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Teaching children that different can be the same

Updated on July 8, 2016
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Cindy Hewitt is a retired teacher with a passion for children's literature. Read-aloud stories add quality to a child's life experiences.

Characteristics of the word "different"

The topic of being different in our society has come to the forefront in ways that no one would have ever imagined. Being different in our society today encompasses a large variety of characteristics, personalities, skin colors, and religion. The idea of being different is now causing fear in our society. Children are learning to fear being different in many ways. Bullying is a part of children's lives because of the way that children perceive differences in others. Children are exposed to differences in the way that others dress, what they eat, what types of families that their friends have,, and even the types of entertainment that others participate in. The list of the types of differences that children see in our society now is infinite. Parents are challenged everyday in how they explain the variety of differences in their child's life. There are also an infinite number of tools that parents can use to begin a discussion about differences with their children. Parents can use food products, clothes with different colors and fabrics, comparisons of light and dark colors, and engaging stories about characters that are different to spark discussions in their family about learning to appreciate the rainbow of differences in our world.

Different versus same

Children can relate very easily to comparisons. A family meal can spark a discussion with young children when introduced to a choice of vegetables. Parents can serve two or three different kinds of beans and offer their child a choice after discussing the differences and how the beans are the same. Black beans, red beans, and green beans offer a chance to compare and contrast. Children will easily relate to the different colors. Comparison of the shapes as being the same with both the black beans and red beans offers the chance to see that there are similarities and only the color is different. Children can easily see that this concept can be transferred to the idea that people can have different skin colors but are the same in many other ways. Bring children's ideas into the conversation about their friends and the variety of skin colors that are present in their friendships and acquaintances at school. How do children see differences and similarities in hairstyles, clothes, and favorite activities? Children can easily relate to the fact that everybody wears some type of clothing. Everyone has hair and hair can be styled in a variety of ways. All people have a favorite activity, and there are groups in which people can participate in the same activity. Children can enter into a discussion about each of these concepts to see that being different can also have similarities.

Engaging stories as a tool for discussion

Books are a wonderful tool for sparking discussions about differences that children find in their world. Steven Schuback's "Debra the Different Zebra" is an engaging story for preschoolers that demonstrates the concept that different can be the same. Debra is a fun character that likes to be her own zebra. She likes a curly mane instead of a straight mane. She enjoys wearing hats. She thinks that white stripes should precede black stripes instead of the other way around. The other zebras shun Debra because of these differences. Ziggy comes to her rescue by introducing Debra to others in the neighborhood that start to appreciate Debra's differences and discover that they have things in common in addition to their differences. Friendships are formed and different becomes the same.

Different can be the same

Different can be great!
Different can be great!
How do your friends look?
How do your friends look?
Food can be both different and the same
Food can be both different and the same

Nature can teach different vs. same

Parents can also use objects in nature to teach the concept of differences that can also be the same. Take your child on a nature walk and look for flowers and leaves that can spark this concept. All leaves come from trees and plants. Leaves come in different sizes, shapes, and even a variety of colors. A variety of shades of green can be found. Children can easily relate these differences and similarities in leaves to people who they encounter in their world. A collection of leaves or flowers can be used to create a scrapbook with the topic "Different Can Be the Same". A trip to the zoo is also an opportunity to talk about differences and similarities. Animals are all living beings with different physical characteristics, eating habits, and living environments.

Nature is alive with differences and similarities

Leaves are different colors but still come from a tree
Leaves are different colors but still come from a tree

How do you teach your child about differences in society?

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My passion for parent education

I have a passion for educating parents in ways to teach their children difficult concepts. I found during my career as an early childhood teacher that parents were appreciative of any information that they could use to help their child with difficult concepts. Being different in our society is a difficult concept for children to learn. I feel strongly that introducing this concept to children at an early age can create a better world. Early childhood educators know that children can grasp concepts that are introduced to them with concrete objects. Parenting with the right tools can help create children who thrive in a world full of differences.


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