Elementary: Navigating the News and Sensitive Issues

With civil unrest permeating the news cycle, and the national conversation swirling around discrimination, brutality, and race, your elementary child is bound to have questions, even if they are not voiced

The Guidepost Team

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As parents, you may want guidance on how to address your elementary child's questions sensitively and perhaps support in moving through your own discomfort in grappling with complex issues.

Your child needs an outlet for discussion, tools to help process current events, and an understanding of historical context for what is happening. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can be models and resources for how to think critically, how to listen, and how to be empathetic. These conversations will be handled differently by every family, depending on your family’s background, perspective, and experiences.

It may be helpful to ground yourself in your elementary child’s developmental stage and readiness. During elementary, children are drawn to issues of fairness and justice and seek a sense of belonging. Responsibility and intellect are also blossoming.

Morality Highlighted

Your elementary child enjoys engaging in discussions that wrestle with moral questions. This is an age in which children are eager to delve into what is right and wrong, to question what acceptable and unacceptable behavior in society is. They explore and form a framework of understanding and a moral compass through their interactions with peers, in observing others, by listening to the opinions of people they respect, and through sorting and weighing information, experiences, and knowledge.

Importance of Belonging

Your child is becoming aware of social dynamics and her place within social circles. Children are drawn to peers, form intense friendships, and seek social acceptance. They compare themselves to others and note subtle differences. This makes elementary children even more sensitive to issues of inclusion and empathetic to groups or individuals who are excluded.

Role Models and Heroes

Even as they turn toward peers and are influenced by a wider group, elementary children still look to adults as beacons of truth and are particularly open to lessons presented as stories. Children love the unusual, the extraordinary, and the gory. They want to hear about people from the past and present who achieved remarkable feats, who displayed bravery, who made unpopular choices. They have an enhanced power to imagine people and places from the near and distant past and want to understand their motivations and their circumstances. This is an ideal time to introduce and explore biographies and discover real-life heroes.

Burgeoning Responsibility

Elementary children have a natural inclination to help. This is part of their urge to belong and orientation toward community. When they identify a cause in which they believe or an injustice they perceive, your elementary child can become very inspired and impassioned.

How? Why?

Along with imagination, your child’s intellect explodes during elementary, and questions abound. They can take in a tremendous quantity of information in an engaging format, have not yet closed themselves off to fields of inquiry, and are extremely curious. Help feed this knowledge by pointing them toward quality resources.

With this understanding of your child’s intellectual and emotional readiness, here are some tips and resources to guide your conversations.

Ongoing Dialogue

When addressing complex issues like discrimination, these are not one-off conversations. You want to be responsive to your children’s questions and have ongoing, natural dialogue about differences, including race, nationality, gender, class, beliefs. Avoid staging them, but rather, look for natural openings, show appreciation for diversity, and point out stereotypes and biases, and look for ways to highlight the humanity—the mistakes, insecurities, aspirations, and ideals—underlying conflicts. Watching a television program together or sharing a book present opportunities and springboards for these kinds of discussions.

Embrace Discomfort

Maybe you have been having these conversations with your child for years and feel confident and adept. It is also understandable if you do not feel completely comfortable in talking about topics like race, bias, and oppression and to do it anyway. It is not necessary to have all the answers. You want to model respect for others and to arm your children with the knowledge and tools to think critically, to express themselves thoughtfully, and to listen to others’ points of view. It’s important for your child to see that you can be honest, sincere, and charitable to yourself and others, even when uncomfortable and confused.

Share Resources

Books can enrich your conversations and enhance your child’s understanding of the past to make sense of the present. The history of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement offer important context. Read books together as well as making resources available for independent perusal.

Need fiction and non-fiction suggestions for elementary-appropriate titles? Read on.

Recommendations for Ages 6-9

Busing Brewster” by Richard Michelson
Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson
Malcom Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X” by Ilyasah Shabazz
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Doreen Rappaport
Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation” by Duncan Tonatiuh
The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial” by Susan Goodman
The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson
The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles
We March” by Shane Evans

Recommendations for Ages 9-12

As Fast As Word Could Fly” by Pamela Tuck
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom” by Carole Boston Weatherford
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History” by Walter Dean Myers
Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott” by Russell Freedman
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans” by Kadir Nelson
John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Right Movement” by Jim Haskins and Benny Andrews
She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero” by Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
The Watsons Go to Birmingham” by Christopher Paul Curtis
Through My Eyes” by Ruby Bridges
Who Was Harriet Tubman?” by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Meet the Author

The Guidepost Team

The Guidepost Team is a group of writers and educators dedicated to helping demystify all things Montessori.

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