In our society, it is now common for the children from many cultures and belief systems to be meshed into the same space without a second thought. These children have to be carefully taught how to respect and work together. Teaching tolerance can be part of any lesson plan at any grade level.
There are many strategies that teachers can use to help students learn and develop tolerance for others.
For younger children, teaching for tolerance can be packaged into games, arts and craft projects, or story writing. Despite what adults have believed, children are not color-blind. They are special in that they differentiate and compartmentalize people in innocence and only mention what stands out the most to them. Stereotypes and bias are passed along from the outside and then copied by our smallest members whose trusting eyes are wide open.
Another idea, for kindergarten through second grade students, is to tell the children they are going to be part of a simulation of something that happened in real life. Make sure they understand that not everything that will happen will be fair, but at the end of the experiment everyone will be treated fairly. To begin, pick out a characteristic that will not include everyone. Tell them that only people who have hair above their shoulders will get a treat today. Listen to the reactions and encourage the students to verbalize how they feel about it. Once the students seem to understand that it is unfair to treat people a certain way based on how they look, pass out the treats to the remaining students. Then, finish out the class by sharing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and ask them to listen for words that describe how he felt and what he planned to do about it.
Another idea in teaching for tolerance to younger children, kindergarten through third grade, involves giving each child two pieces of drawing paper, and telling them they are only able to choose one crayon to draw a picture. Once they have completed their first picture, tell them they now can draw another picture using any and all colors they choose. When the pictures are finished, ask them which picture they like best and why? Typically, the children will choose the one where they could choose all the colors they like. Then explain how boring this world would be if we were all alike and conclude with a quote from an unknown author: “We could learn a lot from crayons. … (They) all are different colors, but they all exist very nicely in the same box.”
All children, preschool and up, love Simon Says. Utilize teaching for tolerance by pointing out differences. “Everyone with brown eyes put your hand on your head.” “Everyone who has a brother, stand up.” “Everyone who speaks more than one language, jump up and down.” This is a very simple game that highlights diversity and teaches children to appreciate it.
And, last, create a tapestry where each child shares by drawing aspects of their family structure and traditions and then weave them together with the rest of the class to show the diversity in that classroom alone. Some children have step-parents or siblings. Others are raised by grandparents. Everyone has different cultures and traditions that can be highlighted. All of them are important.
Teaching for tolerance promotes commonality between all people of the world. Teaching children to notice and accept how different everyone is helps break down barriers of stereotypes and bias and encourages love and friendship.