Children Who Are Different

The way you can measure a society’s soul is by the way that it treats its children.
Nelson Mandela

Issue No. 61- 31st July 2008

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23-24 August ECCPA (Early Childhood Conference of Performing Arts) Conference Melbourne. For details and registration go to

Children Who Are Different

When my brothers and I were children our paternal grandmother lived with us and she was forever exhorting us to ‘be stock-sized’.  To draw attention to yourself by behaving or speaking or writing in a way that was outside the norm was frowned on. Our parents, on the other hand, encouraged us to express ourselves fully, to not hold back. Children today are encouraged to be individuals more than ever.

Even so, it is human nature to want to be accepted. Being accepted tends to go with the territory of conforming to whatever your peers do or think. That’s probably more likely what my grandmother was getting at. She didn’t want to see us making ourselves unpopular.

Each year on the first day of school as we gaze over the sea of eager faces before us, we can’t help but notice those who are ‘different’ for whatever reason, those who do not conform in shape, size, looks, behaviour, attitude or ability.  These children stand out. They can’t help it.  These are children who go way beyond ‘being individual’.

As the year progresses and our patience wears thin, we may wonder ‘why me?’ Some years the class is full of bright, eager, willing children who are easy to teach. You can do amazing extension activities with them and by the end of the year you say ‘WOW!’ because you’ve had an amazing yet humbling experience bringing these children to another level in their awareness and enjoyment of learning and of life. You know you’ve had a positive effect on them and feel grateful for having had them in your life.

The real test of your skills as a teacher however, lies in your ability to withstand and to extend those who are ‘different.’ We get so caught up in survival mode when too many of them appear in our classroom that we think we are not having an effect. This is usually not the case.

The performing arts and the visual arts are wonderful bridges to learning. I advocate incorporating these techniques into your daily classroom because for the non-conformists, this may be the only time when you do appear to get through to them. I am sometimes greeted by groans and eyes skyward by teachers when I suggest using music and relaxation techniques, art, dance and drama into the classroom because it seems too hard for the average teacher; just surviving is hard enough. Ironically, these activities de-stress you as well as the children. More importantly, these activities stimulate the brain in a way that traditional ‘3 Rs’ learning does not, which means that rather than taking away from class time, these activities enhance learning.

Consider the children throughout history who were considered poor learners, dyslexics, even dunces. The list includes Einstein for heavens’ sake! As much as you may feel like tearing your hair out and wondering how you’ll survive the year when you strike a challenging group on day one, consider the amazing effect you are having on them by listening to and finding out who they are as people; what makes them tick and finding a way to connect, rather than judging them and trying to force them to conform to your values. You may just find yourself having a profound and positive influence on a highly significant person in tomorrow’s world. Doesn’t every child deserve as much? It is often because of ‘difference’ that people achieve, not despite it.

I leave you with this poem by Digby Wolfe which I found in Maggie Dent’s book ‘Nurturing Kids’ Hearts and Souls’ ‘

Here’s to kids who are different                                                                                           
Kids who don’t always get A’s                                                                                               
Kids who have ears                                                                                                          
Twice the size of their peers                                                                                                
And noses that go on for days.                                 

Here’s to kids who are different                                                                                           
Kids they call crazy or dumb                                                                                                  
Kids who don’t fit                                                                                                               
With the guts and the grit                                                                                                   
Who dance to a different drum.

Here’s to kids who are different                                                                                           
Kids with a mischievous streak                                                                                             
For when they have grown                                                                                                    
As history has shown                                                                                                           
It’s their difference that makes them unique.

(Maggie Dent’s books are available from

Quotes of the Week

‘Many people go far in life because someone else thought they could.’                                     

‘We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.’                                                                  
Jimmy Carter (1924-?) American statesman. 39th President of the USA.

‘Be who you are because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.’          
Dr Seuss



1.  Put 400 bricks in a closed room.
2.  Put your new employees in the room and close the door.
3.  Leave them alone and come back after 6 hours.
4.  Then analyze the situation:
a.  If they are counting the bricks, put them in the  Accounting Department.
b.  If they are recounting them, put them in Auditing.
c.  If they have messed up the whole place with the bricks, put them in Engineering.
d.  If they are arranging the bricks in some strange order, put them in Planning.
e.  If they are throwing the bricks at each other, put them in Operations.
f.   If they are sleeping, put them in Security.
g.  If they have broken the bricks into pieces, put them in Information Technology.
h.  If they are sitting idle, put them in Human Resources.
i.   If they say they have tried different combinations, they are looking
     for more, yet not a brick has been moved, put them in Sales.
j.   If they have already left for the day, put them in Marketing.
k.  If they are staring out of the window, put them in Strategic Planning.
l.   If they are talking to each other, and not a single brick has been
    moved, congratulate them and put them in Top Management .

Finally, if they have surrounded themselves with bricks in such a way
that they can neither be seen nor heard from, put them in Government.


This presentation gives you fantastic ideas to use in the classroom.                                      
Emily Upson, EC Educ Student, Curtin Uni.

This was a great experience that will help in the classroom.                                                
Louise Vanderplas, EC Educ Student, Curtin Uni.

About The Author

Marlene Rattigan B.A., Dip. Ed. (ECS), CELTA

Marlene Rattigan is an Early Childhood teacher, a teacher of English as a Second Language, and from 1987-2000 was a nationally accredited fitness leader. Her background is in music education. A keen interest in motor development in children led to the creation of Kidz-Fiz-Biz which she taught successfully for 13 years. Marlene also conducts workshops for children, teachers and parents at schools, in the community and at festivals. She has produced teaching manuals complete with audio CDs which are an extension of her ‘Kidz-Fiz-Biz’ program.

PO Box 6894, East Perth WA 6892, Australia
T: +61 8 9325 1204 M: +61 (0) 410 64 2781 E:

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Until next time – continue being a legend in your classroom.

Marlene Rattigan, Editor
Kidz Newz

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