Talking about Race’ is a new illustrated resource with an accompanying video, intended to support first conversations about race in primary schools.

The ’Talking about Race’ resource is intended to disseminate messages from my research in 2010-2011, which focused on younger children’s navigation of race and belonging in two primary schools, back to schools and children (in addition to the traditional route of publication in academic journals and books). The research was not particularly policy-oriented, but it was important to me to find a way of communicating some of the material in a creative way that might engage children- and might even have an impact in schools. The resource features quotes, drawings and collages by children aged 5 to 8 who participated in the arts-based qualitative project combined with some theory, additional information, supports and prompts to help teachers to discuss the important area of race and racism with children.  

Tom Reilly (EDI), Emer O’Neill, Briana Fitzsimons, Dr Susan McDonnell, Dr Niamh McGuirk, Aoife Titley, Dr Perry Share.

Throughout the original research project, I had wide ranging conversations with children on topics such as friendship, play, media, family, home, similarities and differences, fairness and exclusion, all of which helped me build my understanding of how children were navigating race and belonging in school and in their everyday lives. It was very clear from the research that young children were negotiating the same racialised hierarchies that surround everyone in Irish society, and that in particular black children, children of colour and Traveller children were thinking very deeply around issues of racism and exclusion due to their own experiences. At the same time, adults sometimes assumed that younger children were ‘innocent’ of race and racism, and did not expect these concerns to impact children’s lives. Importantly, while children were very aware of official school discourses around inclusion and fairness, they still drew on racialised notions, very often flying ‘under the radar’ with comments and actions. 

The resource opens with a detailed guidance section for teachers. The main body of the book, designed to be shared by children and teachers, explores themes of friendship, fairness and anti-racism in the context of a justice framework, and in very simple terms explains the historical emergence of race and racism linked to systems of power. The book also includes prompts for discussion on possibilities for change in our schools and societies. At the back of the book is a list of further resources available, as well as information on training options for teachers wishing to develop their own knowledge of this area, and a School Anti-Racism Policy template contributed by Emer O’Neill and Emmet Thomas.

In terms of content development, I was lucky to gather an amazing advisory group who have combined expertise in primary education, intercultural/ Anti-Bias Anti-Racism education and training and in anti-racist activism- Emer O’Neill (presenter, author and activist), Dr Niamh McGuirk (DCU), Aoife Titley (MU), Briana Fitzsimons (educator, author and activist), Pierre Yimbog and Ronke Oladele (activists, Black and Irish). I also worked with a great graphic designer, Leo, to render the children’s artworks into book format. The final product was piloted by two class groups with their teachers at Donabate Portrane Educate Together School before going to print. The book can be used for a series of lessons, or teachers can choose to just use one or two elements, according to what works in their own classrooms.  It’s designed for Irish schools, but would be useful in any school!

The original research participants would now be young adults, but I linked back with the participating schools, and invited them to the launch, as well as inviting children from the schools for a workshop and celebration at ATU.

I am very clear that resources like this are just one of the supports that teachers require to approach this important topic. All of this works best in contexts where teachers can access specific training that allows them to develop skills and confidence to engage with issues of race in an informed, clear and sensitive manner, safeguarding the wellbeing of all children in their classes. I would really urge teachers to ensure that they have support from their schools, and to seek out training if possible to enable them to do this vital work. 

The resource was self-published so that I could offer it free of charge to primary schools/ teacher educators or others engaged with young children. A small number are still available! Use this link to request copies:

I am seeking a publisher currently to produce further copies, and if this is successful, the book will be available for a small charge in the future.

The project was supported by the Capacity Building Fund at the Research Office, ATU Sligo

Dr Susan McDonnell

Department of Social Sciences, Atlantic Technological University Sligo, Ireland