Teaching Inclusion

How to Use Books to Teach Children Inclusion

Inclusion works to the advantage of everyone.  We all have things to learn and we all have something to teach. – Helen Henderson

We’ve all experienced exclusion in one way or another. Maybe you were left out as a child, or perhaps your own child has come home crying because their friends wouldn’t play with them. Maybe your child has spoken about not wanting to invite another child to their party because they are different. These can be challenging social scenarios to deal with, but there are ways of introducing your child to the concept of inclusion during every day activities.

So much of a child’s education happens at home. They learn from the things you do and say, from their siblings, and even from activities like reading. It is in these moments of ‘unintentional’ learning that we can start introducing new social concepts and important things like acceptance, diversity, friendship, kindness, and of course, inclusion. While you may not be keen to sit down and have a conversation about what seems like a complicated issue, sharing a story with your child on a topic like inclusion can help you portray positive messages, start a conversation, and support your child’s development of new ideas and concepts.

The Beauty of Books

Sharing books and stories is not only important for building your child’s vocabulary, but is a great way to expose them to new concepts such as inclusion. It is never too early to include books that discuss inclusion in your reading rotation. The more diversity your child sees between the pages of their books, the more different types of people, abilities, and even relationships, they see in their everyday life, the more inclusive your child is bound to be.

When it comes to processing the new information, books can make this easier. For a child to understand new concepts, they need to be exposed to different words. Books are great for this because they:

  • often include unfamiliar words;
  • repeat the same words in a variety of sentences throughout the book, which helps children understand the words;
  • and offer opportunities for children to hear the same words often with repeated readings.

These new words are what shape their understanding of new concepts. When reading stories that focus on inclusion they start to hear words and phrases that trigger a level of understanding and even empathy. We all know that good stories encourage the reader or listener to engage with the protagonist, or the hero. It is because of this that stories can help your child relate to and support the needs of the hero within the story. They want them to be included, they want them to be understood, and they want them to succeed. This idea can then be translated into your child’s everyday life.

Sparking Interest and Conversation

Children’s books use colourful illustrations and exciting characters to draw a child’s attention and spark imaginative thoughts. As a parent, you can utilise these elements to start conversations about new concepts, and align this conversation with what your child is interested in. Whether it is pirates, fairies, dinosaurs or animals, chances are there is a book that features these kinds of characters that can help you start a conversation on an important concept like inclusion.

Children need positive, extended conversations to support their development of new ideas and concepts. The shared focus of looking at a book together will let your child know that you are interested in what they have to say and what they want to learn.

Talking About Difference, Not Disability

While the concept of inclusion applies to adults and children alike, not just those with special needs, helping your child to understand and accept difference rather than disability, will set them on the path to inclusivity. Children need to understand that the world is made up of all kinds of people with different likes / dislikes, beliefs, abilities, interests and backgrounds.  We want our children from a young age to understand that it is these differences that make the world so interesting and beautiful. The language you use and the way you discuss these differences at home, will shape the way your child sees and experiences the world.

In addition, it is important to use respectful terms and avoid value-laden phrases like ‘struggling’ or ‘burdened with’ when talking to your child about disability or difference. Try using ‘person first’ language that ensures they are an individual first and foremost. For example, ‘person experiencing difficulty with (specific skill)’, rather than, ‘disabled person’.

Where to Start

By introducing new books that discuss topics like inclusion, you are well on the way to educating your child about new and important concepts that will impact their every day. If your child is aware and exposed to the differences that make up our world, they are more likely to be accepting, and may even encourage others to be inclusive.

To help you get started, here are my 10 most favourite books to introduce inclusion:

Can I Play Too by Mo Willems

This is one of my favourites and includes a simple message about inclusion and acceptance that is easy for children to understand (check out the video above of my son reading this book).

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

When I came back from working with the children and families in the detention centre on Nauru, this is the book that I read to explain to my children where I was and the importance of acceptance.

The Cow Tripped Over the Moon by Tony Wilson

This book is a humorous re-imagining of the classic rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle, and teaches children about perseverance and friendship.

Ten little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox

This book is a celebration of baby fingers, baby toes, the babies they belong to, and the joy they bring to everyone, everywhere, all over the world.

Just Because by Rebecca Elliott

This story is told from the perspective of the younger sibling and introduces the concept of special needs through a special sibling bond.

The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman

As the name suggests, this book looks at all kinds of families and their lives together.

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete

Told from the perspective of the older sibling, this book introduces children to autism and the idea of focusing on ability and what someone can do.

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Manchtev

This book creatively teaches children that pets, as well as people, can be different and wonderful at the same time.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

This book introduces children to the concept that just because someone looks a certain way, doesn’t mean they should be defined or limited by those characteristics.

Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson

A sweet story of a hard of hearing fairy, this book shares a universal message about the value of communicating effectively and clearly. And it does it all in such a fun way.

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