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Transformation through collaboration: Connections for a shared world
Innovation Issue 37: Fall 2022

Teaching preschoolers about anti-racism with CBC Kids

Meet the Expert

Teaching preschoolers about anti-racism with CBC Kids

In a production studio, two people make funny faces along with a blue horse puppet while they look through an empty picture frame, creating the impression that they are the picture inside the frame.

Actors Tony Kim (left) and Janaye Upshaw (top right) with character Gary the Unicorn (bottom right), voiced by Jason Hopley, on the set of CBC Kids anti-racism special Proud to Be Me. TMU professor Janelle Brady collaborated with CBC Kids to develop the special.

An opportunity to educate preschool-aged children about race and anti-racism also became a learning opportunity for early childhood studies professor Janelle Brady when she collaborated with CBC Kids to develop a video series called
Proud to Be Me. The video series gave her a new way to present her research, this time directly to children.

“As a researcher, you engage in this type of work on a day-to-day basis, but now it’s about making sure you’re mobilizing knowledge to preschool children. In that sense, it was new, and it was also a learning process,” said the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) professor.

The series of eight videos teaches young children about race and racism, equity, fairness, kindness and celebrating differences. Professor Brady, whose area of expertise includes anti-racist education and community-based research, was brought on as a consultant for the series by the Canadian broadcaster after conducting anti-Black racism research with other high-profile organizations like the Peel District School Board. She worked alongside CBC Kids producers and was involved in every stage of the process, from scripting to the final edit, providing scholarly context on language, the history of anti-racism and how to discuss fairness, equity and equality in a way suitable for preschoolers.

“Folks in the early childhood profession often shy away from conversations about race and racism because they think that children are not yet conceptualizing the topics,” said professor Brady, citing research by TMU professor Rachel Berman (external link) . “Because of my ongoing research in anti-racist education, I was able to contribute to this project and ensure that at each stage we address what race is, what racism is, and what fairness is in an age-appropriate way, rather than follow a colour-blind approach.”

One of the goals of the project was to acknowledge and celebrate differences while also acknowledging the challenges people face on a daily basis because of differences. This proved to be a challenge since preschool-age use differences to learn.

“We really had to understand how to approach this in an age-appropriate way and in a way that would teach children anti-racism strategies,” said professor Brady.

In the series, the team demonstrated anti-racism by showing children how to intervene when friends who look different than them are bullied based on their skin. The series ensures children feel empowered to stand up and have some knowledge of what to say in those situations.

The series is also meant to resonate with parents and caregivers with the understanding that not everyone is at the same place when it comes to acknowledging race and racism. It also encourages parents and caregivers to keep the conversations going.

“There is a segment that is unscripted because children need to be able to speak to their own experiences in very candid ways,” said professor Brady.

Through these conversations, the team was able to demonstrate both how racism differs for different groups of people and how important these conversations are, since children are already consuming information about race and racism one way or another.

“Projects such as these disrupt and challenge the notion that children are too young to have these conversations or that they are too innocent,” said professor Brady.

For professor Brady, the CBC project is a snapshot of her research from various projects and community collaborations throughout her academic career.

“My trajectory into academia came from community first, so it is important to me that any research I do is accessible,” said professor Brady.

Professor Brady was joined by fellow consultants George Brown College professor Shawnee Hardware and writer Ezi Odozor on the series. Together, they make up the Black-owned consultancy group The Collective.

Projects such as these disrupt and challenge the notion that children are too young to have these conversations or that they are too innocent.