The Implications of Racism in Early Childhood Addressed in Third Conversation Series Event

The Schubert Center continued its 2014-2015 Conversation Series Exploring Equity and Resilience in Childhood on November 18 with Tuppett Yates, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Yates and graduate student Ana Marcelo visited Cleveland to share their research on the impact on children of racial bias in early childhood educational settings and to participate in a seminar with local early education teachers.

Yates’s public talk was titled, “Of Play and Prejudice: The Implications of Racism in Early Childhood.” This event was co-sponsored by the CWRU Department of Psychological Sciences. The community and university partners for this event included:

Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio

The Children’s Museum of Cleveland

Invest in Children – Cuyahoga County

– Ohio Help Me GrowOhio Department of Health

– YWCA of Greater Cleveland

ZERO TO THREE National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families

University partners included:

CWRU Center on Urban Poverty and Development

CWRU Office of Inclusion, Diversity & Equal Opportunity

CWRU Social Justice Institute

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Yates presented research from a longitudinal study of 250 children that Marcelo and Yates have followed from age 4 to age 9 1/2. Yates first highlighted findings that preschoolers who were active in creating imaginative pretend play had lower rates of problems such as anxiety or depression. This finding was particularly robust for children who experienced more life stress. In other words, Yates stressed the importance of encouraging pretend play to help children develop skills for coping with stressful life events.

Yates then discussed research findings of implicit, or unconscious, racial biases demonstrated by teachers in early education settings. Despite the fact that children in their racially-diverse sample showed similar patterns of play as assessed in the laboratory, teachers rated more imaginative Black children as being less prepared for school, less accepted by peers, and having more child-teacher conflict, whereas they rated imaginative non-Black children more positively. These results suggest that some traits, such as imagination, may be encouraged or discouraged based on a child’s race. This is important especially given that imaginative play has been shown to be important for healthy child development. This has additional implications related to a recent report from the US Department of Education demonstrating that Black children are being expelled from preschool exponentially more than children of other races. Yates then discussed not-yet-published research on children’s understanding and awareness of discrimination and biases against them, as well as protective factors arising from strong ethnic identity.

Yates was joined by two respondents. Sandra Russ, PhD, Professor of Psychology at CWRU and Schubert Center Faculty Associate, discussed her own work on children’s play and coping skills. The measures of pretend play that Yates and Marcelo use in their research were originally developed by Russ. Constance Walker, MSSA, Manager of the Boys’ Project at Starting Point discussed her organization’s work to address the disparities for Black and Latino boys in the early childhood education system.

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After the lecture, Russ and Yates met with local early childhood education teachers and administrators for a seminar on the importance of play in preschool and child care settings, and to address questions and discussion on play and implicit bias in the classroom.

Download the accompanying issue brief, “Play, Implicit Bias and Discrimination in Early Childhood: Implications for Child Development

View the event page for this event.

View photos from the public talk.

View the PowerPoint presentation from “Of Play and Prejudice.”

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