Different But Same
--Ashima Goyal
4 minute read
Sep 24, 2019

It’s been some time since I put pen to paper (in the digital world!) but yesterday something beautiful happened and I felt I had to share it.

I am currently volunteering in a public school taking an after school class, for elementary kids, which combines Social & Emotional Learning and gardening. It’s a 6 week program and I am planning to move through themes like kindness, compassion, self awareness, gratitude and interdependence. In yesterday’s class our theme was Kindness. One of the games I planned was a STEP-In-STEP-Out activity. It is something I learned from an SEL curriculum. The learning outcome of the game is that the students will recognize that we all want happiness and kindness. But this simple game led to so much more learning last evening.

To explain the activity in short:
Students and facilitators all stand in a circle. Everyone steps in and out of a circle depending on whether the prompt the facility gives apply to them or not. The students then take a moment to notice who is inside and who is on the outside. This shows how we are same in some traits and different in others.

From simple prompts like “Step in if you like chocolate; step in if you have a sibling; step in if you like to play…” we slowly move towards prompts like “Step in if you like when people are kind to you; Step in if you like when you are kind to others…”

Learning Objective: We may have some difference, but we all (or most of us) want kindness and want to be kind.

That’s the activity but with kids everything is unpredictable and I was pleasantly surprised at how it finally played out:

How it actually went:
We started with everyone in a circle and initially myself and Jahmal (who is also volunteering with me) took turns asking simple prompts and then asking kids to notice how they are similar and different from each other. It went something like:

Step in the center if you have a brother or a sister.
Now, take a look and see who else has a brother or a sister, or who else doesn’t. Now return to your place please.
Step in if you like pizza
Step in if you like fruits.
Step in if you like playing outdoors.
Step in if you like to play in sand.
Who noticed they had a similarity with someone? What was it?
Step in if you like to be happy rather than sad.
Step in if you like when people are kind to you.
Let’s look around. Do we all like when people are kind to us?

And then the kids said they wanted to ask the prompts too so one-by-one everybody asked a prompt. They asked questions like:
Step in if you like maths
Step in if you like Chipotle
Step in if you like to swim with a sting ray! (I know!)
Step in if you have ever touched a jelly fish
Step in if your favorite color is blue

With every prompt they will look around and be surprised or happy with their friend’s choices. Then I thought of taking the game further. I asked them to make pairs and take 10 mins to find 3 things that are similar about them and 3 things that are different. We also gave them a small garden treasure hunt while they were at it — to find something that is red; something that is yellow, and something that can fly.

In the end each pair presented to the group. Can you guess what were the responses?
To mention a few here:

We both like sunflowers
We both love our families
We both love to swim
We both like berries
We both like to play outside

I like apples and she doesn’t
He likes blueberries and I don’t
She is the youngest and I have a baby sister
My favorite color is blue and his is red
I like dogs and she like cats

What amazed me?
The kids belonged to different ethnicities but not one pair saw differences in their appearances. Not one said I have dark skin and she has fair or I have long hair and his is short. They didn’t even think that I am a boy and she is a girl! Physical appearances don’t matter to children when they are together. As adults we might have seen those as the very first differences but for them what mattered more was, I like apples and she doesn’t. It reminded me of this video I had seen a long time ago.

I wish we could all learn to be blind to how we look and we look different from others from the children around us :-)

We aren't allowed to click pictures but I found this beautiful 1940 image of kids dancing by Helen Levitt that felt so apt!

Posted by Ashima Goyal on Sep 24, 2019

5 Past Reflections