Talking to Kids about Race

What if childcare providers, educators, and parents consciously transferred value and appreciation of racial differences to young children?

Photo of Gail Harrison
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

The awareness that children begin to develop racial bias at a very young age prompted me to expand our organization's programming to include training for adults who work with children. But I also heard from parents of instances in which adults' attitudes about race were transferred to children, and it typically is not blatant, direct, and intentional. It is subconsciously relayed in subtle inflections, mannerisms, and the way adults react to different children. One parent relayed to me the following incident that took place when picking her child up from daycare. The childcare provider expressed that the little boy had spent much of the day playing with "her"--one of two little girls, one white and one black--remaining in the classroom. The mom, indicating the African American child, asked "Do you mean this little girl?" The childcare provider shook her head disapprovingly, saying, "No, not THAT girl." The child, who had smiled on being noticed by the mother, looked at the floor and turned away. It was stories of interactions like this that made me recognize the broad impacts this training could have for children's psychological and social wellbeing, and ultimately, their future--and for typically well-meaning adults who unknowingly pass on implicit racial bias.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Holland, Zeeland, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, Muskegon, Lansing, and many more across the state of Michigan and into Indiana

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Despite the fact that most people are not overt racists, indicators of wellbeing show that disparities persist for people of color. Implicit bias is the culprit behind seemingly subtle variations in attitudes and behaviors toward individuals. Children are keen observers and replicators; if the youngest can learn positive racial associations at an early age, we are setting them up for a successful and equitable future. Babies begin to recognize differences in skin color as early as 6 months of age. Infancy and early childhood are key developmental stages in which children can learn positive associations attached to racial difference if they are proactively exposed to such attitudes. Children can also learn negative attitudes unwittingly passed on through implicit bias. Intentional action to develop positive racial identities and attitudes early is key to positive future outcomes.

Empowering parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators with an understanding of the challenge of implicit racial bias and the tools to advance racial equity through modeling and open discussion with children are the hallmarks of Talking to Kids about Race (TTKAR).  TTKAR workshops bring research-based, tried-and-true tools and techniques, as well as a critical awareness of the development of racial attitudes in early childhood to adults who work with or care for young children.  Adult acknowledgement and validation of racial difference give children a healthy understanding of and attitude toward racial identities--their own and that of others.  Likewise, affirmation of racial difference advances the development of positive identities in very young children, promoting a strong sense of self and belonging as a valued member of the community, and purpose in a secure understanding of the validity of their contributions and those of others. 

TTKAR targets the youngest children--infants and toddlers up to age 5--in proactive development of positive racial attitudes and identities, setting children on a secure path of identity formation and positive social interaction at a very early age.  Since its inception in 2012, TTKAR has reached 1,418 childcare providers, educators, and parents with techniques to proactively instill positive racial attitudes and identities in over 26,000 children they care for.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

TTKAR participants have shared with us the tremendous impact the program has brought to their homes and classrooms. TTKAR teaches adults how to answer young children's questions about racial differences, and how to proactively address the subject in order to enhance children's development of positive racial attitudes and identities. Participant comments include: “Before this workshop, I didn't know if we should use the colorblind approach or openly talk about differences. Now I am equipped with ideas and tools on how to approach kids.” “This workshop made me more aware of how things I say can affect an individual child's self-worth.” “Our organization is very diverse and there will always be questions. It is great to have the tools."

