As part of the “All About Me” unit, Ms. Nancy’s class started with the idea that “it’s okay to be me”, that we should be happy with who we already are, and that trying to be like someone else doesn’t necessarily make us happier. She kicked off the topic by reading Eric Carle’s The Mixed-Up Chameleon to her group to impress the children with the thought that even though we see desirable traits in others, we each have individual characteristics that make us unique and special.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it tells the story of a chameleon who goes to the zoo one day and sees many different animals. It sees a polar bear and thinks, “I wish I could be big and white like a polar bear.” Then, SHAZAM!: the chameleon’s wish comes true! It still wasn’t happy so it wished it could be “handsome like a flamingo.” And on it goes until the chameleon looks like an amalgamated mess!
At the end of the story, the chameleon finds a fly but it couldn’t catch the fly because it was all very mixed-up. Finally, he thinks, “I wish I could be myself.” Then it returns to its chameleon form and is able to catch the fly.
After the story, Ms. Nancy further reinforced this concept by leading her students to explore Ravensburgers’ MixMax Zoo puzzles. There are four differently sized cards of different parts of an animal’s body. She played a game to randomly distribute cards to each child as he/she rolled the dice. Then each child had the opportunity to create their own mixed-up animals using the pieces they’d acquired.
Afterwards, the children were led to help each other to turn the chimeric creations into real and existing animals. Then:
Ms. Nancy: When were these animals better: when they were mixed up or now, when they are whole?
Ms. Nancy: Why?
Children: Because they’re themselves…like the chameleon!
Later that day, one of the girls who had her hair tied up in a ponytail (she typically has her hair down) asked to remove the hair tie. When asked why she doesn’t want to keep her ponytail, she thought for a second and replied, “Because I just want to be myself” and smiled. (Of course, the real reason might’ve been because the ponytail bothered her but the fact that she made this statement may indicate that she understood the essence of the activities above.)
Later that week, to further strengthen the theme while incorporating the rule of the week–Helping Hands–Ms. Nancy read the book Here Are My Hands by the venerable Bill Martin, Jr. to her group. She led the group to discuss what we use different parts of our body for, making sure to wait until one child pointed out that we can use our hands to help others. Also, since the book depicts children from diverse backgrounds, she asked, “Which one is more beautiful?” She was a little taken aback (albeit pleasantly) when the children cried in unison, “They’re all beautiful!”
Then, to examine their own differences among themselves:
Ms. Nancy: What color is my hair?
Ms. Nancy: What color is Stefan’s hair?
Children: White! (It’s actually platinum blonde, haha!)
Ms. Nancy: Which one is more beautiful?
Children: They’re both beautiful!
After some more comparisons (skin color, eye color, etc.):
Ms Nancy: Is darker skin better than lighter skin?
Ms. Nancy: Are blue eyes better than brown eyes?
Ms. Nancy remarked that this seemed to be the first time that the children were able to really look at each other and observe each other’s traits.
The children seemed to get the point: that they should be comfortable with how they are and with their inborn characteristics. Of course, there are certain traits or habits we have that can always be improved (through hard work or better maintenance) but for now, it’s important that they understand that “it’s okay to be me”.
So, in the end, even though we recognize and honor our differences, we also come to the conclusion that we are intrinsically the same. Or as in the words of the Here Are My Hands editor, we “quietly celebrate the universality of people around the world.”