By Wendy L. Moss, Ph.D., ABPP, FAASP, and Susan A. Taddonio, D.P.T., M.A., P.T.
Inclusive Schools Week is December 2–6. This is a great time for educators to focus some of their lessons specifically on the topics of stereotyping, acceptance, inclusion, and exclusion. These lessons can focus on how children or teenagers within the school are treated and viewed or even on how different communities or countries judge each other without really knowing one another.
Most students already know that some children are more similar to them than are others. Many students also know that being excluded from an activity or group can hurt their feelings. Teaching about empathy for others, appreciating differences, and learning that other kids who seem different may not be as different as they seem are all valuable lessons.
Here is an acceptance activity (focused on getting to know and appreciate those with special needs) that you can use the classroom:
- If you already have special needs students in your classroom, then you are ready to begin the lesson. If you do not, see if you can arrange for students (and their teacher) from a self-contained class or other special needs group to meet you in a room that is used by both classes so it is a comfortable setting for all of the children.
- Pair up students who outwardly seem very different. If two classes are blended for the activity, try to have each pair include a student from each class. You may want to pair up with another teacher to model how to complete the activity.
- Give the students the following assignment:
- Find three ways that you and your partner are different.
- Find three ways that you and your partner are similar.
- Figure out something about the other person that surprises you.
- Ask the students to either write down the answers or remember them for later (just in case a child has writing difficulties).
- Before the students begin, offer them examples of a surprise, such as: “Even though Joey talks so quietly, he likes to joke around. Now that I know that, I think I want to hang out more with him!” Or “I didn’t think Maggie would go to the same places I go to in town, like the art studio. For some reason, I thought she wouldn’t be able to get there because she’s in a wheelchair. I don’t know why I thought that.”
- Next, have the entire group come back together for a whole-class discussion. Encourage those who want to share the information they gathered in step three to do so.
- Talk about the assumptions that people may make because of how someone looks, talks, walks, or acts.
- Ask for volunteers to talk about some of the wrong assumptions people sometimes make about them. How are they different from what others sometimes think?
- Talk about the phrase You can’t judge a book by its cover.
- Ask for, or provide, examples of how even adults sometimes stereotype others.
- For homework, ask students to come up with one suggestion of how people can avoid making assumptions about one another and truly get to know others instead.
- The next day, provide—or have students cut out their own—paper leaves and have each student write his or her homework answer on a leaf. Hang a paper cutout tree on a wall visible by all students who participated, with the title “Leaves of Acceptance” on it, and tape the leaves to the tree.
This lesson allows students to learn from one another, reflect on how they are viewed by others, and have a creative representation of their lesson and insights on the wall.
What are you doing for Inclusive Schools Week?
Wendy L. Moss and Susan A. Taddonio are coauthors of The Survival Guide for Kids with Physical Disabilities & Challenges.
Wendy L. Moss, Ph.D., ABPP, FAASP, is a clinical as well as a school psychologist who has worked with children and adults in private practice, school, clinic, and hospital settings. She has written several books to support teachers and children including Children Don’t Come With An Instruction Manual: A Teacher’s Guide to Problems That Affect Learners, Being Me: A Kid’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem, and is the coauthor of School Made Easier: A Kid’s Guide to Study Strategies and Anxiety-Busting Tools.
Susan A. Taddonio, D.P.T., M.A., P.T., is a licensed physical therapist and certified exercise physiologist who has worked in the field for over twenty-three years, and exclusively with the pediatric population for sixteen years. She has worked with children with a wide range of physical disabilities including those with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, prematurity, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy, spinal musculature atrophy, various genetic syndromes, and children with autism. Dr. Taddonio is currently an Adjunct Professor at Touro College.
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