Exploring Racial Diversity With Your Kids

2. Exploring Racial & Cultural Diversity with our Children

{ This is Part 2 of a 6-part series on talking to young white children about racism. Link here for the: Table of Contents or Part 1: An Orientation for Parents. }

Exploring Racial Diversity: a conversation guideIf we want to teach our kids to dismantle racism, they first need to understand race. Race is not a scientific concept; it's a social construct based on outward appearances. But racial constructs have unfortunately had and continue to have very real impacts in our world. If we want to dismantle racism, we need our kids to understand what race is, and how their own race fits into the big picture.

From a very early age, you can start talking to your kids about their race. Point out your skin and hair color. Discuss what makes your family’s cultural heritage unique and special. Your kiddo will also be eager to learn about other races, other cultures, and what makes them unique. Unfortunately, because America is so racially segregated, a lot of this won't come about "naturally" - so you'll want to sit down and make time for this. Hopefully this guide will help.

Exploring racial & cultural diversity is a time to focus on fun. It's a time for kids to be curious, and to celebrate the similarities and differences between different races and cultures. The focus of this phase is:

                      How are we the same? How are we different? Isn’t that cool!? In this section, we will explore:

1. What Race Am I?

2. Why Do People Have Different Skin Colors?

3. Different Families, Cultures, and Traditions

4. Learning About Your Family History & Immigration

Okay! Let's jump in!

1. What Race Am I? 

While it’s important for our kids to understand the concept of different races, it can sometimes be awkward to figure out how to start talking about race. It doesn’t have to be. Here are some activities to springboard discussion: NOTICING RACIAL DIFFERENCES

  • Watch Sesame Street's: We’re Different, We’re the Same, or one of the other videos listed in the resources at the end of this section.

  • Read I’m Like You, You’re Like Me by Cindy Gainer, What’s the Difference? by Doyin Richards or one of the other picture books listed at the end of this section.

  • Look in the mirror and talk about your appearance: skin color, hair color, hair type and eye color. Compare your skin with the colors in the skin colors image below.

  • Do a self-portrait activity, paying close attention to skin color, hair color, hair type and eye color.  **Sidenote for parents: YMMV with this advice, because I know it’s easy to slip into and many picture books will do it  but … it’s probably best to avoid comparing skin color to foods or animals. I won’t go into all the reasons why here, but essentially it builds up an association that human bodies are objects we can seize and consume like food. Not really the lesson in respect we want to be passing on to our kids. The image below has a bunch of skin color and skin tone descriptions you can use that are food and animal free!

Food and animal free skin color names list, from dark to light: Obsidian, onyx, deep brown, ebony, jet black, black, umber, chestnut, mahogany, night black, dark brown, rich brown, sepia, deep brown, sunset, olive brown, sienna, warm brown, rosy brown, rosewood, topaz, copper, clay, russet, soft brown, hazel, ochre, light brown, terracotta, dusky rose, sandstone, bronze, deep tan, coral, rosy, olive, golden, tan, ruddy, blossom, taupe, sand, beige, blush, pink, birch, ivory, alabaster, pale blossom, pearl.
What's Your Skin Color?
(click to  enlarge)


Here’s a conversation you can have during or after the activity:

“What color of skin do you have? What about me?”

“Yes! Our skin is kind of tan or beige, or maybe light pink or sand colored. I like the way we look! Other people have different colors of skin. I love the way they look too! It would be so boring if we were all the same!”

“People with light skin are called “white” people, and people with dark skin are called “Black” people.

“It’s a little bit silly huh, because white people are more of a pink color, and Black people are more like a brown color ... but that’s what we call them!

“There are Asians and Native Americans and Latinx people and other people too. There are lots of races of people in the world!

“Who in our family has the darkest skin? Who in our family has the lightest skin?

Who do we know that has darker skin than us? Who do we know that has lighter skin?

“Isn’t it cool that we have so many different colors, and that we all look so different? 

It would be so boring if we all looked the same!”

