We were walking home from the park when my preschooler loudly said, “That man is bald, just like Uncle B!” The man, who was on his knees gardening, looked up and then continued to work. My husband said hello and commented on the beautiful weather while I just smiled and felt my face heat up to a nice bright red.
Kids will just blurt things out, right?
But sometimes those blurted observations can be more hurtful than humorous. How do we teach our young children, whether parents or caregivers or educators, to be sensitive to others?
I don’t have a magic bullet or guaranteed method to teaching sensitivity (which you probably figured out by reading the anecdote above!) but I believe we can help them to learn to be sensitive to others by modeling it in our own speech and actions… and by intentionally selecting books to read that teach children sensitivity. Exposing our children to people who are different in books – whether those differences are in culture, interests, abilities or anything else under the sun – will provide a foundation to discuss how to be sensitive to others in life.
A great starting point is the book Best Friend on Wheels by Debra Shirley. The book has bright and colorful illustrations, rhyming text and thought-provoking statements from a child’s point of view on having a friend who uses a wheel chair. Best Friend on Wheels can help you have conversations in your home or classroom about being sensitive to others.
Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade
- If you haven’t before, explain to your child that some people need extra help getting around and may use a wheelchair, just like some people use glasses to help them see better. Emphasize that while every person is different, we don’t need to be afraid, nervous or shy because of those differences.
- Ask what things people found they had in common with Sarah even if they initially didn’t think they would be able to find something in common with a person in a wheelchair. Look back through the book together.
- Print a picture of your child with his/her best friend. Pull out art supplies and make a collage with the picture glued on to the artwork. Hang it up or give it as a gift to that friend.
- Show your students photos of eye glasses, a wheelchair, training wheels and swimming floaties. Ask them why people need to use those items. Remind them that people need help sometimes to do things better (like see, get around or swim), whether temporary or permanent. Emphasize that while every person is different, we don’t need to be afraid, nervous or shy because of those differences.
- Ask students to make a list of the things they like to do with their friends. Remind them that when we have things in common with others, we can have a wonderful friendship with them, even if they look different on the outside.
- Create friendship collages in small groups. Have each student write down an activity they enjoy doing with a friend on colored paper (lots of ideas in the book!). Have student glue their papers on a pasteboard and use tissue paper, markers and other art supplies to decorate. Ask each group to share their friendship college posters with the rest of the class. Display in your room.