Fair is Not Always Equal


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Whether in response to how many crackers a friend was given at snack time, how many extra minutes another class got for recess, or how many books another child has in her book box, “That’s not fair!” is frequently heard in elementary classrooms. We work hard to communicate to students that the best way to make things fair is to look at what each person needs, rather than simply to give the same thing to everyone. One way I do this is with the following hands-on lesson on fairness, for which you’ll need a box of Band-Aids.  

Begin by calling students to the gathering area and having them close their eyes. Ask them to imagine they are riding their bikes on a breezy, sunny day—a perfect day for bike riding. Then ask them to imagine that they see a cute dog running along the side of the road. As they are watching the dog, they lose their balance and fall off their bike. Oh no! They are okay, except for a minor scrape for which they need a Band-Aid. Ask them to visualize where they got hurt when they fell from their bike. Where do they need me to put their Band-Aid? Then have students come up to you and tell you exactly where they got hurt.
If the first child tells you that her left hand is hurt, give her a Band-Aid and tell her to put it on her left hand. The second child might tell you that he scraped his right elbow. Give him a Band-Aid, but tell him to put it on his left hand—just like the first child. Perhaps the third child says that he scraped his cheek. Give him a Band-Aid, but again, tell him to put it on his left hand. 

This continues until all students have Band-Aids on their left hand, regardless of where they were injured when they feel off their bikes. At this point, you’ll hear giggles mixed with confusion. Ask them if having a Band-Aid on their left hand, no matter where they got scraped, has made them feel better. No, it hasn’t! Since they got hurt in different places, they didn’t all need Band-Aids on their left hands! You need a Band-Aid where you got hurt, and your friends need Band-Aids where they were hurt. Am I being fair to Jon, who hurt his right elbow, when I put a Band-Aid on his left hand just because that’s where I put Sarah’s Band-Aid? No! Being fair doesn’t mean treating everyone exactly the same. It means treating each person the way that they need to be treated, because we are all different from each other.

The discussion continues as this activity relates to reading and learning. The tools needed for learning are different for each of us.

It works wonderfully! 

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