Milo’s Museum was recommended by our counselor during my time as a remote teacher of fourth graders. Initially I thought it might be better for younger students, but the depth of conversation it promoted left me feeling very inspired.
I broke my lesson into four parts:
- A Sense of Belonging
For identity, I opened with this question, “Do you ever feel like something special about you or your family is ignored or missed sometimes?” I started by sharing personally what it felt like to me as a mom of a son who uses a wheelchair to get around in the world. “There are places with ramps and wide doorways that make us feel welcome and there are places with stairs and difficult obstacles that do not.”
My student, Amal, told a story about being in Target speaking Arabic to her mother and being told by another shopper to “Speak English!” Amal said, “I think about that whenever I go to Target.”
That caused another student, Margarita, to join in about a landlord who says he won’t rent to immigrants. “We don’t feel welcome there and we want to move as soon as we can.”
“So when parts of my family’s identity or Amal’s family or Margarita’s family are ignored or talked about without using empathy, we might feel uncomfortable in some places. Let’s think about that as I start reading.”
As I started reading Milo’s Museum, two students who have cochlear implants were thrilled to see the illustration on one of the first pages of a boy with hearing aids.
Next I paused after reading these lines, Milo could see her classmates admiring the works of art. She liked most of the art, too, but something didn’t feel right.
“Why do you think she might not feel right?” I wondered.
“Maybe she’s just hungry,” one student said.
“Maybe she’s bored at the museum,” another offered.
The more we read, the more the students started to understand it was about the fact that Milo didn’t feel represented in that museum and it was making her feel like she didn’t belong. We stopped that day at the point where Milo is talking to her Aunt Vashti who suggests she could write a letter to the museum’s curator, “Or…” (I love leaving students at a point of intrigue.)
Sense of Belonging
Students responded that day using Flipgrid, a video discussion tool, by sharing places they do/don’t feel a sense of belonging. My personal example expanded on having Celiac disease and when I’m at places that don’t have gluten free options, I don’t always feel welcome.
Annie said, “I always feel like I belong in places where people are signing (using ASL).”
Haakim said, “I feel comfortable in a mosque, but not near bars in America where they don’t like Muslims.”
Several students said they too didn’t feel a sense of belonging in museums or “fancy places.”
The next day we picked up where we’d left off. When I read from the text about the Goddess of Isis, I saw comments multiply in the chatbox.
“Does Milo like terrorists?” one student wrote in the chat.
I paused and said, “Ah, I see you noticed the letters ‘ISIS’ and you are wondering if it refers to a group you may have heard about in the news, let’s go back and look carefully at what the text actually says.”
I’d read the book myself and hadn’t anticipated kids reacting to the name Isis, which is the art of teaching, right? Kids will miss things I think are obvious and magnify parts I didn’t catch and each time I read a book it goes a little differently.
Toward the end of the book one of my students said, “I’m feeling very inspired by Milo!”
“Good!” I said. “Because you are going to be designing your own digital wall of your museum.”
A cheer went up and we brainstormed a list of all the images/text they might put on their museum wall: favorite foods, toys, books, church, family, bikes/scooters, games, flags, other languages
I showed them my own example and talked through how I decided on the images.
Over the course of the remote day, the students submitted their own “wall” slides and I put them into a slideshow to share the next day at morning meeting.
“Now Milo did a cool thing to create her own museum, but it’s important to be in the practice of trying to make spaces feel more welcoming to all people and cultures all the time.”
We discussed what spaces we could control and how when we return to school in the fall, we could make our school and classroom more welcoming to the diversity of families in our community.
My student Elliott summed it up, “There’s so much awesome, why wouldn’t we want to include more of that?”
Agreed! There’s so much awesome in representing our students, giving them a sense of belonging and inspiring their voice to be heard with books like Milo’s Museum.