The world feels heavy at the moment; heavy with the weight of conflicts that are so complicated and unbelievable. To think of the horrors that children and families are facing as we speak, hurts and makes us wish there was more we could do to help.
Of course, as individuals we will shout as loud as we can, implore our MPs to act and donate to charities on the ground. But is there more we can be doing as organisations and schools?
If speaking up about important issues is part of being a good citizen, nay a good human…how can we speak up in ways that educate, prepare and support the next generation in the hope that growing up they will know how to act should similar atrocities repeat themselves in the future. How do we foster understanding, empathy and kindness so that our children can be enthusiastic supporters and friends to people effected by war. If we’re growing the next generation of leaders, how do we inspire them to take effective action to support peace not war.
It is likely that the children in your classrooms and families are aware of conflict in the wider world, especially with it dominating the headlines in recent months. There will be schools with families directly linked to global conflicts or who have lived-experience of war. There will be schools who have refugees on roll and may have more in the future. And there will be many schools who have children who have made dangerous and long journeys to the UK to escape other similar situations.
We always advocate for using books to explore difficult topics such as this. We believe that stories are a way to deepen our understanding; they help us to question and process the world around us – the tricky bits and the good. For children, it is no different. Getting to grips with something as complex as war is hard, but we can begin to understand by reading stories.
Here are our top tips for talking about conflict, in a way that raises children to be empathetic and understanding of others:
Create a safe space for children to talk
Plan the discussion for a time and space where the children are most likely to be calm and ready to listen. Children pick up on the atmosphere, so try to talk in a natural and friendly tone.
Children usually have lots of questions about complex topics – give them opportunity to ask them without feeling judged. You might not know all the answers (nobody does!) and that is ok. Answer with as much honesty as you can, keeping in mind what is appropriate for the age of the children. Anything you are unsure about, reassure the children that you will find out more and let them know later.
Make sure the children understand that they are safe and address any misconceptions that may arise so the children can begin to understand what is really happening.
Share positive stories and talk about how they can help
Show the children examples of people who are helping each other and calling for peace. Many children, and adults too, often feel helpless when they hear about war so it can be a good idea to talk about ways they might be able to act. Could they come up with ideas for a school fundraiser?
Use an established resource
It can feel like quite a responsibility to talk to the children about these topics, so its helpful to use a ready-made resource.
There is lots of information on these websites:
Use books to help children understand what is going on
Knowledge is power, as they say. The more knowledge we can give to our children, the better their ability will be to act and support others as they grow up. In some ways this makes reading it’s own form of peaceful protest!
Here are some of our favourite books for children about conflict:
A firm favourite in many classrooms already because it is a great first conversation about conflict; told in simple terms that all children can relate to. It is a story of how differences can hold us back, but when we accept each other we can discover new possibilities.
We also love this one because there is such an easy link to follow on with art activities.
Another similar option could be ‘The Smeds and The Smoos’ by Julia Donaldson (which gets bonus points from us because the BBC adaptation is stunning!).
A book so innocent and beautiful that it could bring a tear to the eye of even the hardiest of hearts. The story follows little Lubna and her Dad who arrive in a refugee camp in the night. Lubna finds a special pebble on the beach who she shares all her fears and thoughts with. Lubna’s true strength isn’t her sweet imagination though, it is her kindness and the sacrifice she makes to help another child in need of a friend.
This book is a lovely way to talk to children about how small acts of friendship can be most the powerful thing we can do in difficult times.
KEY STAGE 1
We spied this book on a recent trip to Salts Mill Bookshop in Saltaire. It is a powerful story about the impact of war on two siblings who have had to flee their home. With great resilience and courage, the brother and sister learn to accept their past and begin to heal…all with the help of a butterfly.
There are some big themes in this book that are dealt with in a sensitive way. It is a useful starting point for talking about the impact of global conflicts on individuals and families.
Inspired by a true story, we can’t help but fall in love with The Last Garden. It is a wonderful tale of hope set against the themes of war and migration. The story follows Zara, a caring young girl who tends to the last green space in her city, before she too is forced to leave. Despite the war, the seeds and roots continue to grow until Zara and her friends can return home, and when they do they find that the garden is just as beautiful as before. In fact, it’s even more colourful and wild, inspiring the people of the city to blossom once again.
KEY STAGE 2
Fans of Gulliver’s Travels will love reading this book with their class, as the story leans and twists the original tale in a new, enticing way. It follows the story of Omar, a young boy who has fled Afghanistan and accidentally lands on the island of Lilliput instead of England. It has a powerful message about kindness to strangers, which we really love.
If your class enjoy a graphic novel, then this is the book to engage your children in a conversation about conflict. The story is about a young girl who moves to a new country following a war. She struggles with learning a new language and making friends; an experience that we are sure is shared by lots of refugees and migrants in a new place.
Another similar option is When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed.
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