Why I Built This Kit:
I built this kit because as a former middle school teacher, insecurity and lack of self-confidence was one of the main issues my students faced. I felt very strongly about helping them realize that what made them insecure was usually what made them unique - and something I wanted them to learn to embrace, rather than be ashamed by it.
All of the suggested books in this Kit are about a child who is different, or has different interests than his/her peers. In the end, they try to learn how to embrace their uniqueness versus being ashamed of it. Our hope is that, through reading about these characters, your child will see that (s)he is not alone, learn to value individuality, and respect the uniqueness of others.
- Wings by Christopher Myers
- Ikarus Jackson, the new boy in school, is outcast because he has wings, but his resilient spirit inspires one girl to speak up for him. (Amazon)
- Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tommie dePaola
- Ages: 4-8
- A little boy must come to terms with being teased and ostracized because he’d rather read books, paint pictures, and tap-dance than participate in sports. [School Library Journal]
- It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
- Age: 5-8
- A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon
- Ages: 5-8
- After she refuses to eat her lima beans, Camilla finds herself covered with stripes. The stripes change into stars, polka dots, and other patterns. Camilla overcomes her "illness" when she learns to be herself.
- The Wonderful Happens by Cynthia Rylant
- Cynthia Rylant, Newbery Medalist, introduces a child-friendly series of wonderful things that have simply happened and reassures the reader with the life-affirming message that he or she is also a wonderful result of the universe. [Scholastic]
Getting Started: Let’s Chat!
Parents:This kit is all about helping your child embrace the qualities that make them special and unique. Our hope is that these questions below will help to start a really powerful discussion with your child that will help you understand what they are proud of and what they are insecure about. This will also help you help your child find the beauty, excitement and greatness around what makes them different. When I was a teacher, I found that If I honestly told my students about my childhood struggles, they were much more willing to open up to me.
- What do you think makes you special or different than other kids?
- Do you like that about yourself or does it make you feel bad or insecure?
- What do you like MOST about yourself?
- Is there anything about yourself that makes you feel badly, or that you try to hide from others?
- What do you think this world would be like if everyone was the same?
Traits & Traditions: A Unique Family Tree
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.” ― W. Hodding Carter
This family activity is a great way to incorporate both a little science about what makes us unique, and foster an appreciation for family history. As a Mom, I now find it more important than ever to talk about my child’s grandparents and great grandparents - after all, they are the reason we are here! A family tree shows family members and explains how they are all related. It can also include information about each person. Create your own family tree and Include fun facts about each family member on their very own handprint.
Does your child have certain physical traits they don’t necessarily love? How awesome would it be if they started to better appreciate these traits, even just a teeny tiny bit, after they realize they were inherited from people they love?
First, talk to your child about the differences between physical and learned traits. Physical traits are inherited from a parent, and learned traits are picked up from those around us. Go over some information about inherited and learned traits with your child. A few facts are below.
- Inherited traits are something you are born with. These traits are passed from ancestors down through generations from person to person in a family. Inherited traits can skip generations. Some examples of inherited physical traits include hair color, eye color, skin color, body shape, dimples, nose shape and size, high cheek bones, and height. Some allergies and diseases are also passed as inherited traits.
- Family and cultural traditions often influence learned traits - something you learn.
- One large piece of paper or poster board
- Colored paper (one or two for each family member)
- Pens or markers
- Tape or glue
- Trace the right and left hand of each family member onto a piece of colored paper.
- Cut out the handprints.
- On each finger of the left handprint, list an inherited physical trait. Some examples of inherited physical traits: eye color, hair color, dimples, freckles, chin shape (smooth or cleft), ability to roll the tongue, earlobe attachment (attached or free), and hairline shape on the forehead (smooth or pointed).
- On each finger of the right handprint, list an acquired or learned trait. Some examples include favorite food, hobby, subject in school, and so on.
- Draw a tree trunk onto a large piece of paper or poster board.
- Glue or tape your family’s handprints above the trunk to form a tree. Place the oldest person’s pair of hands at the bottom. Work upward until you place the youngest person’s pair of hands at the top.
- Add a small picture of each family member to the palm of one handprint. Write their name, date of birth, and place of birth on the palm of the other handprint.
- Include handprint shapes for family members who were not available to draw their hands.
- Ask your child to make observations about and compare and contrast everyone’s traits.
Diving In: Put Yourself in Each Character’s Shoes
As you read these books with your child, ask them to really imagine what it would feel like to be each main character. One of my favorite quotes from Sharon Creech’s book Walk Two Moons is “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins”. As a former teacher, I have found that teaching children how to feel empathy for others, whether for their peers, or for the characters in a book, helped build an open and honest classroom - which I hoped would extend to their community. My hope is that these questions will help your child build empathy and respect for the unique traits of others.
- What makes this character “different”?
- How would you feel if that happened to you?
- What would you do if you were this character?
- What would you do if you were this character’s friend or family?
- What do you think is the best thing about this character and what makes them unique?
Branching Out: Beautiful Quotes about Being Unique
Below are a few of my favorite quotes about embracing who you are and what makes you special. Ask your child to reflect on any of the following quotes in their favorite way: journaling, drawing, painting or, writing a short story, poem, or song.
“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” -Dr. Seuss
- Pickle: The Little Bird that Doesn’t Tweet!
