By Rachel Wells
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr day will be celebrated this year on Monday, January 20th. What a perfect time to celebrate diversity in the classroom!
It is important for students to know that diversity means having an understanding of the unique experiences, strengths, and ideas that each child brings to the classroom. As teachers, we never want to make any children feel singled out, and we want students to understand that their diversity should be celebrated. As intimidating as it may be to engage students in conversations about diversity, for some students the classroom may be the only time they are exposed to children that are different than themselves. Today’s classrooms are move diverse than ever before, and are a necessary place to have these conversations.
If you are unsure or uncomfortable with how to approach these conversations with your students, books can be a wonderful tool. For younger children, focus on books that celebrate thinking positively about each person’s unique traits and differences. For older children, approach these conversations by giving them time to share their personal experiences and feelings, along with a story to direct group conversation.
We hope you get some fun ideas that you can take back to your classroom and use with your students!
I am Martin Luther King, Jr by Brad Meltzer
The story of Martin Luther King Jr inspires kids to dream big, and show kindness and compassion to others.
Activity: Paint a picture of the Earth, and have each student write on a cut out of their hand a way they can show kindness and compassion.
Discussion Questions: How can people with different beliefs and values learn to live together in the same community?
The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane DeRolf
The crayons discover that a picture is not complete without all of the colors of the rainbow.
Activity: Have each child add a different color crayon to a bulletin board.
Discussion Questions: How are people similar to a box of crayons? Have you met someone who talked differently than you? How did you react when you met them? How did they react to you?
It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
This books reassures children that it is okay to be who they are, no need to change a thing.
Activity: Use brightly colored paper to create a new page for the book. Have students write and finish the sentence “It’s okay to _______” on their paper.
Discussion Questions: What if everyone in the world was exactly the same? If everyone looked the same, talked the same, shared the same views and traditions, what kind of world would that be? Do you think this would be a place you would want to live? Why or why not?
Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
In this story, two pen pals from opposite sides of the world discover just how much they have in common.
Activity: Have students work with a partner to create a Venn diagram showing the ways they are different and alike.
Discussion Questions: What would it be like if all your friends were exactly the same? If they all liked the same things, talked the same way, and acted the same, would you have as much fun with them?
What’s the Difference? Being Different is Amazing by Doyin Richards
This book tackles issues of diversity and acceptance to young children.
Activity: Children pick one body part that makes them special. Take a photo, and have children write why it makes them feel special.
Discussion Questions: What is something that makes you extra special and unique? How does it make you feel?
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown and Sara Palacios
This main character in the story learns to appreciate that her differences are what make her special.
Activity: Attach a photo of a child to the center of a piece of paper. Have them write descriptive words about themselves all around it.
Discussion Questions: How important is it to learn from people who are different from you? What kinds of things can you learn from a person who comes from a different place than you? How do our differences help each other and allow us to learn from each other?
A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng
This book shows just how many different types of families there are.
Activity: Create a display board where students can hang up photos of their families, and add notes about things that make their family special.
Discussion Questions: What are some of your families traditions? What are some fun things that your family likes to do? Talk to a friend and see what your families have in common.
Teaching these important lessons shouldn’t be limited to the month of January, but it is a great time to start!