Estes Park School District believes in providing an inclusive environment for all students and takes every opportunity to teach students and families about how everyone is different, yet that we are all the same. A kindergarten class got to experience a different way of looking at things, when the mother of one of our students decided to provide a learning opportunity on how her daughter, Clara, sees things just a bit differently.
Here is the story in a parent's own words:
Doesn’t every parent want their child to be loved and accepted by their peers?
This was the catalyst for creating my interactive kindergarten presentation recently. I had been thinking about it for a year, and with the encouragement of Mrs. Anne Leija, Clara’s kindergarten teacher, I finally began to put it together.
My daughter, Clara, is legally blind and has cerebral palsy. As a result, she may bump into things, touch people more, walk a little off balance and lose saliva from her mouth without fully realizing it. She benefits from having a paraprofessional with her most of the day to help keep her safe & enable her to learn most effectively. To other children and even adults, these traits may be off-putting or confusing initially. There may also be a “fear of the unknown” present. Children may think “Is Clara trying to hit me?”, or have a more general curiosity of “Why does Clara do that?”
I believe knowledge is power, and that knowledge fosters empathy, and so I wanted to help others understand why Clara does the things she does. I wanted to explain how things can be both different and the same.
I began the presentation by holding up two triangles, one red & one blue. I asked the class whether they were the same or different. Students raised their hand and greeted me with the expected various answers. “Same!” “Different!” “Both.”
Exactly, I thought. People may see the obvious differences between Clara & themselves, but may not as easily see the similarities. This was the goal of my little presentation.
As a physical therapist, interactive motor tasks were important to include, to help put children in Clara’s position, and see things from her perspective more easily. To explain why Clara touches more than other kids, I had the children close their eyes. I then put a cup in front of each of them. With eyes closed, but by touching the cup, the children were able to tell me whether the cup was “small” or “big”, and whether it was made of paper or glass. I hope this helped them to see that touch helps Clara learn more about her environment. To help understand why it may be difficult for Clara to draw or color, I used a fine motor task. First, I had the children put raisins in a cup, which they did easily. Then, I had them put on large mittens, and try the same activity.
To help the children understand why Clara takes longer to climb the stairs or ladder to the slide, I used a gross motor activity. I brought in large rain boots, and let the children climb stairs (with supervision) and try to run in the boots. To help the children understand Clara’s vision deficits more, I blocked out some of the lenses in glasses & sunglasses, then had the classmates navigate the classroom, and perform activities with the glasses on. The children seemed to understand what I was trying to teach them, and happened to have some fun in the meantime.
After the children learned about Clara’s differences, I went on to talk about some things they may have in common.
“Who’s 5 years old?” “Who loves music?” “Who loves to dance?” "Snuggle?" "Laugh?" "Hike?" "Play the drums?" "Eat ice cream?" Many hands were raised high. I finished with videos of Clara doing gymnastics & skiing, and the children seemed both surprised and excited that Clara could do those things.
That day, one of her classmates told me, “I really like being Clara’s friend.” A kind school employee told me that Clara’s friends hold her hands while on the playground, even before I had given my presentation. A few days later, Mrs. Leija told me one of her classmates wants “to do gymnastics like Clara!” The kindness in these children warms my heart. I hope I was able to ease any fear or discomfort that may have been present, and also foster the belief that we can all learn something from each other.