We were playing with figures for Rhyme Time 9. The MO and I were singing, “In and out the dusty bluebells”. We were having a grand old time moving each group through the bluebells. Since they had to hold hands and hold them up we had to find figures in our stock that could do that. Then arrange them so they wouldn’t keep falling over as we went under them. It didn’t always work- see video from yesterday.
As I was singing I began to notice that we didn’t have any figures that were disabled. Physically disabled. I don’t know why I thought of this then but even looking through the rest of the groups of figurines, I realised the boys didn’t have any disabled children or adults as figurines or toys.
This thought made me think of our books.
From what I can remember we have just the Barefoot book’s Animal Boogie.
Since our children are somewhat a product of our environment if there aren’t any/many children or adults with disabilities locally or insight frequently enough we and they don’t know about their life.
Children form ideas based on our experiences of disability or those around them. Not all these ideas will be right or favourable. Naturally we can talk about them when disability comes up. Usually, I find that happens by chance in a place where I can’t give a good off the cuff answer and not only that the children are pointing and being very loud. Yes, I get embarrassed even though I know they are just curious and pointing out a difference.
But oh how it may have been. …..Cozy on a couch reading a book and having time to ask & answer questions. The first situation is much more likely to happen totally beyond our control. The second situation is something though that we consciously need to do- give an opportunity to explore our feelings about something; reflect on a picture; ask questions; find answers together and encourage empathy, compassion without equating it to weakness or pity.
I’m not suggesting you’ll get all of these things at once, in one sitting, one age group or one book. Neither will it necessarily change their mind but as parents I want to encourage their curiosity to learn about people like them, children and how we all come with differences- like a disability, but we can still relate to each other. I guess- tolerance. I’m not perfect at it. And I get caught up on the language- disability, handicapped, differing abilities, differences, similarities. But I will be choosing to talk & share about it.
I can’t teach that in the grocery line or coming through the door at the local bank. I’m busy being a mum but I may choose another time to highlight and allow a discussion. Not every time warrants a discussion and you’ll be able to tell and most importantly gauage your answers according to your child’s age.
You may be thinking children under 5 this is too heavy a topic to talk about. If your child is asking questions or naturally curious about people then I think this is something you can start talking about.
Books with disabled children seem to be a problem to find good examples. We find tokenism or stereotypes for example, where three children are playing and the disabled child is restricted to watching on the side playing by themselves, their face sad or angry. Disabled children have often been portrayed negatively in movies.
So you’re looking for a book that shows a disabled child. Here’s a list of Nine Ways to Evaluate Children’s Books that Address Disability as Part of Diversity.
There is the debate as to whether we should be sticking in disabled children in the same way we’ve stuck in different races to books. One side feels it’s done nothing for the minority groups portrayed because of the tokenism and stereotypes that are more available than the positive powerful message of diversity. The other side, including parents with disabled children, want their children to grow up seeing a representation of themselves.
We like to see ourselves. Children are naturally curious and naturally self centred and …mean. Stories and books help show alternative situations they may never have experience but for that one book.
An interesting article, Why more children’s books should feature disabled kids, talks about how we see disability as physical, but what about the kids with ADHD and “hidden” disabilities where are those stories too?
The Times article goes on to share the movies where disabled are people shown in the main negatively for the kids to see. Also this sad case.
In the light of the Fiona Pilkington case, where a mother was driven to take her own life and that of her disabled daughter, much has been said about the failure of the police and the local authority to respond to the harassment and violence directed at the family. However, the case also highlights a more fundamental problem with attitudes towards disability. We are at a point where racially motivated attacks are properly recognised and widely reported, yet assaults and bullying directed at a person with a disability is merely perceived as “anti-social behaviour”.
Can children’s literature change that? Many would argue not. Not, those types of hardcore bullies.
I still maintain you are scared of what you don’t know and act out your fears accordingly. If we have access to effective books at home and school we’ll have choices.
To find out more about children’s literature try, In The Picture. This charity aims to promote the inclusion of disabled children in early years’ picture books.
If you want to jump right in and find a fiction book with a disabled main character try Wordpool book list. Just like authors you’ll soon recognise publishers who strive for inclusion and you’ll become adept at books that are too ambitious or badly constructed.
At the beginning I mentioned our lack of disabled toys. Books do really help and are a great source but toys too are something we may consider for the little ones.
Lakeshore Learning offers toys and puzzles.
So I hope like me you’ll be able to find some books and toys in your local area to add to your collection. At the very least I’m hoping this article has made you consider and take a view on disabilities with your little ones.
Disabilities like race stirs lots of emotion. I’ve tried to focus on how if we have the right tools we can support our children’s social, emotional and moral education.
If you have any books or toy recommendations that you’ve used or seen please leave your comment or review in the comments. Also, if you’ve found examples that you thought were good but on getting you weren’t happy with something please share.