I have always had a soft spot for Eric Carle books, and use them frequently in speech therapy. I stumbled upon a “new” one (for me), The Mixed-Up Chameleon while perusing my school library shelves. The story follows a hungry little chameleon on his adventure through the zoo. The chameleon thinks about it’s shortcomings and imagines itself taking on the positive characteristics of the other animals. But as he ponders himself becoming all the seemingly better creatures on this journey, he isn’t truly any happier. The chameleon becomes a bizarre patchwork of pieces and parts of each of the zoo animals it imagines until there is nothing left of our poor narrator. BUT….a tasty fly buzzes by him and prompts, “I wish I could be myself”! Resolution, self acceptance, the end.
As with most of these deceptively simple stories, there is deeper meaning. I think about my students who struggle with anchoring themselves in a positive self concept; too short, too tall, too heavy, too smart, too geeky, the list goes on and on. I am sure at one time or another, we all have wished to be something we are not, something that exists only in the indefinable and unattainable place called “better”. But what if better actually resides in the best version of being our self and not in becoming something we are not? See, I told you this story is deeper than first glance!
I use the chameleon’s adventure to begin discussions with the more comfortable launching point of talking about make-believe stories and creatures, not about the students themselves. At least not yet. The story opens up the opportunity for great conversations to start developing (and owning) ideas about what we are good at, our wheelhouse so to speak. This can lead to fabulous side lessons about the difference between confidence and bragging. As the younger students start connecting the story to their perspective and personal experiences, the light starts to come on. For my older elementary and middle schoolers, this is a life skill lesson. Helping them navigate a positive self-image can be treacherous waters when we consider what culture dictates as desirable appearances and behaviors, particularly for girls. This book is a great tool in helping kids to figure out how to appreciate positive attributes in others, without wishing away the best parts of themselves.
What activities have helped you build a positive self-image in your kids?