Continue the Conversation:

As you continue on this journey exploring the beauty of diversity, you’ll want to re-visit the concept that “different is beautiful” often. Integrate some of these videos, books, and activities into your routine to help make those conversations happen. MORE RESOURCES

Read-Aloud Videos: We’re Different, We’re the Same - Sesame Street Read-Aloud || I Am America - Read-Aloud by the Author || Just Like Me - Poetry Read Aloud by the Author || Happy in Our Skin - read aloud by the author || I Am Perfectly Designed (part of a co-author talk: the read-aloud starts at 11:00) ||

Videos: Beautiful Skin Song - Sesame Street || Different Skin Colors - Kinderview  ||  I Love My Hair - Sesame Street || Hair Love || Sulwe’s Song || Lupita Nyong’o Loves her Skin - Sesame Street || Celebration (This is just a fun song sung by kids all over the world) ||

Picture Books Celebrating Racial Differences & Self-Love: 

What’s the Difference? Being Different is Amazing|| I’m Like You, You’re Like Me || We’re Different, We’re the Same: Sesame Street || Black, White, Just Right || The Skin You Live In (does use a few food comparisons) || I Am America - Charles R. Smith || There’s Only One You || Skin Again - bell hooks || The King of Kindergarten || Hair Love || Just Like Me || I Love My Hair || Sulwe || I Am Perfectly Designed || I Love You Nose! I Love You Toes! || I Am Enough || All Are Welcome || || What I Like About Me || Lucy’s Umbrella || Large Fears || I Like Myself || Whoever You Are || Magnificent Homespun Brown || ColorFull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us || Different Differenter: An Activity Book || Shades of People (does use a few food comparisons) || Happy in Our Skin (does use food comparisons) || All the Colors of the Earth (does use animal comparisons) ||
    **Remember to support BIPOC Owned Bookstores! Links above are to black or native-owned <3
      (Also check out lists of black bookstores by state and also herehere, and here and here)!

Other Resources: Looking at Skin Color with Books || Lesson Plan: Painting Many Shades || Lesson Plans: Different Colors of Beauty || Lesson Plan - Looking Closely At Ourselves || Teaching your Kid Self-Love  || Different Differenter: An Activity Book

2. Why Do People Have

Different Skin Colors?
Melanin - the pigment which makes skin darker - is a body’s natural defense from the sun’s UV rays. As educator Jane Elliott often points out, white people are just “faded” Black people; humankind’s origins can be traced to equatorial regions where we would have all had higher amounts of the skin pigment melanin and therefore darker skin. It was only after some humans migrated away from the equator that over time, in order to adapt to lower sun and adjust vitamin-D levels, people lost the active pigment and became “white.” 

Introducing the Science of Skin Color

To introduce this topic to your kiddos, you may want to try one of the following activities:

Talk About the Science of Skin Color

Next, grab a map (try the Interactive Human Migration Map ) and as you're looking at it, talk about skin color science with your kiddo. Here's what you could say:

“Melanin is a pigment in our skin -- little tiny bits of color -- which helps protect us from the sun. The more active melanin you have, the darker your skin is.

“The reason we have different colors of skin has to do with where our ancestors (like the grandparents of our grandparents) came from.

“The first people on earth lived in Africa [ HERE ] and had dark skin to protect them from the sun which is really strong there near the equator.

“Then some people migrated (moved) away from Africa up [ HERE ] to where our ancestors come from. Up there, there isn’t as much sun.

"So up here melanin in people’s skin was getting in the way. It was blocking the sun from making vitamin D for them! Uh oh!  So gradually their great-great grandkids lost their active melanin and their skin became lighter, like ours.” MORE RESOURCES:

Images: Interactive Human Migration Map || Kids of Different Colors || Skin Color Map of Indigenous Peoples

Picture Books About the Science of Skin: All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color  (and activities here) || Your Skin Holds You In || Daddy, Why am I Brown?
    **Remember to support BIPOC Owned Bookstores! Links above are to black or native-owned <3
      (Also check out lists of black bookstores by state and also herehere, and here and here)!

Videos for older kids: The Science of Skin Color - TEDEd || The Science of Skin - TedEd || Map Shows How Humans Migrated Across the Globe || Human Migration - Khan Academy || 

Other Activities: Activities - All the Colors We Are ||

3. Different Families, Cultures, & Traditions

When diving into racial issues, it’s easy for white Americans to become fixated on negative feelings of guilt, and a notion that we somehow lack a positive cultural identity. There’s plenty to critique, and we do need to be honest about our historic and ongoing involvement with racism and racist systems. However: wallowing in guilt and a negative self-concept isn’t a healthy place to get stuck in. And it's not helpful either. We want to transform our world, and we can't do that if we are trapped in a negative self-concept.


Instead, take some time to celebrate your family’s own cultural history and traditions, and explore and enjoy the diversity of families and traditions across America and the world. Again, this is a time to celebrate:

How are our stories different? How are they the same? What's special about each of us?

Different Families

First, you may want to read a picture book together such as  My Family, Your Family by Kathryn Cole, Who’s in My Family? by Robie H. Harris, I Love You Too by Ziggy Marley, or All Families Are Special by Norma Simon.


