Representation Matters

By Dominique Harris, BS, QMHP-C (Qualified Mental Health Professional), Trauma & Resiliency Specialist at ChildSavers.

Representation matters when it comes to early childhood experiences. Relatable and culturally diverse environments are critical in early development for young children.

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On April 7, 2022, history was made when Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate as the first Black woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. “We’ve made it. All of us, were the words Judge Jackson spoke at the White House ceremony to celebrate this momentous event in history as she instantly became a new role model for so many little girls and women that look like her from all over the world.

Judge Jackson understood the assignment! This moment in history means so much for young Black women, and most importantly, our young Black girls; being able to imagine a hopeful and successful future for themselves and knowing that anything is possible in life when they work hard for it! And that is the power of representation!

Growing up as a Black girl, I had the opportunity to engage with Black educators in the classroom. Now as an adult, I’m witnessing Black professionals lead in the workplace. The representation I saw from a young age affirmed that there are important people in the world who understood me, who could relate to me, and who honestly gave me the hope and inspiration that I too, could accomplish the same successes in my own life.

Research shows that young children who learn in relatable and culturally diverse environments, where they can see themselves reflected in books and classroom materials, will develop many positive qualities and life skills, such as:

  • Positive self-esteem and self-identity
  • Problem solving and coping skill
  • A sense of belonging and safety

And these are vital skills for all young children to develop early and are essential to help children reach their full potential and develop resilience.

As early educators, we can support children in gaining these important skills by creating positive learning experiences. Children’s early experiences shape what they imagine to be possible. Science tells us that positive early experiences impact children’s brain structure, which serves as the base for all future learning, behavior, and health. Therefore, it is important for young children to be able to witness these positive experiences early on, as these experiences can help improve their social-emotional skills and support their learning. To promote positive childhood experiences, we must ensure that all children see themselves and their culture reflected in their learning environments.

Here are some strategies to help represent all children in your classroom and provide positive experiences:

  • Use curriculum and learning materials that reflects children’s identities. When children see and hear themselves reflected in their classroom environment, it boosts their confidence and self-esteem. They are not only more open to learning, but they are able to shape high expectations for themselves. When children can have confidence in themselves and feel connected to others and their environments, they can live a resilient life!
  • Get to know all your children and learn about their families and their unique cultures. This will help build those secure relationships with both the children and their families. When children feel safe and supported, they are able to explore new things and build positive peer relationships.

So yes, representation matters – especially in early childhood experiences! Children that see positive representations of themselves through books, movie characters, and other educational programs create avenues to imagine themselves in the world. When you see others who look like you, come from where you come from, and live the way you live, it’s easier to see all the places you can go and determine who and what you can be.

Additional resources for building children’s emotional capacity and health:

masks and costumes play a big role in children's play therapy

Dominique Harris, BS, QMHP-C (Qualified Mental Health Professional), is a Trauma & Resiliency Specialist at ChildSavers. She supports early childcare programs throughout VA in providing a trauma-informed early care environment & best practices on building resiliency in children.

Image of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson source 

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