The Child’s Right to Risk: Reflections from the 2017 Boulder Journey School Summer Conference

Boulder Journey School (BJS) hosts an annual two-day conference to support participatory exploration of topics related to quality and innovation in education. The conference welcomes participants from around the world to visit, engage, participate, and explore. Below is a reflection by Paige Laeyendecker, 2016 – 2017 Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) graduate student.

As a first time participant in the Boulder Journey School Summer Conference, I was both excited to meet with educators from around the country and nervous to share the work from my classroom. Once the conference was in full swing, all my nervousness disappeared. I grew energized by all of the participants sharing their stories. The excitement in the building was palpable.

Over the course of the two days, the conversations surrounding environments, physics, bridging nature and technology, and children’s rights, among others, were so rich and deeply inspiring.

The topic I found to have the greatest impact on me were the many discussions, presentations, and debates around risk. Risk is a very hot topic in the field of education, and many of us were eager to hear and discuss the different perspectives around this controversial topic. In our society today, we have developed an intense fear when it comes to children and the communities of which they are an essential part. I’ll be the first to admit that this fear of the unknown is powerful, especially when working with the children who you love so much.

Granted, safety is and should be top priority when working with children of any age, but do we go too far? Are we keeping children too protected, and is that impacting the way that children are growing and learning?

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As part of my role as a BJSTEP graduate student, I was asked to facilitate a small group discussion around risk. I soon discovered that my colleagues’ thoughts around this topic added layers and layers to what I was prepared to share. Joining us from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, some of the participants shared their concerns around the different levels of risk taking in different areas of the world and even just our country.

What do safety concerns and risk evaluations look like in areas with low socio-economic statuses? How does the conversation change when a family does not have access to health insurance? I was left speechless.

Following this extremely insightful and eye-opening discussion, our discussion group heard a presentation from Meagan Arango, a mentor teacher at Boulder Journey School. Meagan has engaged in advocacy for the rights of children, specifically in taking risks. One major point that Meagan made was the distinction between a risk and a hazard.


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A two-year-old child examines the climbing wall. She stays close to the ground while, together with her teacher, she determines whether climbing is a risk or a hazard.

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A three-year-old child takes the risk of going high on the climbing wall. He has enough experience working in this space to know what the hazards are and where his personal limits lie.

 

 

 

 


Meagan explained that a hazard is something harmful about which we do not have the knowledge to make a safe judgement. When we offer our children experience in assessing their environments and strategies for identifying the hazards around them, we provide opportunities to learn about taking risks and pushing boundaries; we support their confidence to explore their limits and to break through them.

When we look at risk through this point of view, it solidifies my belief that risk is a right of all children no matter their different cultural and societal backgrounds. One of our jobs as adults is to guide children through the difficult decision making tasks of assessing risk. This is a life long learning practice that begins at the earliest of ages.

Being able to work through this complex topic with so many educators from so many different perspectives was an experience I will never forget. It is now our responsibility to extend these discussions through the rest of our careers and lives with children.

How do you feel about the children’s right to risk? How can we keep this discussion going?

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Talking About Race

In the 2016-2017 school year, educators, families and graduate students participated in a research group examining the goals of Anti-Bias Education. Click here to read more about this group.

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Marissa Tafura, photo from https://www.rmpjc.org/about-us?lightbox=dataItem-iyuwsnvz1

As part of their continuing conversation, Marissa Tafura from Empowering Kids met with educators from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) to discuss the importance of engaging in conversations about race. Marissa focuses on equipping teachers and families with the tools they require to enter into dialogue with young children.

 

 

 

We reflected on the following questions:

 

 

How often do teachers and parents talk with children about race?

  • Marissa recommends using very descriptive colors to name race and to make it personal by referencing someone you know who identifies with that race. Be sure to model that it is okay to notice and talk about race, while recognizing that those conversations may look different in public and private spaces.

 

How can we challenge the normalization of whiteness and diversify materials offered in classrooms and homes?

  • Marissa recommends sharing why some images or narratives make you uncomfortable. For example, “I don’t like that the only brown skinned person in the book is the one opening the gate to the zoo.”

 

How do we name race as an important part of one’s identity?

