Teaching Difficult Subject Matter to Young Children

When you teach young children, not all things are necessarily age appropriate. Yet, there are important parts of this countries history that are ugly. I came to the US just over 9 years ago and it was my fifth day at a new school. I was awoken by a phone call to turn on the news, and apart from the horror, I kept thinking about how I was going to handle it with the children.

We started the day as usual, and I remember parents in the room full of anxiety as well. As the class settled, I broke the news that something terrible happened but that our primary role as adults, whether it be teachers, parents, or administrators, was to keep you safe and that we would continue with our day of learning with that in mind.

That class are now seniors in high school and my current class is the first class where every single child was born AFTER 9/11/01. For the past few years, I have read a great picture book, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers a Caldecott winner about tight-rope-walker Phillipe Petit. What I love is that it is a story of one man’s goal and that all it ¬†mentions on the last page is that the towers no longer exist. It leads us into a quick discussion where I tell them the story of that day and how like every day, my primary job is to keep them safe.

For adults, the Oscar winner documentary, Man on Wire is well worth the viewing.

One unit we do in second grade at our school is The Pike Place market as a community. But when teaching the history of it, it’s important to include the impact of the Japanese Internment. There aren’t a lot of ugly incidents (thank goodness) to discuss with second graders, but those that arise in the curriculum that is in place must be included and not ignored.

Scholastic has a great resource on 9/11 for teachers which you can find here.


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