Talking to Children About Current Events: Japan

| March 24, 2011

Children ask tons of questions. They are not immune to what’s happening in the world, and are able to grasp bad news when they hear it.

Lots of children are most likely aware of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan which were then followed by a nuclear meltdown. Those are three concepts that are terrifying and unimaginable to adults; imagine being a child and hearing about these uncontrollable disasters.

As in previous posts in this “Talking to Children About” series, I have dug up some research on the best methods for talking to kids about tough subjects and discuss some ideas on how to use these ideas in the classroom.  In my case, I am, as always, curious about how to talk to elementary level students about tough topics.

The Children’s Hospital in Colorado recommends that you be honest and begin by explaining the natural disasters. Several books are helpful for explaining earthquakes and tsunamis: Earthquake by Milly Lee or Tsunamis and Other Natural Disasters: A nonfiction Companion to High Tide in Hawaii… by Mary Pope Osborne, Nancy Pope Boyce with Illustration by Sal Murdocca are informative and colorful.

Patch suggests that parents try to use language familiar to children and be prepared for lots of the same questions over and over.  Most sites I looked at also encourage teachers and parents to not share disturbing videos or photos with children. (This seems like a no-brainer.)

In my classroom I would plan to read the two books with my class and then allow the kids time to talk. An open discussion could allow children to reflect on what they learned from the book and talk about what they know from hearing their parents or the news talk about it. Children are like adults, and talking through their feelings and worries is valuable.

To turn the  books into a unit I could then lead the children into a future lesson on seismography or the study of vibrations within the earth. This could lead into a science lesson on how to make your own seismograph and measure vibrations in our own city. Certainly taking the mini seismographs anywhere near a subway would result in some interesting readings.

Another option to work on with the kids would be a community organizing project where they can pool together their ideas to get the community involved in helping out in Japan. Children can organize events like this, and if I gave them some leeway, I bet they would organize the thing from start to finish with limited input from me. This would lead to a democratic and educational experience that would hopefully leave the kids feeling like they did something positive to help out in a disaster.