If your little one is very small, try one of these slightly shorter reads: A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O'Leary or My Friends and Me by Stephanie Stansbie.


Alternatively you could introduce the topic of family diversity by watching a video like: Our Family: A Film About Family Diversity or Family Song: Sesame Street. Take a peek at the end of this section for links to more books, videos and ideas.


Alternatively, you can dive straight into the conversation!

Talk About Your Family: Spend some time talking about your own family. Discuss your daily and weekly routines, reflect on what you do for special occasions, and list all your favorite things about being a family. Here are some questions to ask to get started:

  • What language(s) do you speak? 

  • What sort of accent/regional dialect do you speak with?

  • Who lives with you? Who is your “family?”

  • What are your daily and weekly routines? 

  • What do you do during the weekdays? The weekends?

  • Do you live in the country or the city?
    How might life be different if you lived in a different place?

  • How do you help each other as a family? What chores and jobs are there in your house/s? Who helps out around the house/s? Who does work outside the house/s?

  • How do you get food on the table? Do you grow it? Do you help shop or cook?

  • What foods do you eat? What do you eat on holidays or special occasions?

  • What do you do for fun as a family? 

  • How do you show each other you love one another? 

  • Do you have any special religious beliefs, traditions, or holidays you celebrate?

  • What are some of your favorite things to do as a family?

Talk About Other Families:
Talk about how other families might do some things the same as your family, and some things differently. Other families may have similar or different family structures, languages, accents, favorite foods, clothing styles, holidays, religions and beliefs, everyday activities, routines, and traditions.

What is the same? What is different? 


As you read and watch, be sure to emphasize: 

“Some things about us are the same and some are different and that is what makes the world such a wonderful place to live in!”

Videos about Different Families and Cultures:
Family Song: Sesame Street || Our Family: A Film About Family Diversity || Different Family Structures Song || Sesame Street; The Family Thing Song ||  Different Family Traditions Around the World? (for older kids) || The World’s Family Illustrated Poem || Sesame Street: Talk About Holidays || Sesame Street: Kwanzaa ||

Read-Aloud Videos about Different Families & Cultures:
I Am America  (Various) - Read-Aloud by the Author || Every Friday - Read-Aloud by the author || Juneteenth for Mazie - read aloud by the author || You Hold Me Up - (Cree / Lakota)  read aloud by the author || When We Are Kind (Cree / Lakota) - read aloud by the author || Sitti’s Secrets (Palestine) - read aloud by the author || Little Night (Mexico) - read aloud by the author (begins at 12min) || Ramadan Moon - read aloud on the author’s channel || When My Cousins Came - read aloud by the author || Have You Seen My Dragon? (an ode to city life) - read aloud by the author || Hanukkah Hop (a preview on the author’s youtube) || Introducing the Barefoot Book of Children (a preview) || Hanna’s Christmas (Swedish American) - the author reads aloud this out of print book || The Fourth Bonniest Baby in Dundee (Scotland) - the authors read aloud || Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless The Table - read aloud by the author || The Bus For Us - read aloud by the author || Blackout - read by the author || Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story - read aloud by the author || Hot Hot Roti for Dada-Ji - a partial reading by the author || Bilal Cooks Daal - read aloud by the author || Soup Day - partial read aloud and cooking demo with the author || King for a Day - author talk and read-aloud

Picture Books Celebrating Different Families & Cultures:
My Family, Your Family || Who’s in My Family? || Same, Same But Different || Children Around the World - by Donata Montanari  || A Family is a Family is a Family || All Are Welcome || In Every House on Every Street || My Friends and Me || Hats of Faith || A Church For All || What Do you Celebrate? || Celebrations Around the World || A Winter Candle || Global Babies || Outside My Window || Families Around the World || The Barefoot Book of Children || This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids Around the World || DK Book: Children Just Like Me || At the Same Moment Around the World || I Am America || My Subway Ride || The Bus For Us || Our Community Garden || Madlenka || How My Parents Learned to Eat || Old Manhattan has Some Farms || Apt 3 || A Moon for Moe and Mo || Dear Primo || I Love You Too || A New Home (Mexico / USA) ||

     **Remember to support BIPOC Owned Bookstores! Links are to black or native-owned <3
      (Also check out lists of black bookstores by state and also herehere, and here and here)!

Picture Books Celebrating Families of Specific Races:

4. Learn About Family History
What’s your heritage? Explore where your family’s ancestors migrated from. Talk to your kiddo about the countries their ancestors left behind, map how they travelled to and across America, and discover what activities, foods, and traditions may have been special to them. Discuss which beliefs and special traditions have been passed down to your family today, and which were perhaps given up along the way. This is a time to celebrate your family history, the family history of others, and to empathize with immigrants and the hardships they faced.

