Growing Community: Teaching Tolerance

I wish you could have been there! Kids First just hosted our annual in-service training for all the child care programs staff in Pitkin County. Everyone successfully Zoomed into the meeting, and we loved hearing Dr. Rosemarie Allen share information about implicit bias, microaggressions, white spaces and how we look at ourselves and our classrooms with new insight. Teachers and parents have a role that sometimes puts them in the middle of uncomfortable conversations, but this role requires us to put our comforts second to those of the children.

There are so many issues that all of us are trying to understand, and children have questions. They notice things about everyone, from the color of someone’s skin and hair, age, height and weight, gender differences and similarities or people with different abilities. What do we want our children to understand, and how do we want to help them stay observant — and kind and respectful — as they grow and continue to find their place in the world?

We would share that the first responsibility is to honor each child: their identity, their name, the person that they are. If we could all accept each other as we are, modeling this for our children and each other, they will see that. Children will see when we do it right and when we mess it up. They also see us when we correct ourselves: offer an apology and keep trying to get it right. They see us when we ask someone new how to pronounce their name correctly — that is, the way they would like their name pronounced. They see us when we ask a friend how they identify whether that is their ethnicity or their gender identity. Just between us, if we guess because we think we know someone, there’s a strong chance we will get it wrong. Also, if someone asks you how you identify yourself, that is awesome! Thank them for asking, then tell them how you identify yourself.

Tolerance is surely an imperfect term, yet the English language offers no single word that embraces the broad range of skills we need to live together peacefully. Tolerance is harmony in difference. Tolerance is closely linked to the development of empathy and resilience in young children. There are some excellent resources that give us words to use to practice anti-bias and social justice. Kids First has started a site, called a padlet, that has links to videos and documents, check it out here:

It’s never too early to talk with children about bias and race. Did you know babies as young as 3 months look more at faces that match the race of their caregivers? By age 2, children use race to reason about people’s behaviors — soon after that, they use race to choose playmates. Likewise, it’s never too late to start that conversation. You can share something you’ve recently learned or experienced with an older child; they might share an experience they’ve had with you.

We think working together to build a world for our children that is more inclusive and just is worth being uncomfortable. It will take all of us, and we can learn this together. Don’t look away.


Growing Community, by Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, the director of Aspen Family Connections, runs every other Wednesday in the Aspen Daily News. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at or Katherine at

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