  • Marissa made the comparison to how we talk about gender and accept that gender identity is important to our self concept. She encouraged us to do the same with race and not shy away from it.

 

How can we raise children who are able to identify injustices and take action?

  • Marissa recommends empowering children. She suggests that adults should include narratives that challenge the idea that people of color are always victims.

 

 

Marissa recommended the following website on teaching tolerance: http://www.tolerance.org/  She also recommended this article: http://www.wdsnyc.org/file/documents/CHILDREN-ARE-NOT-COLORBLIND.pdf

We look forward to continuing our work with Marissa and plan to schedule a meeting for Boulder Journey School parents as a next step. You can learn more about the importance of talking with children about race by visiting this blog: http://family-garden.org/talk-kids-race/

 

Here are some additional resources:

Book Lists

30 Asian & Asian-American Children’s Books

Spreadsheet of Books

10 Books That Empower Kids to Stand Up and Speak Out

Best Multicultural Books for Children

50 Indian Books Every Parent Must Read to Their Child

28 Books That Affirm Black Boys

Building a Diverse Anti-Bias Library for Young Children (multiple resources)

Children’s Books That Tackle Race & Ethnicity

Multicultural Book Lists for Children: 60+ Book Lists, including 10 Amazing Multicultural Picture Books About Helping Others, Multicultural Adoption Books for Kids,

Best World Religion Books for Kids

40 LGBTQ-Friendly Picture Books for Ages 0-5

Books Featuring Children of Color Where Race is Not the Point of the Story

Children’s Books Featuring Kids of Color Being Themselves. Because that’s enough.

Indigenous and First Nations Kids Books

Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Gifting Books to Children of Color

A Book Subscription Box Created for Black Children

Talking to Kids About Police Brutality: A Community Resource List

 

Thinking about Families’ Voices in the Classroom

On a cold evening in January, in the cozy Teacher Education Room of Boulder Journey School, educators from Boulder and Denver gathered for an evening of discussion, centered around how we support families in participating as active protagonists in the classroom community.

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Maureen Condon, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher, shared work from her toddler class. As a class of children who were all brand new to school, it was imperative for the teachers to find the threads that would support their transition and carry the children into their citizenship at the school. Observations of the children, followed by subsequent dialogue with families, led to the class adopting baby dolls for each child in the class. This adoption sparked a year of partnership and collaboration that carried this class through multiple layers of investigation. To read more about the baby doll investigation, read Care, Community, and a Collection of Babydolls.

Following Maureen’s presentation, participants were asked to reflect on their own strategies for engaging families in partnership. The group shared specific strategies:

“Using text messaging can cut through the clutter of emails.”

“We use SeeSaw. The microphone app allows ELL children to speak native language to their parents who don’t speak English.”

Participants were also asked to uncover strategies to support increasing reciprocity among families:

“Creating a culture of openness that encourages dialogue is the foundation for thinking of strategies.”

“Creating a welcoming culture increases dialogue.”

“Creating a culture of openness and welcoming supports families in voicing their concerns as well as their joys.”

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Participants from schools in Denver share reflections on the strategies available to support family collaboration.

Meagan Arango, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher, shared a story of investigating risk with a class of preschool-age children. She shared her personal reflections about how risky it felt for her to even brooch the topic with the families in her class. Would it reflect negatively on her as a teacher? Would it suggest that she didn’t care about the children’s safety?

Through communication and carefully documented experiences, Meagan and her co-teachers, graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP), offered experiences that changed her image of children.

With the support of the families, I was able to tackle a topic that felt too dangerous to research on my own. Because of that research, my image of the child was transformed, as I discovered how my fears had stymied my faith in their ability to assess risk. Because of the ongoing dialogue we maintained, I believe the families benefitted from these discoveries as much as I did. – Meagan 

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In addition to Boulder Journey School Mentors,  BJSTEP graduate students and alumni, and teachers from schools in the surrounding area, we were joined by educators from across the United States and Canada via Twitter. Read a recap of the Twitter conversation on Storify.

We hold professional development workshops monthly. They are open to everyone who can attend. Current BJSTEP members are always welcome to the evening workshops for free, while alumni attend for a 50% discount. We work hard to keep the workshops affordable for all members of our community at a $20 registration fee. Learn more about the Messing About workshop series.