Anti-Oppression with Children

 

 As part of our new Open House project, Check was happy to support the first instalment in this exciting series of youth-led workshops, with all topics chosen and facilitated by our existing youth volunteers.  Allison Jones and Annie Preston facilitated a great session on talking about anti-oppression with younger children. Here is their reflection on the experience:

 

“We had a great time facilitating this workshop.  We went in with a great excitement for the topic – anti-oppression work with kids – but little experience discussing this with others passionate about the topic.  It was really fun to hear how people view anti-oppression work with kids, especially in many different environments.  People talked about their experiences with family and at work, in both formal and informal positions.  It was very inspiring to see people relating the theoretical ideas we were discussing to the children in their lives and to hear about the ways they seek to broach these issues with kids, in a fair, open and honest way.

The topic that we chose to begin the workshop discussing was language.  We asked participants to think about what words we use to describe anti-oppression.  People shared many ideas ranging from “intersectionality” to “the -isms” to “power” to “privilege”.We asked participants to think about how accessible (or inaccessable!) these terms are.  We discussed when during our lives we learned these words, and many people shared that although they understood the concepts behind these words at an early age, they often didn’t encounter these terms until they were adults, perhaps in university or at work.

We thought about how else we might convey these ideas to children, if we don’t want to use such academic terms, and spoke about the limitations of words that we often turn to – such as “fairness”, “bullying”, or “being mean”/”being nice”.  A number of participants shared that they wished they had some of this more politicized and nuanced language at a younger age, as it would have helped them understand their experiences.  These terms may be overwhelming for kids to learn, but they can also be empowering as they can give kids ways to explore new ideas or describe things they experience.

We had a good discussion about how to broach issues of social justice and anti-oppression with kids when situations arise that relate to these topics.  People mainly shared two main strategies for broaching these topics: either keeping things light-hearted (“what do you mean when you say that? where did you learn that?”) or making things personal and serious (“you’re hurting my feelings when you say that”).  We talked about what kinds of settings each of these approaches works particularly well in.

One of the best parts about facilitating this was being able to connect with other people interested in developing ways to do Anti-Oppression work with children. The overwhelming atmosphere of the workshop was both very excited, and also an acknowledgement of the fact that there are not often spaces where these conversations are possible. The group dynamic was really awesome and most of that is owed to the participants and their enthusiasm.

As always, one of the great challenges was figuring out how to link individual experiences with systemic forces, especially when facilitating activities. This was one area where we did not have much time for an in-depth discussion but is something to consider for the future.  We touched on the power of storytelling and art as tools for engaging children’s imaginations and pushing them to think creatively and abstractly.

    Overall, this workshop was a great experience for both of us – and we hope for participants as well! We hope that some of these conversations will be continued in the future, and will remain valuable to our work.”

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