Your Own Family History
Here are some more ideas to get started exploring the concept of immigration and your family history:

  • Watch: Videos introducing immigration: Ellis Island - A Kid Explains History or the author read-aloud of All the Way to America. If you have older kids try Crash Course: European History and Emigration. (find more options linked at the end of this section).

  • Read about Immigration: Books that provide an introduction to immigration stories. Try: We Came to America by Faith Ringgold , Klara’s New World, Gittel’s Journey , Mom, Where Are We From?,or La Frontera: El viaje con papa. 

    • Also check out the books and resources at the end of this section. I’ve compiled links to many picture books about immigration and have noted the various countries-of-origin. You may find one that is quite similar to your own family’s history of immigration.

  • Family Tree: Look at (or draw) your own family tree and discuss. If your kiddo isn’t familiar with the concept of family trees, you may want to introduce the concept with a book such as: My Family Tree and Me by Duyan Petricic, I See the Sun in the USA by Dedie King, Mom, Where Are We From? by Rahimah Rahim, or Me and My Family Tree by Joan Sweeny. Alternatively, you could watch and discuss a video such as: Family Tree Chart.

  • Family History Collections: Browse family photo albums and family histories or stories that may have been compiled before. You might be surprised at what you can find online at family tree websites like familysearch.org

  • Map: Map where your ancestors came from, and make it a point to learn a bit about each country of origin (check out the country-specific books, videos and resources below).

  • Interview: Interview grandparents and great-grandparents about their lives, as well as what they remember about their own grandparents and great-grandparents.

    • Where were they born? Did they move from one house to another?

    • How did it feel to move home?

    • What language did they speak?

    • What was their family like? Who lived in their home?

    • What was a day like in their house? Did they have chores?

    • What did they like to do? What were their hobbies?

    • What were some of their most memorable moments?

    • What were their jobs?

    • What sorts of foods did they eat?

    • What religious beliefs or traditions do they have?

    • What sorts of holidays did they celebrate?

    • More question ideas: Loc.gov || Family Tree Magazine ||

  • Names: Do your names say anything about where your ancestors came from or what they did for work? Did your family ever change the spelling and pronunciation of their names after facing pressure to sound more white/American? (Many families did after feeling socially pressured to fit in, and many had theirs accidentally changed in legal documents.)

  • Language: Learn a few words in the languages your ancestors spoke. Thank you, hello, family, and food names can be a fun start.

Other Family Histories and Immigration Stories:
After you’ve spent some time exploring your own family’s immigrant experience and about the diverse cultures of your ancestors, your kids will enjoy learning about other cultures and immigration experiences too. You might start with the books: I’m an Immigrant too! , My Family Tree and Me, La Frontera: El viaje con papa, Mom, Where Are We From?, Grandfather’s Journey, watch the author read-aloud The Arabic Quilt (reading begins at 6:00) or dip into one of the many videos and books listed below.

           How are the stories different? How are they similar?


** Note that only a few of the resources listed below mention the enslavement of African people or the impacts of immigration and colonization on the Native people who lived in America already. These are very important discussions to have with your kids, and deserve their own time and space, so I’ll cover it in a subsequent post.

I’ve tried to be very careful about the “pilgrim” and white colonist stories I’ve chosen here. Many children’s books about this time period (including many textbooks and books used in schools) are filled with myths about American History and are quite harmful in the way they romanticize white colonization. Be cautious about which colonist and “Thanksgiving” stories you share with your kiddos.**

Videos About Immigration (most are kid-friendly, but do pre-screen): Ellis Island - A Kid Explains History || Immigrants at Ellis Island (History Channel) || A Refugee’s Journey (modern, but in a wordless, child-friendly way shows the reasons people become refugees) || Crash Course: Growth, Cities, and Immigration (best for older kids) and Crash Course: European History and Emigration || America’s Sources of Immigration over Time || From Far Away || The Pilgrims (PBS) Thanksgiving || The Story of a 10 year-old Russian Child’s Journey to Ellis Island (PBS) || Carly, A Refugee’s Story || Contemporary Immigrant Stories & Videos (Scholastic) ||  The Friends of Kwan Ming || The Chinese Violin || Meet the Children (Contemporary Immigrants) || Immigrant Stories Collection (UMN) 

Read-Aloud Videos: All the Way to America (Italy) read by the author, Dan Yaccarino || The Real Life Inspiration for Gittel’s Journey (Poland/ Russia) || Lost and Found Cat (Iraq) - read aloud by the author || The Arabic Quilt - read by the author (begins at 6:00) ||

