January: It’s OK to Be Different Month

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_wikimedia commons

Autism spectrum disorder wasn’t designated as a condition until the 21st century, but many experts think artist Vincent Van Gogh’s seemingly erratic behaviors would place him on the spectrum today.

The end-of-year and holiday rush is over. Life is settling back into a routine for most of us, but there is still a lot to celebrate. January is filled with long lists of “awareness month” proclamations. You might choose to honor National Mentoring Month, International Creativity Month, Reference Book Month, Get Organized Month, National Hot Tea Month (or perhaps oatmeal, tubers, apricots, or hot soup month), Teen Driving Awareness Month, or any of the other issues that have made the long list.

One monthly designation on that list is It’s OK to Be Different Month. Given the topic, it is no surprise that there are as many ways to honor or celebrate this idea as there are “differences” between people. An Internet search can find suggestions to explore different learning styles, physical abilities, or ethnic backgrounds in your classroom. You can also find ideas for discussing various family structures, value systems, histories, interests, and a lot of other differences as well. All of these activities talk about the importance of respect—from three perspectives.

Stevie Wonder by FS Aldabo for wikimedia commons

Musician Stevie Wonder commented on his blindness, “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean that he lacks vision.”

The idea of building self-respect is often the first perspective these activities address. It is okay for you to be different. As educators and parents, we want our children to accept themselves and master their own abilities and potentials. Self-respect can be very fluid as children grow, with each new stage and situation changing how they fit in and view themselves. A child’s self-respect needs to evolve as he or she grows.

The next perspective is learning to respect other individuals. It is okay to look, think, learn, speak, move, or act differently from others. It is also okay for others to be different. As children start to understand themselves and what makes them unique, it’s important for them to understand that their friends and siblings also have their own uniqueness. Self-respect and respect for others should work together. Opportunities to explore listening skills and discuss empathy abound as kids learn to respect others.

Stephen_Hawking_in_Cambridge wikimedia commons

Physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking said, “We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.”

Respecting communities is the third perspective. Children’s first community is usually their family. It is there that young children begin to see how people with differences can support each other and share. Communities grow and shift as kids move through school and learn more about their place in their city, state or province, country, and the world. The broader the community, the more differences there are to accept and understand. This may lead to more stress or conflict, but the skills developed while learning to respect another individual can help kids find their way in their larger groups as well.

It’s okay to be different! A simple statement. A complex concept. Accepting differences, our own or those of others, truly becomes powerful when we do so with respect.

How do you talk about differences in your classroom?

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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

Blogger for Free Spirit Publishing.
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