What are culturally responsive activities? As a professional woman of color in the youth nonprofit world, it’s a question I’ve frequently heard and a conversation I’ve had with many teachers, facilitators, and volunteers who work with diverse groups of youth of color. Many of these conversations stem from curiosity, frustration, and a longing to connect with young people of color.
I always start by asking, “What do culturally responsive activities mean and/or look like to you?” This question sometimes brings unease and fear of being wrong. Most of the time, the responses I receive aren’t wrong—just misguided. The biggest misconception about creating and facilitating culturally responsive activities is that they need to be directly linked to the students’ racial background in order for youth to be actively engaged. This isn’t true! Yes, it’s important that young people can find their sense of self in a historical and cultural context, but it’s not the only means or tactic to engage diverse youth.
Culturally responsive activities, programs, or lessons are not always about referencing ones’ racial or ethnic identity or history. Instead, it’s a mindset that centers on the idea of respecting and honoring diversity and individuality as well as culture, experience, and history. So, what exactly does that mean? It means understanding the different styles and tools of teaching that you can employ when you’re working with diverse communities and groups of people. Some of these tools and styles encompass oral and visual storytelling and traditions that transcend racial and ethnic groups. You’ve likely heard of these before—music, repetition, metaphor, recitation, visual, and ritual.
How might culturally responsive activities look like in a troop setting? How do you as a troop leader incorporate this mindset to create a welcoming space where girls feel seen, connect to one another, and develop positive social identities? Read on for three of my favorite ideas, gleaned from Zaretta Hammond’s excellent resource, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.
Games are a great tool to start any activity because they grab girls’ attention and help everyone get refocused. It’s hard to learn, retain information, and process what’s going on if girls aren’t paying attention to what you’re saying or what’s happening around them. Games are a fun, engaging way that tells the brain, “Hey, listen up!” Most games also use a lot of tools that you’d find in cultures that are rooted in oral traditions. Think: repetition, solving a puzzle, making connections between things that don’t seem related, etc. Remember all the “This is a repeat-after-me song, and a do-as-I-do” songs that we sing at camp and during downtimes? Those are games that fold in those cultural tools!
One of the tenets of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience is cooperative learning. And even better, it can also lay the groundwork for culturally responsive activities. When you intentionally create activities that ensure girls need to rely on each other to reach a common goal, they will also learn from one another and learn together. Ultimately, they’ll see that every girl’s diverse background and perspective contribute to their broader sense of community.
Use the Power of Storytelling
There’s a reason why “It’s Your Story—Tell It!” is one of the themes of the Girl Scout Journeys. Storytelling is an incredibly important way for people to understand their lives and the greater world around them. Every culture has creation stories—if we don’t know where we came from, we don’t have a map of where we’re heading in the future. Storytelling lets girls reflect on their lived experiences and how those experiences connect to the present. When girls tell their own stories, they’re able to center themselves, share, and deepen their core values, while also listening to and learning from others who do the same.
I encourage you to incorporate these strategies into your regular troop meetings and activities. If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into more culturally responsive teaching tools to engage, educate, and connect, check out the works of Chris Edmin, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, and Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings.
Gina Rios – Gina knows that engaging programs foster confidence and leadership skills and open doors to new opportunities. For nearly a decade, she has designed numerous immersive youth programs and experiences in partnership with many diverse youth-based organizations. Gina received her Bachelor of Science degree in Entrepreneurial Visualization at Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2011. This is her second year at Girl Scouts River Valleys as the Latinx Community Engagement and Partnerships Coordinator. She loves spending her free time with her family, fat-biking, and sewing.