Toys Help Students Feel More Welcome

Toys Help Students Feel More Welcome in Early Childhood Classes
Posted on 02/27/2020
Early Childhood student holds two dollsRobbinsdale Area Schools supports a diverse community of learners. Debbie Irrgang and Gerri Fisher, early childhood teachers at New Hope Learning Center, wanted to ensure the learning tools utilized in their classroom also represented their students. As such, they were determined to find a way to make toy-sized hijabs for students to be able to use when playing with dolls.

Hijabs are a traditional head-covering worn by women and girls of Muslim faith, and are not widely available as an accessory for dolls. The teachers contacted one of the District's Family and Community Engagement Specialists, Fosiya Dahir, for guidance on the project, who provided child-sized hijabs for reference. The teachers also enlisted the help of District 281's Volunteers In Partnership Coordinator, Jill Kaufman, to determine whether a volunteer might be able to assist with designing and sewing. Ms. Kaufman connected the teachers with Alyce Estrem, who lives in Plymouth.

Ms. Estrem quickly got to work, and has sewn a variety of sizes of hijabs for the classroom dolls. The project has the end goal of providing at least 29 hijabs, one for each of the early childhood classrooms at the New Hope Learning Center.

"I lived abroad in 2005-2007, and can relate to the feeling of cultural identity," Ms. Estrem said. "I hope this sewing project will help some children feel more comfortable. The kids are often better adaptors than we grown-ups!"

The first several hijabs were delivered in February. Upon seeing one of the new classroom doll hijabs, a preschool student exclaimed "it's just like me!" The student's excitement illustrates the need for all students to feel represented, and supports the District's commitment to provide an equitable and respectful educational environment for every student.

"When you see a student's face light up, seeing a toy or book which includes a character that looks like them or represents their experience, you realize how much these things add to a child feeling included," said Ms. Fisher. "As teachers, we need to continue to remind ourselves that the success of our students is largely impacted by how respected and welcome they feel," she said.