“L-G-B-T-Q. That’s a lot of letters!” said kindergarten teacher Rona Wolfe, speaking to about 18 children during a Zoom session on July 9.
Wolfe explained what the letters stood for during the weekly session. That same session, a guest shared a picture book about a boy who is transgender; and a parent read a story he co-wrote with his husband about surrogacy.
This is social justice story time. Children and families attend a weekly remote gathering to discuss contemporary issues through children’s books. Lessons include stories from Native, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ perspectives, as well as stories about friendship, race, refugees, immigrants, differently-abled people, and the environment.
Wolfe, a teacher with Milwaukee Jewish Day School, hosts the event weekly with Repairing Together, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Day School that connects with students from different cultural backgrounds in Milwaukee–area K-8 schools. Sponsoring organizations include Tikkun Ha-Ir and Today In Kindergarten, along with Jewish Museum Milwaukee and Hours Against Hate, both programs of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
The event is free to attend and held every Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Anyone can join by clicking the Zoom link on Facebook.
Wolfe said she thinks it’s important for people to tell their own stories so she invites guest readers from different communities to story time each week.
Alemitu Caldart, a student organizer for Black Lives Matter protests, read stories about race. Teachers from Indian Community School shared stories about the Native community.
“Simply by listening and talking about big ideas, we give children and families a really good opportunity to develop an understanding and appreciation of differences,” Wolfe said.
Research shows that children exhibit racial and gender bias as early as preschool, but with education, these tendencies can be unlearned.
Wolfe said she’s received feedback that the children are too young to learn about the topics covered during story time. She disagrees.
“Society is telling children that there are different categories of significance for people,” Wolfe said. “Whether this is intentionally what we’re teaching, this is what they’re noticing.”
At the conclusion of each book, Wolfe briefly explains why its content is important. The hope is that families will then continue the conversation on their own.
“Grown-up silence really increases a child’s prejudice,” Wolfe said. “We have to listen to people who don’t look like us and who have different experiences than us.”