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Skin Tone Exploration: an Integrative Study of Community

The preschool has been exploring the concept of community through the lens of Rights and Responsibilities. We discuss and study the rights of ALL community members and the responsibilities associated with protecting those rights for everyone in our communities. This requires a deeper understanding of the many similarities and differences that are inherently human to promote an appreciation of our uniqueness and the beauty of the diversity of humanity and the natural world around us. As children explore the concept of self and others, they develop understanding of similarities and differences in conjunction with shared experiences with others in our communities.

Skin tone is one of the more overt attributes of an individual’s outward appearance and one of the first characteristics we notice about a person.  Unfortunately, it is also closely related to how people are viewed, treated and their access to resources in our society.  This makes skin tone exploration imperative to the discussion of community and the creation of a classroom culture centered around rights and responsibilities.  We aim to inform and influence how children learn and interact with each of their various communities and support a deeper understanding of humanity and our responsibilities to self and community.

We  approach exploration of our skin tones through literature, discussions of melanin ( the chemical that gives our skin its shade), geography of our ancestors & human migration and the use of  skin tone art materials (crayons, colored pencils, markers and watercolor paints) to represent our skin tones.

Preschoolers explore the skin tone art materials, provided with mirrors for reference and self reflection. Their initial experience tends to include many of the tones. They make observations about people they know with skin tone the shade of the markers, crayons,and colored pencils.

They hold skin close to their peers’ and teachers’ skin and make comparisons “My skin is darker than yours.” Armed with the knowledge of the chemical melanin and its role in our skin tone, they say, “ You have a lot of active melanin.”, “I know why your skin is darker than mine. You have more melanin.”

They make discoveries about societal names for skin tones. “I’m black. This {pencil} is brown. It matches.” “Hey, Im white but this white doesn’t match, not even my belly.” This reinforces the many variations in skin tone and the fact that we all have some melanin. They are beginning to experience the shortcomings/ inaccuracy of labels.

As they work we hear: “ I love this color brown. I wish it was mine,“” I’m all these colors and purple” . When children experiment with the skin tone art materials , working side by side and sharing their observations and discoveries it reinforces the idea that the skin tone is a single attribute of a person. This becomes one shared experience they have with their friends and teachers along with many other positive shared experiences. Children learn that we can not be diminished to a single attribute, characteristic or aspect. ‘My friend… likes to paint and has … skin tone.’

Leo tests skin tone crayons to his belly

He confirms his closest match on his hand

Samples of the preschoolers’ initial exploration with the materials:

Children begin to create a match for their skin tone after they are familiar with the materials and the numerous represented shades offered in the materials. They use mirrors for reference place their hand on the paper for reference. Most discover that they are unable to create a match using a single shade in any of the mediums. This involves a process of experimentation; comparing our skin to the marks, layering shades, accepting a match, recognizing the shades used to create our match and eventually name their skin tone recipe.

Children explore with the skin tone art materials many times. During this process they make discoveries about self and others. Children learn that our characteristics cannot be defined or simplified to a single label or product created by others meant to represent us. Therefore labels created by society cannot diminish our rights, determine our value, or be justification to limit our access to resources.

The need to layer multiple tones to create our match illustrates the role of our ancestors in determining our skin tone. It is evidence of human migration out of the fertile crescent in Africa indicating that our ancestors all had darker skin tone at one point if you go back far enough. Our skin tone is influenced by where and how far away from the equator our ancestors lived.

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