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“Say It Loud . . . ”: Preparing Children to Be Leaders through Playing and Storytelling

This post is written by member Raven Jones Stanbrough.

Parent-Teacher Conferencing with a One-Year-Old

Like most new mothers, I used to sometimes attempt to get my daughter to silently play (as if that even makes sense) when I’m on “important” phone calls, at meetings, or out in certain public spaces. I pretty much failed each and every time because Zuri Hudson wasn’t born to “be quiet,” and I’m so here for her purposeful verbal insertions, regardless of the setting.

During my pregnancy, my partner Darryl—also an educator—and I read to, talked to, and sang to Zuri Hudson. At seven months, her first word was “book.” As educators with almost 20 years of collective teaching experiences with K–16 students, we conference each and every day about what we want to teach our students and our child. In fact, Darryl and I first met as classroom co-teachers in Detroit. When asked, we happily share advice and suggestions with our family and friends about the educational practices we engage in with our daughter and students in our classrooms.

One of our main pieces of advice for others is to begin to build a library for their children— whether it’s filled with books, art, pictures, flashcards, music, blocks, coins, notebooks, or other artifacts that interest them. When we drove to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in Atlanta, Georgia—we had all of those things for our 23-hour roundtrip car ride and for our time in Atlanta with Zuri Hudson.

On the morning of Saturday, November 19, when I sat at the table with Darryl and our ready-for-the-wor(l)d baby girl (who was 18 months at the time) to accept the 2016 Early Career Educator of Color (ECEOC) Leadership Award, we did not seek to silence her. So when her louder-than-a-whisper shouts of, “1,2,3,4,5” K,” and “T” filled the room with smiles, laughter, and affirming head nods from others, I picked her up from the floor where her toys were spread,  pulled her closer to me, and said, “I love you” and “I’m so proud of you” as I hugged her and removed one of her half-torn alphabet stickers from her afro.

During her emphatic outbursts, I could’ve said, “Shhhh” or “Be quiet, Z,” but I didn’t have the desire to do so. I strongly believe that children and students need the freedom and opportunities to be curious and exploratory—even when it may be an inconvenience for their parent-teachers and other loved ones. Considering this, it was no surprise to me, when I walked across the stage to accept my plaque that Darryl had to release a squirming Zuri Hudson from his arms because she wanted to run to and love on her mama, near the stage.

In that moment, I was reminded that my roles as a parent and teacher are to continue to assist children and students with finding their voices and using them to be loud when necessary.

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Zuri Hudson at 18 months reciting ‘NCTE’ letters, near the stage of the 2016 NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Awards Ceremony.

Counting Children in Seven Days a Week

As a former K–12 educator, it has brought me tremendous joy to teach other people’s children. I always told myself that whenever I had my own child,  I’d be conscious and deliberate about teaching her or him some of what I taught my previous students.

Last week, I shared a photo of Zuri Hudson on Facebook during our storytelling time. We purchased a podium for her that sits in the center of our living room and we all use it to share stories. This is something that’s very important to for us as parent-teachers and debate coaches. Since Darryl and I have flexible teaching schedules, Zuri Hudson is home with us every single day and has not had to be enrolled in a daycare facility. While I understand that every household is different, I want to offer a few tips that may be helpful when teaching or working with your child(ren) throughout the week.

  • Talk to your child(ren) throughout the day. Sometimes, they may have a lot on their minds, especially if they’re in school. Ask them open-ended questions, offer affirming words, and embrace them to remind them that they’re important and are loved.
  • Allow your child(ren) to play in a designated area and clean it up later. This used to be difficult for me, given that I’m very clean and dislike for things to be out of order. However, allowing our daughter to play without too many restrictions teaches us as her parents what her interests are and how she comprehends what we teach her.
  • Turn the television off. While there are great television shows that provide educational value for young people, don’t be afraid to turn the television off from time to time. Instead, take a walk around the house or outside and name various objects you see along the way. Create index cards that correspond to the items in your home and discuss these with your learners.
  • Create a growing library. Take advantage of secondhand stores and libraries that sell books for cheap, in an effort to build a library for your child(ren). Ask loved ones to donate books to your cause or, in lieu of toys for birthdays, ask for books.
  • Make every day fun! Tell your child(ren) stories, sing to or with them, and dance with them. Show them that you can have fun too. Have weekly talent shows that allow them to showcase their talents and interests.
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Image 2 shows Zuri Hudson at her podium, counting and telling a story to her stuffed animal friends about her pink triangle.

Raven Jones Stanbrough, Ph.D., is a Detroit native and a K–12 product of Detroit Public Schools. Dr. Jones Stanbrough is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University and is the co-founder of the The Zuri Reads Initiative, an effort to provide and organize literacy-related events and resources for Detroit-area children, students, and families.