When I started thinking about this whole project – the blog, the classes, the idea of including cultural acceptance into an acceptedly academic curriculum – I wasn’t sure if cultural acceptance was something children could really understand. I mean, most adults don’t seem to really get it all the time. How would I describe it to a child? How could I make it simple enough for my, then, 16 month old son?
People, friends, and new readers, I will never again wonder those things. And I will never again overcomplicate it myself, because there is nothing difficult about it! Kids make sense of this stuff so easily! They are so quick to take in the loner or the kid that looks a little odd. Sure, in the most embarrassing public settings they will point out the smoker, the dark- or light-skinned fella on the street, the girl with the rainbow hair or extravagant tattoos. But, they do it with the hope of knowing and understanding more, not to hate and ridicule. Why does he smoke when we know it’s bad? Why is his skin different? Why is her hair like cotton candy? Why does her skin look like a coloring book? These are not questions to be embarrassed about! These are questions that I think we should still be asking! Even as adults. Maybe you have tattoos and understand just how much a stranger would learn about you if they were to kindly ask the stories behind your ink. Maybe you wear a jihad and feel proud of the opportunities to explain what it means to you. As someone who only rarely gets questions of this nature from children or friends, I can guarantee that you might learn more about an individual in one such boldly prompted conversation, than in a whole year of friendship. So, when you want to know about someone’s culture and background, don’t be shy! Follow your children’s examples and just start asking questions. Start talking!
Now, this is not a religious post, but in way of giving credit where it is due, I often search through materials from the world’s religions to find interactive stories and fables and other activities for my son. Recently, I was doing exactly that when I stumbled upon this gem of a story published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “The New Animal” activity is such a sweet and wonderful way to illustrate how we often treat others who are different than us, but also how we can change that behavior to better include others in our circles. I fell in love with this story immediately and knew that I had to have their little printable! Maybe one day I’ll create the little illustrated story book I’ve imagined to share with you all.
For now though, I give you “The New Animal”, or “The Zelmgid” – the simplest lesson of all!
You will need and can find these cut-outs along with the story in “The Friend” magazine for children at this link. Cut them out with your children, and color them in, then as you read the following story, each zoo animal will begin to describe the things they like on the new animal. As they compliment the animal, put the pieces together until you have a “zelmgid”.
I also have copied the story into a single-page pdf version for convenience of using a printable version!
You’ll probably notice that zelmgid stands for: zebra, elephant, lion, monkey, giraffe, ibex, duck. What an amazing creation! This story teaches us the simple truth that we’re all cut from the same material, even if we think of ourselves as different and alone.
When I read this story the first time, I thought of my sixth grade teacher – Mr. Curtis. He made time every week to talk about fairness vs equality. He would always remind us that fairness was more important than equality, and that we weren’t always going to be treated the same as the person next to us, but that didn’t mean we were any more or less important. It meant that we were unique, and he always promised to do his best to treat us the way we individually deserved and needed. This has been such a valuable lesson throughout my life, and something that we should pass on. This is just one idea of a conversation we can have with our families after reading this story.
There are many ways that you can talk about this story in more depth with your family. If you need some other ideas, here are some things I have tried or thought of in relationship to this activity:
The Anagram. Just like Zelmgid is an anagram for each of the animal characteristics it represents, we can make our names into anagrams. Help your children to see the amazing qualities that each of them possess by thinking of traits that start with each letter of their name. Or, work together to create an anagram for your last name!
“K is for kind. A is for aware of others. S is for silly. E is for enjoys little things. Y is for youthful exuberance!”
The Paper People. Pinterest is my Google. When I want ideas, it’s where I go. This next idea was suggested by another blogger, Live, Craft, Eat that I found while searching Pinterest for any illustrations for the Zelmgid that I never found.
Her suggestions will help your family focus more on connecting to real, and very different, people after reading the story. My favorite suggestion though, was to make paper people! You remember how to do this, right? (If not, she has instructions and illustrations.) Fold your paper, cut them out, and color each of the connected figures differently. Talk about how each one is beautiful even though they’re different.
Even though they’re different, they’re all made from the same piece of paper. Consider some ways that all people are the same: we all have feelings, need basic food and protections, and many of our interests and recreational activities can align!
The Actually Social Media Challenge. Sometimes social media is the least social place in the planet. How does that make sense? I don’t know. Help yourself and your family to be more proactive about being kind on social media. In the activity above, we used paper people to show how we’re alike. This particular challenge flips the question to- How are we all different?
Now read this next part carefully..
Consider – What things do your friends/neighbors/family members do/have that we don’t? Then, go out on the web, or in a note, or even in word (yikes!) and compliment the traits in these people that you find! Tell them how cool it is that they stand up for what they believe (and mean it!). Ask them how they got to be so talented in a certain art or skill. Make a goal to compliment a certain amount of people this week. Or every week! Embrace people’s differences, and don’t keep it to yourself when you see something you admire. Especially encourage this in your home. By doing this, you can create your own culture of kindness and positivity wherever you go!
Share in the comments a picture of your family reading “The New Animal” together, or just tell us your thoughts about the suggested activities! How did they go? What did you learn from your little ones? How hard do you feel it is to embrace people who are different from you and let them know they’re accepted?
Don’t forget to follow me and share on my other social media accounts as well! I love it when social media is, well, social!