politicswithpreschoolersA few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Childcare as a Revolutionary Act, which discussed the reasons why providing childcare for leftist movement is so important, and some general tips for childcare providers. But it still left some big questions unanswered: How do you discuss political activism with pre-schoolers? How can you plan activities when you don’t know how many kids might come or their ages? Or, even more basic: What do you DO all day?

So to that end, I’m going to share some more ideas related to Childcare for the Revolution!

Freedom, childcare, "nobody's free until we are all free"
Children’s Assembly at the 6th Southern Movement Assembly. (photo credit: Jared Story)

Question 1: How do you discuss political activism with little kids?

Honestly, I don’t get into it too much. When I held down the Children’s Assembly at last year’s SMA, I had roughly 12 hours of instructional/activity time spread out over two days. Out of those twelve hours, less than TWO of them were spent actually talking about activist practices like protests, marches, direct action, or even civic engagement. Instead, we focus on topics like…

  • Safety: How do we feel when we’re safe? What makes a place safe or unsafe? Are there places you don’t feel safe? What would make them safer? How do we keep the people we love safe?
  • Freedom: What does it mean to be free? Where do you feel free? What things can you do when you are free? Are there people who aren’t free? What can/can’t they do?
  • Respect: What does respect look and feel like? How do we respect our selves? How do we show respect to others?
  • Kindness: How do we show kindness to others? Does kindness look different for different people? Are there times we shouldn’t be kind to someone?
  • Cooperation and Competition: What do these words mean? Who benefits from competition? From cooperation?
  • History: What happened during the various peoples’ rights movements of the past? Who are our ancestors? Who are our role models?
  • Being ourselves!: Who are we? How do we make friends? How do we like to express ourselves? What makes us special? What do we have in common?

These concepts are a foundation upon which parents and other close adults can build political ideas later on. Young kids don’t need to learn about cooperative economics or comprehensive mental health care – not yet. Kids need to be proud of who they are and who they come from, and deeply committed to taking care of themselves and the world around them. So I focus on these concepts instead, helping the kids understand them in concrete terms, so that later on they can approach complicated politics from a place of empathy, collaboration, and self-respect.

Question 2: How do you plan activities when you don’t even know how many kids you’ll get, their ages, etc.?

Short answer: Through Universal Design for Learning principals!

Long answer: I’m lucky to have a background in education, and especially informal and nontraditional education. I’ve worked at seven different summer camps and after-school programs, including two for children with moderate to severe cognitive disabilities and another feminist day camp. Thanks to my coursework, I’m also familiar with the typical development of children ages 3-18 and the most common challenges for struggling learners. What this all means is I have a pretty huge repertoire of games and experiential learning activities I can adapt on the spot to work for different group sizes, developmental stages, or physical and/or cognitive limitations.

This doesn’t mean you need to have a special ed degree or a million years of experience to do inclusive childcare, though! You can be prepared for just about 99% of all childcare scenarios by doing the following:

  • Give kids a choice. Have two activities available at a time, one that kids can do independently (like coloring or playing with quiet toys), and one that is guided by an adult.
  • If you’re going to do a teaching activity, try to communicate through different mediums. Pair up talking with images or hands-on materials. Play a song whose lyrics fit the message you want to send. Let kids talk, draw, or write to express their thoughts.
  • Use materials and activities that are all-ages friendly. I have never, in my life, met a kid who was too old to enjoy a picture book or a tub of play-doh. Peaceable Kingdom makes a variety of cooperative board games with suggestions for making them more or less challenging according to the ages of the players. And music is considered a universal language for a reason!
  • If there’s a big age gap (like most of the kids are 7 and under, but there is one 10 or 11 year old), ask the oldest kids to be helpers. Nine out of ten times, they’ll be excited to be one of the grown-ups.
  • As you are planning, ask yourself these questions, which are related to the most common disability types:
    • Does this work for a child who uses crutches/a walker/a wheelchair? How can I make it work for them?
    • Would some children think this is too loud or overstimulating? What might I do for them?
    • How many steps are there to this task/game/activity? If you have to give more than 2 or 3 instructions before the kids start doing the thing, preschool-aged kids and kids with developmental disabilities will struggle with it. Choose an activity with less complex instructions, OR make copies of the instructions available with visual cues.
    • If a child becomes distressed, do I have a place to help them calm down or tools to help them do it? Play tents and pillow forts are good calm-down zones, and bubbles, glittery sensory bottles and music with headphones all help kids get calm.

Children playing, african american children, diverse kids, outdoor play

Question 3: What do you DO all day?

We play! We go outside when the weather is nice and run around (I call it “getting our ya-yas out”). We make things with play-dough or blocks. We draw pictures. We sing songs and dance. We play board games. We have snacks and talk and laugh.

Sometimes I have a lesson plan, if we’re gonna hang out for more than a few hours (but part of the reason for that is because I am a massive dork, and writing lesson plans is super fun for me). But a big chunk of that lesson plan involves playtime, and some of our best moments with kids happen then. The conversations we have while blowing bubbles are just as much a part of learning as the time I spend asking follow-up questions about Last Stop on Market Street. And the exercise and fresh air we get from a game of tag is just as important for the kids’ well-being as the time we spend talking about freedom.

I mean…. it’s childhood. Why wouldn’t I want it to be good?

If you need a more concrete idea how what we do, I have some resources for you:


Fellow learners!: How do you talk with kids about tough or complex subjects? What kinds of activities do you plan for a day with a kid? Educators: What is your approach when teaching students about civil rights?  I wanna know – let’s talk! And let’s get free, y’all.


One thought on “Talkin’ Politics with Preschoolers: Childcare in Activist Spaces

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