Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Turning Current Events into History Lessons

I listen to NPR with my kids on our drives to and from school. Most of the time I don’t think that they are listening but today Malik said, “Mom will you turn up the news, I want to hear about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.” Okay so they were listening. Kaya started talking about how Barack Obama is the President but was wondering who Mitt Romney was.  We proceeded to talk about the upcoming presidential election and about voting. After hearing more information about voting, they decided that they wanted to vote. When I told them they had to be 18, they were disappointed but this provided a great segue into a discussion about the right to vote.  As we were having this conversation, I started to think that this would also be a great time to introduce historical figures into their little minds. I love to use literature to do this and there is a ton of really great children’s literature out there.

There are many different ways to sneak in lessons or ways to plant positive ideas in your child’s head without having to overtly do so. You can turn current events into lessons about history or into lessons about people you want them to know about.  This helps them make connections with the past and implores them to connect with how those events and people are still influencing the present day. 

In my house we talk about a lot of non-White history. Mostly because they will get enough of that in life and I want my kids to know that other cultures of the World also have important histories. For me, I will use the upcoming elections to talk about the people in history that made it possible for my kids to someday vote.  This is a loose template; you can adjust it to the specific current event and your family’s needs. There are a lots of websites where you can find quality children’s literature for your kids; it just depends on what you’re looking for. For many of the stories I use, I like to check out books that have been given The Coretta Scott King Book Award. You can also use the internet and libraries to find others.

I took a children’s literature class in college and was able to use some of the strategies I learned in that class to help me teach mini at home lessons with my kids. The book I will use for this is "Rosa" by Nikki Giovanni.  Here’s a step by step of how to turn children’s literature into a teachable moment.

1. Find your book, read through it, and then figure out what you want the kids to take away from the reading. For me, with the book "Rosa", it was bravery. Specifically, how Rosa’s bravery helped propel The Civil Rights Movement, end segregation and fully allow Black people to vote.

2. Find stopping points throughout the book where you can ask thought provoking questions. You can ask questions such as, “What do you think will happen next?” and “What would you do if you were Rosa at this moment?” "How do you think she felt when she was asked to get off the bus?" "Why do you think she stayed on the bus?" These sorts of questions get the wheels turning. You''ll be amazed at what they come up with.

3. When you come to key words that the kids might not know, stop and explain them. In this book, when it comes to the part about boycotts, stop and talk about what a boycott is. Talk about how much bravery it took for Rosa to stand up for what she believed in. Talk about what your kids would be willing to stand up for.

4. When the story is finished, talk about why her story should matter to them. Discuss how Rosa helped facilitate Black American’s right to vote. It would also be good to mention all of the other moments of bravery Rosa Parks was practicing that led up to this moment on the bus. Discuss how one person and one moment can make a difference.

5. When you’re done with the discussion you can get creative. With older kids you could make boycott signs and let them decide something that they want to boycott. With younger kids you could have them draw a picture of what bravery looks like to them and identify ways in which they can be brave in their own lives.

As mothers and especially as mothers of bi-racial kids we must get creative. We have to come up with alternative ways to teach our kids about their history and finds ways of interweaving people of all cultures into their moral fabric. The hope is that as they get older they will draw strength from knowing a cohesive World history. And that they will not be limited by what is chosen to be represented in schools and society. Using literature is great way that I have found to introduce people and concepts without having to draw a great amount of attention to the fact that they need to know this information because I’m trying to build a foundation for a healthy bi-racial identity. They don't really care about that at this age. It should be more about exposure and confidence building than calling attention to their bi-racialness. It should be about learning and having fun at the same time. It’s an added bonus when the activity fulfills the fun piece yet, also goes towards building a  strong foundation for your child’s identity development.

 Check my Instagram later today for my kids interpretations of the book and their pictures of bravery!