When I was in elementary school, I eagerly awaited the first Friday of the month because of “Friendship Day.” During Friendship Day, students from another class would visit our class. Each child from the visiting class would pick someone from our class to be his or her friend for the day and invite that person to play with them in their classroom for a couple of hours.
I loved being chosen. Not only did it mean that I got to miss class, it also meant that I got to play with the cool toys in the visiting kids’ classroom. They had Lincoln Logs, Barrel of Monkeys, Legos, coloring books, and wood blocks. You name it – they had it. I envied the kids from that class because they were allowed to have toys while we weren’t. From my perspective, their classroom was more fun because they had toys and could play during class time, while all we did was sit at our desks and do boring things like read and do class work.
I suppose I was just a really naive child. I was aware that the kids from the visiting class were different from us, but it didn’t hit me until years later that the kids in that class had mental and physical disabilities. Friendship Day was actually a way to expose us to these children in an attempt to promote acceptance, tolerance, and yes, friendship. Conversely, I see it as an attempt to integrate these children into mainstream society, to help them get used to us – even if it was only for a few hours a month.
As noble as it sounds, I wonder if it really worked. I wonder if it’s still in effect at my old school. I enjoyed Friendship Day, not because it meant meeting new kids and making new friends, but because I got to play with their toys and skip part of class. Furthermore, at the end of the day I would return to my class and wouldn’t even see these kids again until the next month. I never saw them at lunch or at recess. They remained a mystery to me for quite some time.
Did you have this sort of program at your school or your child’s school? What was it like for you (or for your child)? What do you think of programs like this? Are they effective in promoting acceptance and tolerance of children with mental or physical disabilities?