Be curious, not judgmental
I love this quote by Walt Whitman because it gets at something we don’t often discuss when dealing with the issue of tolerance. In an effort to avoid being judgmental, we sometimes throw the baby out with the bath water, viewing everyone and everything through the same lens—or not viewing them at all.
When teaching kids not to bully, we sometimes tell them that everyone is the same, but this is just not true. Everyone is not the same--thank goodness—and it’s important that we teach children to celebrate, not ignore, differences. This begins by encouraging curiosity.
Curious : Eager to know, inquisitive
The definition of “curious” is “eager to know, inquisitive”. If you’ve ever spent time with a child, you know that this trait comes naturally. Everything is new, everything is exciting, and with this novelty comes a natural desire to learn and understand. Though they learn in many ways, the primary way children discover the world around them is by asking questions. As I’m sure you also know, these questions aren’t usually filtered.
Unlike adults, children don’t know what questions they’re “not supposed to ask”. They don’t know they aren’t supposed to ask why another child’s skin is darker or lighter than theirs. They don’t know they aren’t supposed to ask why a person “talks funny”. They don’t know they aren’t supposed to ask why someone gets around by sitting in a moving chair. So, they ask—much to the embarrassment of their parents. It’s not an uncommon site to see a parent harshly shushing a child and dragging him or her away quickly as they flash an apologetic look at the person in question. The question is…why?
The answer is usually backed by good intentions. Parents may scold their children for asking these “taboo” questions because they want them to focus instead on the things we all have in common. While this isn’t necessarily a bad goal, it can have some unintentional consequences. For starters, when we completely discount diversity, we imply that differences are bad; something to be ignored and hidden. Additionally, we have a tendency to fear what we do not know. How much more will children fear unknown differences when they are coupled with the idea that differences are bad?
Perhaps the most common reason parents discourage the curiosity of their children is for fear of hurting the feelings of another. While a child will rarely point out a difference out of meanness, the person to whom they are referring may still feel uncomfortable being singled out or may be painfully reminded of the many times they were made fun of or excluded for their difference.
So what is the solution? The truth is, when dealing with children, it’s impossible to avoid all embarrassing situations. However, there are ways to minimize hurt feelings while still encouraging natural curiosity. Here are a few basic guidelines:
As adults, it’s easy to think we have it all figured out; that we know all there is to know. However, just like squelching the questions of children, believing we know it all can rob us of the joy of learning something new and wonderful about the people around us. So today, ask questions. Look at things from a new perspective.
Who--or what--is A. Blob? Spark your child's curiosity with This is A. Blob, a beautifully illustrated tale of a unique bully's antics. Discover that A. Blob and, perhaps others like him, may not be exactly what they seem. Lesson plan for teachers or discussion questions for other adults accompany an order. For ages 4-8.
“Hello! My name is Mrs. Smith and this is ___...”
It’s a phrase I am sure many of us have heard on multiple occasions. We meet a new person and then she introduces us to her friend, giving a name followed by a quick, descriptive tidbit about her, such as “This is Jane, my assistant teacher. She’s been just great building the art program this year.”
Unfortunately, with so many new faces to meet, we rarely move too far beyond this initial elevator speech. Even more regrettably, this issue isn’t restricted to the adult world. The same situation often occurs with children who prefer to stick to those students they know rather than find new playmates. While it may seem harmless, such surface-based relationships often lead to misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and even bullying. It’s a lot harder to hate or hurt someone when you actually know them; when they are more than a face and a label.
This is why we have created the “This is…” Project.
Inspired by the picture book This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos, the “This is…”Project is a fun and easy way to build relationships and discourage exclusion in a group environment. While it’s designed for classrooms or large groups, any two people can try it!
Here's what you’ll need:
Begin by reading the picture book, This is A. Blob by L.A. Kefalos as a class. As the title suggests, this book explores the labels others use to define us, as well as the way our actions define ourselves. In the book, the narrator opens by stating “This is A. Blob. A slimy, purple gob.” Throughout the rest of the picture book, the narrator uses different words to describe A. Blob, such as “punk” and “thug”.
Vivid illustrations of A. Blob punching and sliming children on the playground drive these descriptions home. As the story progresses, however, the narrator reveals a different side to A. Blob, now using just one word to describe it--“lonely”. Images of A. Blob staring at a wall and sitting alone on the playground hint that there may be more to A. Blob than meets the eye.
When reading This is A. Blob as a class, pause after the first description of A. Blob. What do the students think of this character? What assumptions do they make? Why? Write these thoughts down on the chalkboard. Encourage them to really dig deep in their observations. For example, A. Blob likes to play catch and it does NOT like green or pink!!
After each additional description, add assumptions to the list. At the end of the story, have students observe how their perceptions have changed. Ask students: What do they think of A. Blob now? How have their opinions changed and why?
Next, discuss how assumptions about A. Blob could have been avoided. Could they spend time with A. Blob? Ask it questions? How would the story be different if the other children in the story had done this? Begin discussing questions students might want to ask A. Blob to help them understand it better. Some of these questions will be used later in the project as questions for students to ask one another.
*An important note to make is that, while we have a better understanding of why A. Blob acts in the way he does, it is never ok to hurt another person, either physically or emotionally. As a class, discuss the differences between compassion and condoning.*
Now that the students understand the danger of making assumptions and labels, explain how this lesson translates into the classroom. Ask them, how well do they really know their classmates? Could some of the things they think they know be wrong? Remind them that when they started reading This is A. Blob, they thought they knew just what A. Blob was. They thought they knew its character. In the end, though, the story was more complex. It’s the same with people. Like icebergs, there is so much more beneath the surface.
The Project: This is…
Just as in Kefalos’ book, we often put people into boxes: “This is Jon, a soccer player. This is Kelly, a nerd. This is A. Blob, a bully…” The goal of the “This is…” project is to take control of the “This is…” statement and, rather than allowing it to be the opening of an unfair, blanket statement, turn it into a gateway to real understanding.
To get started, divide the class into pairs by randomly choosing names out of a hat. Next, have each child interview their partners. This part of the project can differ depending on the amount of time you have and the age of the participants. These questions should go beyond “what’s your favorite subject in school” Here are some sample questions:
If you have the time and can get parents on board, extend the project for a couple weeks. Have partners visit each other’s favorite places, look through family photos, eat lunch together, or even volunteer together. At the end, each partner will write up a small report along with a drawn or printed picture featuring their partner and some of the facts that have been learned about them. I have inserted a template here, but you can feel free to get as creative as you like! Each partnership will then present their findings to the class.
Once the projects are complete, have students reflect. What did they learn about their classmates that they didn’t know before? What about their partner surprised them? Did they discover they had previously made some false assumptions? How will this project impact the way they treat and interact with others?
At the end of the presentation, put all of the projects on display under the heading “This is…Our Class”
I hope this project provides you with a fun way to break down walls and build deeper relationships in your classroom! Let us know if you try it out! What are some other ways to discourage assumptions and build community? Let us know in the comments.
This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several animated shorts, including “Who’s that Knocking,” “Chug,” and “Croc, Pots and Wildebeests,” which was nominated for Best Independent Short Short, Ages 5-8, at the 2009 Kid’s First Film Festival and for best short at The Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, This is A. Blob is the first of a series following this bully. This first installment follows the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that A. Blob may have more than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
About Laughing Leopard Press
Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
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