Starting Small: Teaching Tolerance in Preschool and the Early Grades [Video and Book]

Sara Bullard, Jim Carnes, Marie Hofer, Nancy Polk, Rosa Hernandez Sheets

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This book profiles seven classrooms in which teachers are helping young children build inclusive, equitable, caring communities across differences that too often divide. Their approaches are varied, yet they share three crucial habits: reflecting continually on their own assumptions,goals and behavior; talking with their peers about how these factors conflict as well as coincide; and practicing social skills as diligently as mental or physical ones.The book has seven chapters each centered on an in-depth classroom narrative. Topics addressed include the following: family diversity, practical and ethnic awareness, fairness, nurturing justice, building friendship skills, discovering diversity, facing prejudice, heroes, responding to special needs, encouraging self-discipline, and coping with loss. Two kinds of sidebars supplement the main stories. "Reflections" is research-based essays addressing specific themes or developmental aspects of teaching tolerance, such as racial awareness, gender equity, or friendship. "Applications" offers practical ideas for incorporating these concepts into classroom activities. Annotated resource lists focusing on diversity education in early childhood settings are provided.

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Bibliographic Information:

Sara Bullard, Jim Carnes, Marie Hofer, Nancy Polk, Rosa Hernandez Sheets. Starting Small: Teaching Tolerance in Preschool and the Early Grades [Video and Book] (1997). Southern Poverty Law Center: Montgomery, Al.

Language: English

Reading Level: Average

Formats Available: Printed Material, Videotape

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(Starting Small is available free, one per early childhood center, elementary school, or teacher training institution upon written request of director, principal, or department chair; individuals should contact the producer )

Southern Poverty Law Center
Teaching Tolerance Project
400 Washington Avenue
Montgomery, Al

Phone: (334) 264-0286
Fax: (334) 264-3121


Languages Available: English

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Producer Information:

Intended User Audience:

This set is intended for all professionals involved in Early Childhood Education Programs.

The audience could be of any discipline and at any level of experience, as well as from any cultural and linguistic group.

The set is intended for use in any Early Childhood Program or in any teacher preparation setting.

Product Development:

This material was developed in 7 classrooms nationwide, preschool - 3rd grade.
The professionals involved in the development were educational psychologists, multicultural education specialists, and classroom teachers.
Those involved in the development were African American, Latino, European American, and Asian American.
The donor community of the Southern Poverty Law Center entirely funded the project.

Product Evaluation:

Since there is no prescribed method of using the videotape and book, this was not field-tested. However, the set was developed with the input of many in the education field. 

Product Dissemination:

As of 1998, over 33,000 sets have been distributed (free of charge) nationwide. An additional 20,000 books were distributed by National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

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Users' Comments:

Wu-ying Hsieh - Ph.D. student in early childhood special education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

The early childhood classroom experience serves as a young child's first social participation in their community, a community that may be very diverse in terms of culture and linguistic backgrounds. It is important to "start small" so children have a chance to establish their ideas about equity, cooperation, and citizenship for a lifetime. Because of the increasing diversity of children in classrooms, it is very important for teachers to teach children to tolerate and understand differences. The hands-on classroom activities suggested in Starting Small are based on real stories that help teachers to convert the abstract concepts to action and guide them in their instructional efforts. Teachers are encouraged to examine their own assumptions as well through this material and adapt the activities as necessary based on the backgrounds of their students. As a result, through Starting Small children have a chance to cultivate their acceptance of differences and potentially learn to interact more successfully with their diverse peers.

One concern relates to additional training and support for teachers, not all of whom may have a strong educational or personal background related to diversity issues, or even have experience in thinking through the issues Starting Small presents. Without additional support, some teachers may struggle to implement the activities successfully. Starting Small helps us strive toward an ideal goal of acceptance and tolerance of diversity, but it may need to be supplemented with additional approaches and administrative support in many cases.

The material is useful beyond teaching tolerance to children, as teachers can use it with paraprofessional staff and parents as well. Different groups can adapt the activities depending upon their unique culture, values, and beliefs.

I would use this curriculum in my classroom. Our society is becoming more diverse with regard to cultural and linguistic backgrounds of children and families. Teaching children to accept and tolerate differences at an early age will sow the seeds of improved relations in the future. This material is a well-organized, positive, and creative effort to teach tolerance in preschool and the primary grades.

Amanda Quesenberry - Technical assistance provider, QIC-D Region V:

The authors combined their expertise in law and their background in working with people in poverty to develop a curriculum that will help children be more respectful and tolerant of others. This curriculum can help children recognize and celebrate the similarities and differences that we all possess. By showing a broad range of children in various locations across the country, the authors demonstrate that the materials can and should be used with children of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

This curriculum is meant to help us as a society be proactive rather than reactive when teaching children about tolerance and how to think about equity, inclusion, gender awareness, conflict resolution, cooperation, democracy, and citizenship. One limitation to consider is that the authors listed no specific adaptations to be used with children with disabilities or with children who do not speak English. However, I feel that the materials could be used with children of all ages and could be adapted by the teachers to be used with children with different levels of functioning or linguistic backgrounds. To find a variety of ways to present the information to all children, teachers could get together to discuss ways to adapt the materials in order to make them appropriate for all children in the classroom, including translating elements of the activities as necessary for children who are not fluent in English.

I would definitely use this curriculum in my classroom. I agree with the authors that if teachers used these materials appropriately, a classroom could gain a sense of community and harmony. One hopes that the children would feel safe in a classroom that used "Starting Small" and would learn valuable lessons about respecting others and about tolerance that they could carry with them forever. I would recommend that other teachers use the curriculum for these same reasons. Those who teach young children have the unique opportunity to teach children important lessons about how to treat others and why people are alike and different. What we tell children at this age may affect them for the rest of their lives. We need to make sure, then, that we use high-quality materials such as these to help children start learning these important life skills when they are young.

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