In this section we will identify our own strengths and 'struggles', recognize our similarities and appreciate our differences—learning about the vital role that tolerance and acceptance play in keeping a community strong. I begin with a question that promises to be relevant to many if not all of my students' early school experiences. "Has anyone ever made fun of you before?" It is a very hurtful experience that one doesn't easily forget. (I can still remember my classmates calling me 'four eyes' when I first began wearing glasses in third grade.) Where your family so often protects you from such ridicule, entering into a larger community such as a school you cannot easily escape from the intolerance bred there. But from hurt can come compassion and by sharing such experiences we can learn to be more tolerant of people's differences.
A perfect picture book entitled Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon, written by Patty Lovell, features a young girl empowered by her grandmother to treat another person's ridicule of her 'faults' as an opportunity to 'shine' and to demonstrate that teasing from others does not have to immobilize you. With every instance of teasing, Molly overcomes such obstacles. When teased about her buckteeth, she adeptly demonstrates how she can use them to balance a tower of coins. When teased about being short, she shows how her height allows her to run under another player's legs to score a touchdown. When teased about having the voice of a bullfrog, she sings out with both gusto and glee, unbridled and unashamed. This story creatively conveys the message to young readers to 'be yourself!" In first grade we analyze a person's character traits by looking at their words and their actions. Using a T-chart graphic organizer I ask the class to identify some of Molly's character traits (to be written on one side) and support their ideas (written on the other side) with 'evidence' from the text of what Molly said or did to support their ideas.
To prompt a thoughtful discussion of this book I include the following questions as part of our discussion:
Why do kids tease other kids?
How could you help a classmate who is being teased?
What important ideas did Molly learn from her grandmother? Name a person whom you have learned from. Explain.
What can we try to do that Molly did when we are teased?
Why did the author write this book? What is her message?
In an effort to cheer Molly Lou Melon on for her courageous actions taken in the face of adversity I ask my class to design greeting cards to 'send' to Molly that applaud her actions. See Lesson Plan 1 for all the details.
Diversity is an important component of a classroom community and the purpose of teaching about it is to help children develop empathy for others. I begin this exploration by writing the following definition on the board: diversity: being different from each other. There are two books I plan to use that show how our differences make us unique. Todd Parr's book, It's Okay To Be Different, features simple colorful illustrations accompanied by single statements conveying the message that being different in various ways (how we look, how we act, what we have experienced) is something to be proud of and to accept in others. Two pages that I plan to highlight are:
It's okay to need some help.
It's okay to come in last.
I chose these examples because I want to encourage children to learn to develop and value their interdependence on others in the classroom and to consider that being competitive can be destructive and cause feelings of low self-esteem in yourself and others. To prompt reflection on similar experiences they may have had in these two areas, I ask students to sit in a circle and share instances they have experienced and describe how they felt and what they did about it. Mem Fox wrote a wonderful book that I use entitled, Koala Lou, I Do Love You. The main character. Koala Lou, sets her goal to win the tree-climbing event in the Bush Olympics in order to capture her mother's attention once again. Despite putting in endless hours of practice to build her stamina and skill, Koala Lou only comes in second place. Initially ashamed she wanders off to be by herself until her mother comes to reassure her that she has always and will always love her just the way she is. I plan to focus our discussion on how we set our goals and practice hard to accomplish them but that winning is not the only benefit of our efforts.
We notice our differences in a very basic way just by looking at our appearance: our skin color, our hair, our eyes, our height and so we begin with this aspect and then go deeper. There is a book entitled Hairs/Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros that celebrates the diversity within an Hispanic family, describing the ways that each member's hair is different. What a wonderful springboard to use in discovering the differences in our classroom community. After reading the book I have my class make self-portraits in which various types of yarn, different in color, thickness and texture are laid out for them to choose from for their hair. Not only do they try to imitate their hair-type but also their skin color (using special crayons), and their facial features, using small mirrors to study from before trying to draw them. I have used this activity with my young learners before and have found that they are often amazingly accurate in their portrayals of themselves. Through this artwork we proudly show the diversity that exists in our classroom community.
Following this I ask the students to think of one way that they are different from others and complete a page that has the sentence starter: It's okay to ________________. They will imitate Parr's artistic style in illustrating their page and all pages will be bound together to become a class book for everyone to share. See Lesson Plan 2 for further details.
Sitting once again in that circle arrangement I use the following movement activity.
Stand up if you:
are 6 years old
have lost a tooth this year
live in Hamden
like to play with Legos
have a birthday in the winter
have fallen off your bike before
sing at church
This activity brings to light the diversity that is not readily apparent within our classroom community and so it adds another dimension to diversity to be aware of beyond what's visible.
To bring more meaning to this notion of similarities and differences that exist in a community I pair up my students and ask them to interview each other. I include such questions as:
What is something that you remember about kindergarten?
What do you like about school?
Name some things you like to do on Saturdays.
What is your favorite food? Color? Sport?
After an adequate amount of time has passed allowing for all to finish, each pair comes up to the front of the room to introduce each other and mention the ways they are similar and different.
To end with this section I read the book, I'm Like You, You're Like Me, written by Cindy Gainer. Its pages are filled with childhood experiences that help young students appreciate diversity in their group and be proud of their individual differences.