An Easy Way to Incorporate SEL
Editor’s note: We at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. love working with Meg Zucker. Meg is the founder of Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It, a not-for-profit organization that works to advance acceptance, understanding, tolerance and mutual respect for a person's blatant or invisible difference. We have great admiration for Meg’s commitment, and she has been an invaluable partner to us at Storyworks Jr. as we continue our SEL focus.
From my own life experience, I knew that other kids would stare and point at our oldest son, Ethan. Like me and his younger brother Charlie, Ethan was born with a rare genetic condition. As a result, Ethan has one finger on each hand and two toes on each foot. Although he undeniably looks very different, I (perhaps naively) never expected that other children would be cruel to him because of it. When Ethan was in the 1st grade at recess, a group of 4th graders on the playground surrounded him, taunting him about his difference. That night as Ethan cried himself to sleep, I felt angry and frustrated. I was convinced something needed to change—I just didn’t yet know how to do it.
The following week, the school principal asked me to come speak to her staff. While I was grateful for the opportunity, I was also convinced that was only part of the equation. In order for other children to learn to accept kids that appeared different like Ethan, I believed it was vital they learn how to put themselves in the shoes of another. And that’s when I realized what I needed to do.
From that experience, I developed a national “Kids Flaunt Contest” with Scholastic, where students write an essay prompted by our theme, “The things that make me different make me, me.” The Kids Flaunt Contest motivates all children to recognize difference in themselves, whether blatant or invisible. Most importantly, the act of recognizing and embracing one’s own difference can transform a source of shame into one of pride. And, it can spark empathy toward one’s peers.
That’s why I’m so glad that Storyworks Jr. is focusing on SEL this year. Last year, executive editor Kara Corridan wrote a fantastic story about my son Charlie, and this year Storyworks Jr. is including even more stories about amazing kids. In fact, their October/November paired texts are about two boys with autism.
These stories come with another great contest I encourage your students to enter. It’s called “One of a KIND” and it asks children to describe a time when they had trouble fitting in, or they were a good friend to someone who needed one. It’s an amazing opportunity for students to learn more about themselves and one another—and to ultimately become kind, accepting and empathetic, both in the classroom and beyond. The deadline is December 15, so don’t miss out!