By Cindy Gainer, author of I’m Like You, You’re Like Me: A Book About Understanding and Appreciating Each Other
I had an opportunity the other day, when the weather in this part of Pennsylvania was unusually warm, to take a walk outside to a local park. The children of the community were outside, too, along with their parents, friends, and dogs, all enjoying the pleasant afternoon. A variety of people were represented: some young, some old, some in groups, and some off by themselves. The differences among the people gave an energetic vibe to the otherwise mundane winter landscape.
For children, physical characteristics can be their first understanding of differences. They notice hair, eye, and skin color right away, but differences can also be more subtle: an array in people’s clothing or personal possessions, personalities, and family structures. A child may begin to notice these variations and ask, Why does Mary always wear a scarf on her head? Or, Why don’t Ralph’s parents speak English?
A starting point for kids to understand and accept these differences can be an awareness of themselves in relation to others. Acceptance begins with this most basic understanding of boundaries. Establishing healthy boundaries can assist the child in her understanding of “what is me and what is not me.”
By talking with kids about differences, we can help them understand, for example, that while one family speaks English, another may speak only Italian at home, and that’s okay. A child can know what it is that he does in his home, school, church, or temple, and accept that others may do different things in theirs. Allowing children to talk about differences and similarities in a matter-of-fact way can help them develop healthy boundaries. When we teach our children to recognize, understand, and accept differences, we teach them that variety adds energy to life, like color on a gray winter day in the park.
Here are a few prompts and discussion questions about differences and similarities that you can use to get the ball rolling with kids in your classroom, family, or other group. (Check out I’m Like You, You’re Like Me for more.)
- How are you and your friends and family members alike and different?
- What do friends do together? What are some things that you share with friends?
- How can we show and talk about feelings in ways that don’t hurt others?
- Can you tell about a time you helped someone else?
- What are some words and actions that are kind?
- What are some things you and your friends do together? How do you make sure you get along?
- How do you think it feels when people work hard together and finish a job?
Cindy Gainer has a B.F.A., with early childhood and art education certification, from Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and is a certified Gestalt therapist. She is the coauthor and illustrator of the award-winning books Good Earth Art: Environmental Art for Kids (Bright Ring Publishing) and MathArts: Exploring Math Through Art for 3 to 6 Year Olds (Gryphon House). She has taught art to children of all ages in Pennsylvania schools, appeared on television, and given numerous workshops to teachers and students as an author and illustrator. Cindy was proprietor of Little Red Schoolhouse, a preschool for 4- and 5-year-olds, where she was actively involved in teaching young learners and fostering positive child development. Cindy resides in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, with her husband Bill Matrisch and their son August.
Free Spirit books by Cindy Gainer:
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Such a variety of physical characteristics in all individuals and feel it is so important to teach our youth at a very young age about this subject. This may help them have an understanding of differences and may not feel uncomfortable or make others uncomfortable. Thank you for your wonderful books highlighting this subject.
Children are exposed to different walks of life as they grow and become more social. It is important to guide and teach them to understand and to be accepting of these differences early on so that later in life it can help build a community of love and sharing and not division and discrimination. To support children this way can greatly help their confidence and well being as young people interacting with peers. Thank you for your beautiful book to help guide us toward this goal.