Ms. Wresinski teaches a class of exceptional second graders at Helen A. Davis Elementary School in Tampa, Florida. Each Friday, without fail, five of her students leave her classroom in the afternoon to join the special class of children with Autism. Here they spend an hour and a half helping out the teachers with their special students. Often, the interactions come in the form of music, and Autistic children are often drawn out of their shells through song.
A new curriculum has been developed using music to teach concepts such as colors and numbers. The second graders are quick to join in song, leading the class and inspiring the more withdrawn students to participate when they are slow to. During recent weeks, the Autistic students were learning about animals through the song “Old MacDonald.” Through practice they have learned that when the song pauses and they are selected they should name an animal. The teachers were quite surprised with the outcome; even children that they expected to stay quiet joined in! They credit much of this progress to the work that Wresinski’s students have done. Having other children present, positive, and active makes the environment much friendlier.
Beyond their musical skills, these second graders also share their time passing out snacks and doing scheduled activities with the other students. Some of the favorites are arts and crafts and outdoor games. The second graders also share stories that they have written and illustrated with the other students. When the experiment first began, the second graders were uncomfortable during periodic outbursts from the Autistic students, but by now they have learned that such actions are a natural part of their new friends.
A new kindness has developed in Wresinski’s students, as well as a great sense of social acceptance. Interacting normally with those typically considered “different” is a learning experience for everyone, as well as a self-esteem booster. Their teacher hopes that this experience will stay with them, not only by fostering tolerance but also by teaching them at an early age to give some of their time to helping others.