Child-to-Child Activities to the Rescue
After discussing Tonio’s situation with his teacher and grandparents—and as best we could with the boy himself—we decided to facilitate “Child-to-Child” activities in the classroom and playground. Our goals were to sensitize his classmates to Tonio’s needs and possibilities, to explore ways to include him more fully and to make school more accessible.
For Child-to-Child activities for inclusion of disabled children, see David Werner’s books:
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One morning Polo’s wife Felipa and I went to the school in Tablón #2 and met with the children. We started with a slide show showing Child-to-Child activities in other schools, ranging from Nicaragua to Michoacan, Mexico.
Fortunately—as part of a national attempt to modernize education—the little school in Tablón #2 was equipped with a fancy computer linked to an overhead projector. Unfortunately, neither worked. Luckily, as a backup I’d brought my laptop. Its small screen was no problem; the 11 pupils happily crowded around it, and viewed the presentation at close range.
A key part of the slide show was the true “foto-historia” of Jesus, a partially blind boy with spina-bifida. At age 10, Jesus had just started school for the first time. This was in the village of Ajoya, where at that time PROJIMO (Program of Rehabilitation Organized by Disabled Youth of Western Mexico) was located. Though Jesus had begun school eagerly, he soon grew discouraged because other students teased him and the teacher scolded him for not being able to read the blackboard. Fortunately, however, this situation was greatly improved with the help of Ramona, a disabled young woman visiting from Nicaragua, who facilitated a Child-to-Child activity in Jesus’s classroom. To sensitize the children, Ramona had them play games simulating different disabilities, and then discuss what it felt like to be made fun of or left behind. Next, she asked the children think of ways they could help Jesus participate more fully, both in their studies and their games, despite his physical and visual handicaps.
Click here to read the complete story of Jesus from ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ by David Werner.
These eye-opening activities were so transformative for both the students and their teacher that they became much more understanding and inclusive of Jesus. Likewise for Jesus, the experience was so motivating that, as a part of PROJIMO’s community outreach program, he eventually became a Child-to-Child facilitator himself.
I then showed slides of the first such Child-to-Child event that Jesus helped to lead. In the village of Limon, two brothers with muscular dystrophy had been teased so cruelly by their classmates that they refused to go to school anymore. To remedy this, Jesus, among other activities, involved the school children in helping make therapeutic playground devices in the two brothers’ backyard. The social dynamics improved so much that the brothers, when coaxed to give school a second try, were eagerly welcomed by their classmates. In this way, children learn to derive satisfaction by looking for ways to include and help, rather than exclude or torment, the child who is different.
As a part of the activity with the schoolchildren in Tablón #2, we also showed slides where children in another village put on a brief skit. The skit had two scenes. In the first, a group of kids on a hot summer day run excitedly toward the river to swim, leaving Pedrito, a youngster on crutches, unhappily behind. In the second scene, the same group of kids invites Pedrito to go with them.
After this skit, we asked the children if it gave them any ideas regarding Tonio. They said they wanted to be sure to include him more in their activities and games. Hearing this Antonio blushed—and almost smiled.
Following the slide presentation and some spirited discussion, Tonio’s classmates were eager to play some simulation games. To this end, they all sprang to their feet and dashed out the door and down the steps toward the playground—ironically leaving Tonio behind. As usual, Tonio remained mutely in his chair, with his vacant look of quiet resignation.
But then, something happened! Half way down the steps, a small girl stopped and cried out, “What about Tonio?” Then they all stopped, turned around, and rushing back into the classroom, asked Tonio to join them. At first Tonio refused. Then he silently rose to his feet. The other children scrambled around him like ants around honey.
Tonio silently accepted all this attention, but behind his overt expression of embarrassment was a glimmer of approval.
On the playground, the children took turns simulating a physical disability. Everyone wanted to play the disabled child.
As usual, Tonio stayed on the sidelines. To include him, they tried to make him referee, by having him say, “On your mark, get set, go!” But Tonio wouldn’t open his mouth. So they asked him to hold up his arm and lower it as the signal “Go!” Little by little, Tonio accepted this role.
The four children who had raced with a simulated disability stood in the middle of the circle. They were asked questions like:
“What does it fell like to be left behind?” … “or to be laughed at when you stumble or can’t keep up?”
Finally, all the children were asked, “What are some games you can play in which a child with a lame leg, or who can’t run, can take part just as well as the rest of the children?
Some of the schoolkids suggested games such as “marbles” or “jacks” or “pick up sticks.” But most of the children suggested active group games they already played on the playground. Some were the equivalent, or variations of, “musical chairs.”
The schoolteacher suggested they actually play some of these games, making a point to include Tonio. So they did so.