Ember Klein-Coletti was trying to complete a worksheet, but first the Miraloma Elementary School second-grader needed to pick up a pencil with a green quilted oven mitt on her right hand.
“This is hard!” the frustrated 7-year-old said. “I can’t even pick one up!”
The exercise was designed to simulate being disabled — specifically, having limited fine motor skills.
“You can’t grip the pencil the same way, can you?” said parent volunteer Sirena McCart. “How did everybody feel?”
“Weird!” some of the children exclaimed.
“I wasn’t used to that,” Ember replied.
The activities, which also included simulations of blindness and paraplegia, were all part of a national movement called Inclusive Schools Week, a recent five-day series of events designed to get kids thinking about all kinds of diversity, from disabilities to cultural and racial differences.
“Inclusive schools are about building a school that’s welcoming to everybody,” explained Catherine Dauer, a parent who helped organize the week’s activities at Miraloma, one of several San Francisco schools that participated.
The goal of the day’s simulation was to get the children thinking about how to better include their disabled peers in classroom and playground activities.
“They’re definitely empathizing with what it could be like to have a challenge,” Dauer said. “They’re learning to be helpful and respectful, but they’re realizing that if they had a challenge, they wouldn’t want help all the time.”
Dauer was speaking from experience. Her son Avery, 7, has cerebral palsy and uses crutches and a walker to get around. The second-grader said he was glad his classmates got to experience what it was like to have a physical challenge.
“It makes me feel more confident that they understand me,” Avery said, noting that his classmates were already good about modifying schoolyard games so he could play too.
Avery’s mother said she hoped he learned something from the day’s activities as well.
“I hope that he is as empathetic toward people with challenges as they are to him,” she said. “Every child has some kind of challenge.”