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Exploring Diversity: Harnessing the Power of LGBTQ+ Picture Books in Early Years Education

The recent surge in the publication of LGBTQ+ picture books is incredibly exciting for the early years (EY) sector. Books are a key resource in the sector’s mission to champion diversity, equity and inclusion because they provide a way for children to see themselves in the world and a window into other identities. During my MA dissertation at the University of Roehampton, I observed and interviewed two EY educators in a 3–4-year-old classroom in London to learn more about how they use LGBTQ+ picture books. This article thinks about how EY educators can make the most of LGBTQ+ picture books in the classroom by:

Using child-centred approaches

When using LGBTQ+ picture books, educators should think about what they want the children in their particular setting to walk away with. For example, you may want to help your children foster a better understanding of their identity and place in the world. When chatting with Joanna Brown, a 3–4-year-old practitioner, she shared that she wants her children “to know that it is okay to be yourself. Be you.”

Alternatively, educators may want their children to develop compassion for others. In conversation with Margot Smith, a 3–4-year-old room leader, she shared that she wants her children “to know that they are going to meet people that are completely different from them. That it’s okay if they have questions, but to be respectful, accepting, and love everyone for who they are.”

To reach these goals, children must connect their lives to the characters and scenarios in the story. When children can relate to what is happening in the book, educators can help LGBTQ+ children understand their identity and support children who are not part of the community to develop compassion for people who are different from them. So how can we centre our children in readings of LGBTQ+ picture books? Try the following:

  • Ask your children what they think about the book. This will reveal their fascinations, curiosities and biases, creating rich spaces for you to have conversations that directly relate to their ideas
  • Encourage your children to share their thoughts and experiences by asking questions such as “Have you ever felt like this character?” or “Do you like doing some of the things this character does?” This empowers them to make real-life connections to the characters in the stories

Beyond Gender: Integrating LGBTQ+ Picture Books Across Early Years Curriculum

LGBTQ+ picture books can be used beyond discussions of gender and family structures. In conversation with Joanna, she shared that, “We use them at least once a day because we are trying to add it into everyday life. We want children to know that it’s normal.” By using these stories in other areas of the classroom, you teach young children that LGBTQ+ people are integral to our world. For example, Margot used “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love to start a conversation about ‘Carnival’, a Caribbean festival that takes place in her community as well as around the globe.

Here are some more suggestions to get you started:

  • “Introducing Teddy: A Story About Being Yourself” by Jessica Walton taps into the social-emotional domain, providing opportunities to explore topics such as kindness and acceptance
  • “I’m A Girl!” by Yasmeen Ismail can be used to support literacy skills such as predictive reading and word recognition
  • And “Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole, can be used to engage with science concepts, specifically when thinking about penguins or the zoo

Unconscious Bias: Considerations in Using LGBTQ+ Picture Books in Early Years Education

Unconscious bias, or the assumptions we make about a group of people that we may not be aware of, will impact how we use LGBTQ+ picture books with young children. In conversation with Joanna, she noted that “Everyone has an opinion. There’s always going to be a sense of someone else’s morals and what they believe to be true.” As EY educators, we need to be aware of how our unconscious bias affects the way we teach our children. For example, do you reference heterosexual families as ‘normal families’ compared to LGBTQ+ families during read-aloud? Do you feel uncomfortable discussing different gender identities when they come up in books?

I encourage you to reflect on how your biases may impact how you use LGBTQ+ picture books and to seek information that can undo some of those biases. Here are some reflection prompts to get you started:

 

  • What do you know about the LGBTQ+ community?
  • How has your upbringing impacted the way you view the world and the people in it?
  • How often do you currently use LGBTQ+ picture books in your classroom?
  • What conversations are you nervous to have within your classroom and why? What can you do to challenge that discomfort?
  • What support do you need to champion LGBTQ+ inclusion in your classroom? What steps can you take to make that happen?

About the author:

Kayla Halls, MA, is a Research Fellow at Middlesex University. She has six years of teaching experience with children aged birth to six years old and four years of research experience. Her research focus includes leadership, pedagogy and social justice. 

    About the author:

    Kayla Halls, MA, is a Research Fellow at Middlesex University. She has six years of teaching experience with children aged birth to six years old and four years of research experience. Her research focus includes leadership, pedagogy and social justice. 

      About the author:

      Kayla Halls, MA, is a Research Fellow at Middlesex University. She has six years of teaching experience with children aged birth to six years old and four years of research experience. Her research focus includes leadership, pedagogy and social justice. 

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