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A Lesson on Racial Differences.

We live in an ever changing world filled with human diversity. Today's children must be taught how to not only live in such a diverse global community, but to understand the benefits that this diversity offers them. This article is designed to help educators realize these goals by teaching the values of tolerance and understanding to nursery school and pre-kindergarten three and four year old children. Through the use of a very simple and yet unique lesson utilizing M & M candies, young and impressionable minds come to see that differences in skin color are not how people should be judged. Instead, strength of character should be the yard stick for measuring personal worth. Since looks can be deceptive, in the final analysis the only true way to ascertain this strength of character is by taking the time to learn what people are like on the inside. The methodologies and strategies depicted in this article have been successfully employed by this author over the course of many many years of actual classroom teaching experience. If properly utilized, they can prove to be a valuable tool for combating racism and instilling important and needed values into today's students.

Lesson Objectives

To help students develop a better understanding and tolerance of racial differences

Student Population

Nursery school and Pre-kindergarten classes children 3 and 4 years of age


One bag of M & M candies for each student


This lesson is a very simple attempt on the part of the teacher to show young children that any racial differences between them, their friends, or any of their classmates should not be a significant factor for judging character. I have found that this lesson, although quite elementary in nature, leaves a rather long-lasting impact. Former students, now in their late teenage years, have returned to tell me that even after more than a decade and a half they still remember this particular lesson. They say that it stands out in their minds and is in fact one of their most vivid school memories. Some have even told me that it helped them develop those crucial first impressions that have remained with them ever since.

It has been documented that educators, sociologists, and even parents have observed that children begin to notice differences in skin color in other children as early as the ages of three or four. These observations are reinforced by what they see on television and in books and magazines. As a natural part of their growth process they notice these distinctions and begin to formulate questions about these differences. This is a crucial period in which teachers and parents can set a pattern for better understanding between the races. It is a unique opportunity to begin to instill the values of tolerance and understanding.

I begin this lesson by informally speaking with the three and four year old nursery school children and Pre-kindergartners. I chat with them about what they like and what they hate. I ask them about their favorite toys and television shows and anything else that will give me a better understanding of who they are, what they believe, and just what is important to them. Eventually, I tell them how their teacher has informed me that they are an excellent class and that they are among the brightest and nicest children she has ever taught. My purpose here is to establish two perceptions in their minds prior to the actual beginning of the lesson. First, I want them to believe that they are academically capable of understanding what I am about to teach them. Secondly, I want them to believe in their innate goodness as young people. Nice people do nice things, and they are nice people. By helping to foster individual and group self esteem this initial dialogue sets the stage for a successful lesson.

My major teaching tool for this lesson is several bags of M & M candies. I begin by passing out one bag to each of the students. Already I am a hit with them. First of all most children love this candy. The children also like this idea because together we are changing the normal classroom routine. We are eating candy in class. In a way we are breaking the rules, and we all know that breaking the rules can be fun at times. I next ask the children to open the packages and divide the candy up according to color. I tell them to put all the red ones in one group, all the greens in another, all the yellow ones in a third, and so on. Once this task is accomplished I instruct them to place one red M & M into their mouths and slowly allow it to dissolve. I tell them that as they do this they are to try to remember just what this red M & M tastes like. After a short time I tell them to chew up the red M & M and then place a green one into their mouths. Once again I instruct them to slowly allow it to melt in their mouths and to picture in their minds just what this second green M & M tastes like. I also tell them to think about how this green M & M tastes different compared to the first red one they tasted. After they finish eating the green M & M I repeat the process going through one M & M color at a time; orange, dark brown, yellow, blue, and so on.

Once we have completed eating one of every color M & M I begin to engage the students in a discussion through the use of preplanned questions. I ask the class to describe the differences in taste between the red M & M and the green M & M. I then ask them to tell me the differences between the green M & M and the orange one. I continue this strategy by using several combinations of colors. Initially some students will tell me that they can indeed taste a real difference between the different colors of M & M candies. This is a normal response. They assume that since I asked such a question then there must be an appropriate answer.

Eventually though one student will raise her hand and announce that there is no real taste difference between any of the colors of M & Ms. She will tell me that all the candies taste good, but all of them really taste the same. This is my cue. I then ask this student to explain in more detail just what she means. I begin with the following query. If there is no real big difference in taste, then just what is it that you taste when you eat the candy? Her response is that, no matter what color they are, what she tastes is the chocolate when she eats any of the M & M candies. At this point 1 feign confusion and look puzzled. What chocolate? I ask. The little girl, usually with several of her classmates chiming in, then proceeds to tell me the chocolate is inside each piece of candy.

My next set of questions are fairly predictable at this point. Are you saying then that what's important in these M & M candies is what's on the inside? Are you saying that the color on the outside makes no real difference? The response is almost always an immediate and resounding yes. The basic foundation for fulfilling the objectives of the lesson has now been established.

In my next volley of questions I attempt to piggy-back off what they have just learned and relate it to a more important example, namely people. If what you are saying is true, that it's what's inside that counts and not what the outside looks like, then is it the same with people? Does it matter if I am black, or white, or light tan as long as I am a good and kind person on the inside? I can almost hear them thinking. After some consideration I once again receive a chorus of yeses.

It is usually at this point that I ask the students to tell me about any individual they know that is a nice and kind person. After each story I ask them to describe for me what the person looks like. If I am not told, I always ask them to tell me the color of the person they had spoken about. This part of the lesson helps to reinforce and expand upon the idea that good and decent people come in all shades.

The benefits of this simple, yet highly effective, lesson are rather numerous. First of all it helps lay the ground work for developing the higher level critical thinking skills of problem solving and analysis. Secondly, this lesson can be expanded and personalized in future weeks to include not only people of color, but anyone who may look different than any individual child in the class including tall people, shorter people, thin people, overweight people, people who are physically or mentally challenged, people of different nationalities or ethnicities, old people, or any of the vast array of possibilities that our diverse society may offer.

Finally, this lesson is unique in one sense. In all probability the essential beliefs that this lesson is attempting to instill are most likely being fostered at home as well. In most cases they have already been told by their parents that what's important about a person isn't what they look like, or how fast they can run, or how much money they have, or any of a dozen other things, but what they are like on the inside. We as parents have preached this axiom for centuries in an attempt to develop sound moral values in our children. This classroom lesson works to reinforce this very message.

Let me end this lesson by saying that I would be remiss if I did not point out that there is one danger that teachers who utilizes this lesson should take into consideration. I cannot stress enough that this is a crucial point to understand and master. The purpose of this lesson is not to try to instill in these young minds the idea that there is no physical differences in people of different colors. If we try to teach this concept, then the children's own senses will quickly point out to them that this is just not the case.

Remember it was their initial curiosity about differences in skin colors that prompted this lesson in the first place.

Instead, the purpose of this lesson is to teach these young and impressionable minds that the differences in skin color are not what is important. What is important is what the person is like inside. This is what makes them nice or mean. This is what makes them good people or bad.

In closing, I strongly urge both nursery and Pre-kindergarten school teachers to utilize this lesson and begin today the long and arduous task of developing the much needed skills of understanding and tolerance that our students will need to practice in this ever changing global world.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Joseph S. C. Simplicio, P.O. Box 1132, Shepherdstown, WV 25443.
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Article Details
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Author:Simplicio, Joseph S. C.
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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