Elementary school students spend up to six hours in school each day, and while they’re learning academic skills like reading, math, and spelling, they’re also learning important life skills like how to get along with others. This is especially true on Valentine’s Day, where in most schools students pass out cards and sweet notes to their classmates.
While this is an age-old tradition, it’s important for students to be loving and inclusive everyday, not just on special holidays. Luckily, by creating unique curriculum and classroom activities and promoting inclusivity through play, teachers are helping students learn the valuable lesson to be kind and loving to their classmates. Here are five ways students learn to be inclusive in school.
Diversity in the classroom
In any given school or classroom, there are a number of differences among students; different genders, races and ethnicities, learning styles, physical traits, abilities, etc. This gives students an excellent opportunity to interact with people who aren’t exactly like them.
Kids are inherently wired to be kind, and their capacity grows with practice. In school we can encourage kids to interact and appreciate all of their classmates, especially those who are different. More and more teachers are promoting an inclusive classroom environment and teaching kids to embrace and appreciate every kid for what makes them unique and special. "I love my neighbor who" is one game students can play in class to appreciate differences and notice what they have in common with their classmates.
Including all students in activities
Kids often enjoy bringing things to share with their classmates, like cookies, cupcakes, or holiday cards. While the students who receive the items feel special, the ones who don’t feel left out. As a result, many teachers have rules that students need to try to include everyone. According to the Inclusive Schools Network, “Effective models of inclusive education not only benefit students with disabilities but also create an environment in which every student, including those who do not have disabilities, has the opportunity to flourish.”
Just like the tradition of passing out Valentine’s Day cards or surprises to each student in class, teachers encourage students to include everyone when bringing in special treats for their classmates. On the playground, teachers set the same expectations by encouraging games that are accessible to all students and creating a culture where everyone is asked to join in.
Promoting cultural activities and awareness
Teachers plan activities and curriculum that allow students to learn about their classmates' cultural backgrounds. For example, many schools this month are teaching curriculum specifically designed to focus on Black History Month. Students can also bring in food or share traditional items that have a significance in their culture.
Activities like these allow students to learn from their peers and ask questions about anything they don’t understand. Bullying and teasing are often caused by a lack of understanding, and teachers can plan curriculum to promote understanding and celebrate differences.
Learning through play
Encouraging games and other activities allows students to learn in a fun, relaxed environment. Teachers use games that promote teamwork and inclusion and allow students to have fun and work together towards a common goal. Games help children learn by developing physical, emotional, and academic skills. For example, through games like jump rope and Steal the Bacon, kids learn to follow directions and take turns.
When students play games, they have so much fun and forget that they’re learning. This creates the perfect environment for them to learn to work with others and embrace their classmates’ strengths and weaknesses.
Kids enjoy their time at school
When kids have the support of kind, caring adults and their peers throughout the school day, they are more likely to enjoy school. When school is a safe environment where kids feel accepted and loved, they are more apt to come to class ready to learn.
Let’s continue to encourage creative curriculum, inclusive activities, and learning through play. Kids will learn important academic skills and also learn to embrace and accept differences and grow up to be kind, compassionate human beings.
Maile Proctor is a former YMCA camp leader and after-school coordinator for THING Together. She writes about health and fitness, lifestyle and family, how-to advice, and more.