- Ages: 4-7
- Pickle doesn't tweet in a land full of tweeters, but when she finds a new instrument she becomes a star! She has to be careful not to make the Great Poet of Tweeter Land jealous. From acclaimed watercolor artist Alina Chau comes a beautiful story about marching to your own drum in a land of sameness. The book is a full interactive experience with animations and sounds. Readers can change words to create their own version of the story. Share creations by posting to Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, or send via email. (Storypanda, Inc.)
- Middle School Confidential: Be Confident in Who You Are
- This interactive book app is an option if you feel like your child needs a little more of a challenge, or, you want to show your child how this theme of “loving who you are” applies to various genres.
- Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are is an interactive book about a group of friends who help bolster one another's self-esteem in the face of teasing, bullying, or mere self-doubt. While there are some mean kids in the story (who never physically assault anyone), most of the torment these young protagonists endure is self-inflicted. They feel bad about themselves because of their height, weight, grades, athletic skills, self-image, etc. But their friends always know what to say to turn things around and give them perspective. (Common Sense Media)
Getting Started: Embrace It!
Have your child write one word that they think represents the trait that makes them the most special or unique. Once they choose a word, have them put it on construction paper, or a poster and decorate it. Ask them to display it somewhere that they will see often - to always remind them that whatever the word is, it is beautiful and worth being embraced!
Diving In: Purpose for Listening
Making connections is a simple, yet important reading strategy. There are three main types of connections that readers make: text to text (when a text reminds you of something you have read in a different text), text to self (when a text reminds you of something that has happened in your own life), and text to world (when a text reminds you of something you have seen in the world). Go over these types of connections with your child and encourage them to acknowledge any connections that naturally arise while reading, or listening to the interactive stories. Ask them to share their favorite connections during or after the story and to also explain why their particular connection helped them to better understand the story (for example, a text to self connection often helps the reader better understand the what the character is feeling, etc.).
Branching Out: Reflect & Evaluate!
Ask your child to reflect on the interactive books. First, have them evaluate both apps by comparing and contrasting. Did they prefer one over the other? If so, why? Next, move on to questions that help tie in the theme of this kit such as: Did the character’s change to please others? How did these stories end? Use these questions to help your child understand that conforming, or changing who they are to please others, would be wrong! The world needs them just as they are. What a boring world we’d live in if everyone was the same! Their reflections and evaluations will also help them to understand the idea of theme or author’s message - a very important reading skill as well. I like to refer to the theme or author’s message as a hidden message - authors are smart and very sneaky. They put hidden messages in their stories that they hope will give the reader the best learning experience possible.
Suggested Family Activities
As a family, think about people in your lives that have special and unique qualities. Part of helping your child embrace their own uniqueness would be to help them embrace it in others, as well. Create “You Rock because…” cards for anyone you all choose that can be personally delivered to brighten their day. Of course, you can also mail real cards to others that live far away. Encourage your family to decorate and color their cards any way they’d like. I also really like this activity because the practice of writing a card and putting it in them mail has become way too foreign to young children!
Family Movie Night: Billy Elliot and The Incredibles
- Billy Elliot
- Billy Elliot is a movie that certainly goes along with the theme of this kit. Show your child the movie trailer (below). If he/she likes it, perhaps you can have a family movie night! As you watch the movie, there are many conflicts that unravel, but one that I hope will spark a powerful discussion is the conflict Billy faces between pleasing his family, and fulfilling his personal dreams. Here is a trailer and synopsis of the movie.
- The Incredibles
- Another movie option is The Incredibles. The traits that make each family member different, is actually what makes them extraordinary! Show your child the trailer below and if they seem interested, plan a family movie night! As you watch the movie, have your child think about why the Incredibles stop being their extraordinary selves, and in the end, what makes them go back to "normal'? Here is a synopsis of the movie with the trailer below.
Below you will find a link to an article and a website that I hope will help parents both better understand their children's feelings and how they can help when their child feels different than their peers.
- Kids' Biggest Middle School Fears
- Although this article from Scholastic is geared towards parents of middle schoolers, I think it can benefit parents with children of all ages.
- Teaching Tolerance
- The Teaching Tolerance website has various blog posts and activity options ranging from topics such as "My Family Looks Different than Other Families" to "Different Images of Beauty" and "Accepting Size Differences". Although many of the activities are geared towards the larger classroom setting, they can be modified to a smaller family activity, or can even be adapted to help facilitate a one on one conversation while out to lunch, on a walk, or at home.
Kinesthetic Activity Option: Try Yoga!
I just recently became a certified yoga instructor and I know it is an awesome way to boost not only adults’, but a child’s self-esteem, too. According to Yoga Journal, “When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life's challenges with a little more ease. Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and body awareness with a physical activity that's noncompetitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion—instead of opposition—is a great gift to give our children.”
If you are interested, find the rest of the article here. So find a nice spot in the park and try some yoga poses! Talk to your child a little about what yoga is - and why it is beneficial. Yoga focuses on a combination of the breath, body, mind, and spirit. Made up of various postures, it is widely practiced for health and relaxation.
Here are a ton of great poses to start exploring, with pictures, instructions and videos. Have fun!
Lizzie is from south Texas, lived in Washington, DC for 8 years and currently lives in Denver, CO with her husband, 15 month old son, and their great big rescue dog, Brandy. She taught middle school for 8 years and now works on curriculum part-time for the Denver School of Science and Technology's home office. She recently became a certified yoga instructor and loves to explore beautiful Colorado with her family and friends.