meaningful and intentional conversations with children about racial identity and promote anti-bias values from birth.” Crew concluded, “With an appreciation for differences in early childhood, young children can develop into adults who actively challenge bias, stereotyping and various forms of discrimination.”
The Kellogg Foundation’s Thriving Children initiative funds efforts like ECEI that support quality learning experiences for all children, including the promotion of racial equity in early childhood education. “In this way, the goals of the museum and the mission of the foundation are perfectly aligned,” said Carla D. Thompson, vice president for program strategy at the Kellogg Foundation. “This is an excellent match.”
The programming operates from the premise that young children need adults to provide accurate language for identifying racial identity and racial bias. Young children even need guidance to develop their concepts of fairness, which is the first stage in challenging racial prejudice and discrimination.
“Children are remarkably good observers who pay close attention to human behavior,” said Esther J. Washington, director of education at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “There is a common misconception that young children are ‘color blind’ and untouched by prejudice. Research shows that from infancy, children are developing mental maps that lead to their baseline racialized identity and social status before the age of 6. Early childhood education has the power to guide racial and social identities to a healthy place.”
All ECEI programs are tailored to the different ages and developmental stages of early childhood (birth to 8 years old). Programming themes and projects change each month—there is always something new for children.
Early Childhood Programming at the Museum
Cultural Cuddles programs invite children from birth to 12 months of age to bond, play and discover color. Alongside their favorite grown-ups, children can explore art materials using different colors. A 6-month-old baby recognizes skin color and notices when a color is familiar or unfamiliar. Talking to a baby about colors, including skin colors, can create a comfort level to later discuss racial identity.
Toddling Treasures are programs created for children 13–35 months of age. Toddlers by the age of 2 are able to use racial categories to reason about people’s behavior. Talking to children about how everyone is the same but also different, enhances critical thinking skills and allows children to see others as unique individuals.
Cultural Kids is for children ages 3–5 years old. In this program, children listen to stories and create artwork that engage the senses. Because children at this age are able to begin to understand the complex social construct of race, the program introduces skin color with parents and explains how children get their color from their parents. The goal is to show how every person’s skin is different, every family is unique and there is beauty in diversity.
Friends for Freedom
Friends for Freedom are programs created for early elementary students, children 6 to 8 years old. With an adult, children look at museum objects, read a featured picture book and have guided conversations and to explore personal meaning and fairness. Because children ages 6 to 8 years old are able to have conversations about injustice and unfair treatment based on identities like race and gender, this program centers on the differences among people and teaches children to respect and embrace differences. This programming helps children prepare to act against bias and unfairness.
In addition to the regular scheduled programming mentioned above, the museum offers “pop-up” versions of these programs in the galleries and classrooms on the second floor. The pop-up schedule is available at the museum’s information desk.
Sing-alongs, concerts and story times for children and workshops and panel discussions for the adults invested in early childhood education are offered quarterly, and the schedule is available on the museum’s website. Interested participants should check the website frequently for updates.
More information about the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Early Childhood Education Initiative is available on the museum's website. A schedule of upcoming events at the museum, some of which require pre-registration, is on the events page. ECEI’s programming is often most suitable for small classes and fills quickly.
About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed nearly 6 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.
About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast entrepreneur and innovator, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have equal opportunities to thrive, WKKF works to create conditions in underresourced communities for children can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the U.S. and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is made on priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans, and internationally in Mexico and Haiti.