Picture Books About European Family History and Immigration:
We Came to America (Various) || Coming to America: The Story of Immigration (History of Migration to America) || I See the Sun in the USA || Me and My Family Tree || Tattered Sails (England / Mayflower) || The Matchbox Diary (Italy) || All the Way to America (Italy) || The Keeping Quilt (Russian / Jewish) || Annushka’s Voyage (Russia) || Gina From Siberia (Russia) || Journey to Ellis Island: How My Father Came to America (Russian / Jewish) || The Blessing Cup (Russia / Jewish) || The Memory Coat (Russia) || Gittel’s Journey (Poland/Russia) || Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (Ukraine) || When Jessie Came Across the Sea (Eastern Europe) || In The New World: A Family in Two Centuries (Germany) || Wilhelm’s Journey (Germany) || Marianthe’s Story (Greece #ownvoices) || The Dress and the Girl (Greece) || The Long Way to a New Land (Sweden) || Klara’s New World (Sweden) || Lucia and the Light (Swedish fantasy) || Dreaming of America (Ireland) || Katie’s Wish (Irish Potato Famine) || The Morning Chair (Holland) || Coming to America (Various) || I Was Dreaming to come To America (Ellis Island Oral History Project) || What Was Ellis Island? || If you Sailed on the Mayflower || A New Home (Mexico / USA) || If your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island (Various) || Refugees & Migrants (Various) || I’m an Immigrant too! (Various: England, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, etc.) || My Family Tree and Me (Balkans / China)
    **Remember to support Black Owned Bookstores! All the links above link to a black-owned bookshop.
      (Also check out lists of black bookstores by state and also herehere, and here and here)!

Picture Books About Non-European Family History and Immigration:
Mom, Where Are We From? || Coming to America (Muslim Family from Egypt) || The Arabic Quilt (Egypt) || The Turtle of Oman (Oman) || Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey (Muslim family from Iraq) || Marwan’s Journey (likely Syria) || From Far Away (Lebanon) || Ali’s Story: A Real Life Account of His Journey from Afghanistan (Afghanistan) || Mama’s Nightingale (Haiti) || Calling the Water Drum (Haiti) || How Many Days to America? (Caribbean) || Me Llamo Celia (Cuba) || Dreamers (Mexico) || My Diary From Here to There (Mexico #ownvoices) || La Frontera: El viaje con papa (Mexico #ownvoices) || Two White Rabbits (Mexico) ||  A Movie in My Pillow (El Salvador) || My Shoes and I (El Salvador) || Xochitl and the Flowers (El Salvador) || A Journey Toward Hope (Central American Unaccompanied Minors) || Hannah Is My Name (Taiwan #ownvoices) || Landed (China) || Paper Son (China) || Grandfather’s Journey (Japan) || The Name Jar (South Korea)  || My Name is Yoon (South Korea) || Good-Bye 382 Shin Dang Dong (South Korea) || Mali Under the Night Sky (Laos) || Sugar in Milk (India) || Watch Me (Africa) || When I Get Older (Somalia) || Brothers In Hope (Sudan) || My Name is Sangoel (Sudan) || Dear Baobab (Tanzania) || Hamid’s Story (Eritrea) || I’m an Immigrant too! (Various: England, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, etc.) || Where Will I Live? (Various, Modern) || Refugees & Migrants by Ceri Roberts (Various) ||  The Journey (Various) || We Came to America (Various) || My Family Tree and Me (Balkans / China)
    **Remember to support Black Owned Bookstores! All the links above link to a black-owned bookshop.
      (Also check out lists of black bookstores by state and also herehere, and here and here)!

Activities & Lesson Plans: Lesson Plan - Understanding My Family History (Tolerance.org) || Family History Activity Pack (PBS)  || Lesson: Digging at the Roots of Your Family Tree (PBS) ||  Lesson: Immigration (Scholastic) || Lesson: Immigration (Tolerance.org) || Family History Activity Links for Children and Teens  || Lesson Plans: Immigration (Library of Congress) || Lesson Plans: Teaching Immigration with Immigrant Stories in Middle School and High School (Immigration History Research Center) || Games to Teach the Immigrant Experience ||

More resources: Family History: Get Started (BBC) || Family History Resources (PBS) || Coming to Canada: Immigration Stories Project || Behind the Name: The Etymology of Surnames || Growing Little Leaves: Genealogy Links for Children ||

Coming Soon ... Part 3: Celebrating Diversity With Your Kids

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