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Talking to Kids about Race (TTKAR) workshops engaged 257 adults who work with or care for children in 2015, and 4,027 children were reached with the tools to develop a positive, healthy racial identity and to embrace racial differences. 96% of participants increased awareness of children's development of racial attitudes through the workshop, and 96% found the training valuable for their organization or community. Pre- and post-workshop evaluations are used to measure change in participants' preparedness to discuss race with children. Since TTKAR began in 2012, the program has seen rapid growth in demand in Michigan and beyond. We see TTKAR continuing to expand and reaching hundreds of participants and thousands of children each year in the region that we have operations. TTKAR could have much wider impact if funding allowed for free parent workshops and facilitator training.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

TTKAR is a fee-for-service program. The program primarily operates through contracted workshops paid for by private businesses, organizations, school districts, etc. Workshops have also been offered for parents through partnerships with other organizations. We also apply for appropriate grant funds at times in order to provide scholarships or courses open to parents, for example.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There is valuable work being done in racial equity and in children's socio-emotional wellbeing, including projects that support positive racial identities. TTKAR is filling a significant gap by reaching the very youngest children with development of positive racial attitudes and identities, even as babies and toddlers are absorbing social cues and attitudes from the adults they observe. Empowering children from infancy and toddlerhood is a proactive measure that helps to preempt the development of negative racial attitudes, low self-esteem, and lack of cultural competency in future years.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Naturally, we see racial equity and unity as very critical and exciting steps toward a successful future for all children. As children learn positive attitudes about race and behaviors toward others, we are securing a continued future of equity for generations to come. The area of racial equity has not received much attention in early childhood development in the past, but we see great promise for change in the work we have done so far. The psychology of race has huge potential for changing the world we live in, if we can apply it for people who are bringing up the next generation.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

Talking to Kids about Race reaches communities in Michigan and in neighboring Indiana. As a fee-for-service program, TTKAR can go wherever it is contracted. Participants receive tools to discuss race with young children, including multiracial puppets, books that positively portray racial diversity, and ideas for critical conversations. TTKAR workshops are held on request, although we do offer sessions open to the public in west Michigan, when grant funds are available to cover costs. Workshops are facilitated by LEDA's dynamic and engaging program staff.

Community Leadership

Talking to Kids about Race directly reaches those working in early childhood development, and we value feedback from all program participants. Feedback from stakeholders resulted in a second phase of the TTKAR program, after we heard from many participants that they wanted a follow-up course to address further steps. Equity is at the heart of all of our programming, and we continually seek to amplify voices that are often devalued.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5

Spread Strategies

We are interested in exploring ways to advance TTKAR's geographic area to reach more childcare providers, educators, and ultimately, children. One possibility is through replication based on training facilitators from outside of Michigan to conduct the program in their own communities. LEDA is interested in connecting with others who share a goal of racial equity advancement and are passionate about reaching children with life skills and tools.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

The TTKAR model advances children's emotional and psychological health through an understanding and appreciation of racial differences, passed on by the adults that care for them--childcare providers, educators, and parents. Children learn to value and respect themselves and others from the earliest ages, while gaining a sense of belonging and acceptance, through an understanding of race as a valued characteristic to be embraced.

Leadership Story

Twenty years ago, I founded the organization known as LEDA with a handful of others who shared my concern over a lack of racial inclusion in our community. We forged LEDA’s Community Engagement Model, culminating in the Summit on Race and Inclusion (now an annual event), and implemented two programs for children in the mid-1990s. It has been a process of motivating action among community leaders, galvanizing support from financial donors, and engaging hundreds of volunteers with great success. I am proud to say that LEDA now offers a scope of programs that serve every age and sector.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 75%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 25%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 25%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 50%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 25%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 50%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 25%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 75%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 25%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 66.7%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 66.7%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nicole Forsyth

I'd love to see the program in action! Have you considered a video to demonstrate this: "Through the Talking to Kids about Race workshop, adults learn a variety of practical tools that assist in transferring healthy attitudes about race to children. They learn not only how to answer young children's questions about racial differences, but also how to proactively address the subject in order to enhance children's development of positive racial attitudes?" Another idea to help demonstrate impact: maybe a pre- and post-survey for the students to get at whether adults who use this program are able to change kids' attitudes significantly or maybe you could share the specific research/outcomes already found in the "research-based, tried-and-true tools and techniques" used. Thanks for your work in this area! Exciting!

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