Children's Games to Teach Anti-Discrimination

Simple games help children to understand what it feels like to be discriminated against.
... Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

Discrimination ranges from the extremism of Nazi Germany to the more subtle forms based on stereotypes, such as assuming an Italian woman can cook or an Irishman must drink. Sheri R. Levy, associate professor of psychology at SUNY Stony Brook in New York, tells "Parents" magazine, “By age 4 or 5, most children can identify people's race or ethnicity.” Games that help teach children anti-discrimination can prevent these simple observations from turning into something more hurtful later in life. Such games can be intense, depending on the background of the students involved; teachers should consult an expert with training in psychology and randomly sort children into groups so they don't tie their physical traits to their placement.

1 Color Groups

The Color Groups game teaches kids how discrimination feels, based on circumstances out of their control. Divided into three random groups, each group is assigned a color on which treatment is based: One gets royal treatment, one gets treated the same as always and one is ostracized. For example, the first group receives a special treat on their lunch tray, while the second gets the regular meal and the third group has to eat at a table by themselves and clean up everyone else’s tables at the end of lunch. Afterward, the groups sit together and discuss whether it was fair that one group got preferential treatment, if one group deserved less, and how it made them feel when their friends got more/less than they did.

2 Mask Your Differences

In this exercise, each child receives a paper plate with eyeholes and a napkin to drape over his head. The children cover their faces with the masks, put the napkin over their hair and walk around the room looking at each other silently. After decorating the masks, they again walk around without speaking.

When the exercise is complete, the children discuss the difference between the two experiences, exploring what it felt like when everyone looked the same, if anyone felt special or unique, if it was it boring to look exactly alike. They can compare how it felt when they saw everyone’s unique mask and how it was different from the first round. The goal of this exercise is to open up a discussion about differences in human culture: What makes us the same? What makes us different?

3 Don’t Eat the Candy!

For this exercise, the children are split into two groups at random. A plate with jellybeans is set on a table. Group No. 1 hears that the jellybeans are spoiled and they must get the kids in Group No. 2 to understand they should not eat the jellybeans, without using words. Group No. 2 hears they must eat the jellybeans no matter what Group No. 1 does.

Afterward, the children discuss what it’s like when you and another person cannot understand each other. The goal is to open up a discussion about how it would feel to move to a foreign country and which obstacles you’d have to overcome. Teachers can also lead discussions about the role language plays in everyday life, influencing our behavior and choices.

Carrie Simmons has been writing in the travel industry for more than 10 years. She is the creator, producer and primary writer of Travel With Kids, an award-winning family travel documentary series. Her articles have also appeared in “USA Travel Magazine,” “Yuma Daily Sun” and “Travel Savvy Mom.”