2 Powerful Lessons About Fairness For Elementary Students

Sometimes fair does not mean equal. Here are two lessons you can teach your kids or student about fairness.

“But mom, there’s this kid in the classroom and he gets all this extra help and attention. It’s not fair.”

How many kids feel this way? As they sit in the classroom concentrating on their work, they see some students receive extra help, extra time, limited choices, and even the option to work with another teacher. Sometimes these other students even get to take a different test, move to another part of the classroom, or wear headphones.

There are so many things happening that are different for some kids than for others. It’s confusing and it’s a completely legitimate concern and feeling for many students, especially when the situation isn’t explained. But there’s another side.

As teachers, we can’t explain specifics regarding why some students get more attention than others. The individual reasons are confidential. So we have to get creative. I was a special education teacher in the public school system for seven years. Now preparing future teachers at the university level, I have a trick I’d like to pass on to you for use in the home or the classroom.

Honestly, I don’t even remember how I came up with it. But it is, by far, the most effective way I’ve ever found to explain accommodations and extra help for students with disabilities to the entire classroom or to your own children without singling anybody out. It’s a method I feel should be used in every classroom at the beginning of the year because it promotes acceptance and understanding. Kids act out or become upset often out of fear of the unknown.

So explain it to them. Teach them. Help them understand why some get more help. And feel free to use my methods.

2 Fairness Lessons for Elementary Students:

  1. The Dollar Bill Hanging From the Ceiling

As my students walk into the classroom and take their seats, they notice two crisp dollar bills hanging next to each other from the ceiling. As they filter in, I slyly choose two students (one much taller than the other) and ask them to join me in the hall for a moment. I explain to them what I will be demonstrating and ask their permission to help me. If their intended role makes them uncomfortable, I choose other students and ask the same. I’ve never had anyone not okay with helping, but being respectful is of the utmost importance to me for this demonstration.

As all students take their seats, the two students helping me come to the front of the class and stand directly underneath the dollar bills hanging above their heads. I announce to the class that the first student to reach his or her dollar bill will get to keep BOTH of them. Our class counts down together, “1, 2, 3, GO!” Immediately, the taller student grabs the dollar bill and wins the contest. We all clap as I hand both dollar bills to the taller student. Both students take their seats and I pretend that’s the end of the demonstration and continue on with class.

But inevitably, I overhear some whispers. “That wasn’t fair.” And so I use the whispers to my teaching advantage. I announce, “You know what, guys? I’m hearing some whispers that my contest wasn’t fair. What do you think?” We then begin a conversation about the fact that it’s nobody’s fault that one student was taller and the other wasn’t able to reach. So what can we do?

I call the same two students up and hang the dollar bills from the ceiling again. This time, I allow the shorter student to stand on a chair underneath one dollar bill. Same rules. “1, 2, 3, GO!” Inevitably, both students reach for their own dollar bill and get to it at the same time. Nobody gets two this time because it was a tie. Both students get to keep their own dollar bill. So what just happened? It’s now time to explain this to the classroom.

We leveled the playing field. You see, a chair is an accommodation not unlike extended time, fewer choices, headphones, or leaving the classroom. Both of these students, regardless of their height, deserved to reach the same goal in the end. They both equally deserved that dollar bill and it wasn’t the fault of the shorter student that he or she hasn’t grown as tall as the other. The rules just weren’t fair.

Education is no different. Some students have difficulties or even disabilities we can’t see. The material we study can’t be identical for every student. Sometimes they just need a chair. Sometimes we have to make adjustments for students in order to allow them to get to the same goal as everyone else. We all deserve the best education. We all deserve to reach our goals, but some of us just need a little more help because of the way we were born.

So we give those students a chair. We give them what they need in order to be successful.


I truly hope you all have an amazing school year, and please feel free to use my demonstration for your own classroom or children. I will consider it an honor.


Mrs. Bailey Koch, M.A.Ed. – Special Education

This post originally appeared on Cafe Mom, published with permission.

2. The Story of The Baby Sister and The Older Sister

lessons on fairness

Raise your hand if you have a younger sibling. Okay, you can put your hands down. Now raise your hand if you think your sibling got all the attention. Keep your hands raised if you think this is unfair. That’s that’s the way that I felt at first.

Let me tell you my story about how my younger sister got all the attention when she was born. It was like I was invisible. They would say “Hi Olivia” and ignore me. I didn’t think this was fair at first but once I thought about it, I realized I was wrong. My little sister was just born and she needed the attention. She would never be that little a little again. So, I learned to be okay with it.

Years later, I realized that my younger sister didn’t think it was fair that I got to go and have fun while she stayed home. I was more responsible. I knew I was not supposed to run in the street or talk to strangers. She still was too young. Life wasn’t fair for her.

So, although sometimes your younger sibling may get more attention than you, you get to do more things because you’re bigger and older. We should remember, that fair is not always equal.

This lesson was adapted from Kylie from TedxYouth.


Bailey Kochhttp://jeremyandbaileyblog.com/
The story of Bailey Koch finding her love for and strength in writing begins with near tragedy. In February of 2012, Bailey's husband was nearly killed in a head-on collision with a semi truck. As a method of getting information to friends and family, Bailey began a Caring Bridge page. Immediately, others began commenting that Bailey should be a writer. "Yeah right!" Bailey thought. "There's no way I could do that!" "Never Alone: A Husband and Wife's Journey with Depression and Faith" was published in March 2015 and is written by Jeremy and Bailey Koch. It details their struggles with severe depression and the journey toward understanding their purpose, accepting help, and finding faith. High school sweethearts, Jeremy and Bailey know their lives were meant for each other and to help others by being honest about their story. They are proud parents of two beautiful, and often rambunctious, boys, Hudson and Asher. You can learn more about their journey and even purchase the eBook or paperback copy of "Never Alone" at www.jeremyandbailey.com. Additionally, a new book written for families to open up a conversation about the reality of Depression is now available. "When the House Feels Sad: Helping You Understand Depression" is available at www.jeremyandbailey.com as well. Jeremy and Bailey found their purpose in helping others find hope when suffering from a disability, especially unseen illnesses like depression. Jeremy, who suffers from suicidal thoughts, continues to learn to live, not simply stay alive, through hope from God and the acceptance of help. Bailey is his biggest supporter and left her teaching job, after being in public education for seven years, to focus on what the two know to be God's plan. Bailey now works as a Lecturer in Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and will graduate with her doctoral degree in Special Education from Walden University sometime in 2019. Jeremy and Bailey co-own and operate Natural Escapes, a landscaping and greenhouse services business that also includes a paint your own pottery and canvas family art studio. The passion to advocate for those who can't easily advocate for themselves is strong. Bailey has a message of hope and acceptance for all; she has plans to completely demolish the societal stigma attached to mental illness.

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