How do we teach our children to appreciate differences?
This week, AWS Foundation dedicated one of the dozen buddy benches across the region. This is an initiative to foster friendship among all children, with the goal of having no child alone on the playground. Any child who would like to make a friend or join in a playground activity can sit on the bench and that lets the other kids know to invite them to play. In talking with the students who joined us at Deer Ridge Elementary, I asked them to tell me about the intent of the bench.
I was moved by how each of the children who raised their hands was able to clearly express the intent of the buddy bench. They knew that feeling of exclusion and that the reciprocal act was to extend an invitation. By having the bench there, the teachers had talked with those children about inclusion.
Books are another wonderful way to approach the subject. This year’s Newberry Medal winner is Hello Universe by Erin Extrada Kelly. To read this book with your children will allow you to discuss bullying, feeling out of place and ultimately self-acceptance as four young people, while being different, find courage, teamwork and their inner heroes. Or were you a fan of Dr. Seuss’s, Sneetches? Are the sneetches with stars on their bellies superior to the plain-belly sneetches? What about Elmer the Elephant by David Mckee? Elmer learns that what is unique about him (his patchwork skin) is what should be celebrated and not hidden. I grew up with The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Ferdinand was a bull who preferred lounging under the trees sniffing flowers and refused to fight as the other bulls did. The final message of the enduring story is the importance of being true to one’s self. As with Hello Universe, self-acceptance is so much a part of understanding differences in that we are all unique.
Ferdinand, Plain-belly Sneetches, Elmer and Kelly’s characters of Virgil and Valencia all tell that story. The child who first learns self-acceptance is the child that will be accepting of others; accepting of their uniqueness, their differences and will be the one who helps build a more inclusive community. I would love to know your favorite story.