We are in the middle of the studying World War II right now. I started out having some anxiety over this topic.
How in the world do you teach the Holocaust to innocent, little children?
And at this point (after we actually have covered it a bit, read a few child appropriate books, and engaged in a little age appropriate discussion) I have decided, you don’t have to.
One of the many, many wonderful advantages to homeschooling is that you get to choose what is important and what is not important for your children to learn and WHEN those topics are important or not important for your children to learn. I am usually overly zealous in imparting knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and truth to all these littles that sometimes I get worried about how to do it in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them. I am just SO EXCITED for them to learn and understand things and I BELIEVE that they CAN (ok, that is way too much excitement, down with the caps) that sometimes I forget that maybe now is not the right time.
Don’t get me wrong. They should learn about the Holocaust. Everyone should learn and know about the Holocaust. But there are things that my children should not know or understand at the same depth and level that I do right now. They have an entire adult life to learn and know about these things. Childhood, in my opinion, is not the appropriate time.
I read a lot of adult books on the subject in order to more fully understand it myself. I read “Defying Hitler” by Sebastian Huffier – written in 1939 by a normal, everyday German as a memoir of how Hitler came to power. I read “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larsen, following the U.S. ambassador in Berlin during the beginning of Hitler’s reign. That narrative ends about 1942 or so. I read “The Hiding Place,” (Corrie Ten Boom), “The Upstairs Room, ” (Johanna Reiss), “I am David,” (Anne Holme), “Number the Stars, (Lois Lowry), and “Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps,” (Andrea Warren.) And actually I just finished “Liberal Fascism” by Jonah Goldberg which was really insightful into the Nazi ideology and their form of racist fascism. (I wouldn’t put that on a Holocaust reading list though. It has nothing to do with the Holocaust or WWII – more just about fascism and totalitarian utopias, the mean and the nice ones.)
Besides educating myself more (I did take college courses on the subject – but that was oh so long ago) I wanted to pick out books that would be appropriate for my kids. The books were so good, I really wanted them to be able to read all the books. But I could see how most of them weren’t appropriate for their age level. I did have the two older read “Number the Stars” and “Surviving Hitler.” But that was all.
The rest were children’s picture books. They pretty much all made me cry. But because they were written specifically for children, they addressed the topic without showing the horror.
“Benno and the Night of the Broken Glass,” “The Cat with the Yellow Star,” “The Flag with the 56 Stars,” “Luba; The Angel of Bergen-Belsen,” and “Memoirs of Survival”
What really made me stop and think about if and how deep I should go into this issue with elementary ages was when I showed the kids an online video about WWII. It had come recommended from various sources, was made just with kids in mind, and was only something like 12 minutes long. But I didn’t preview it. And that was my mistake.
Near the end of short movie there are a few pictures of concentration camp survivors and victims. One picture in particular shows a pile of bodies – from the huge pile you can really only make out arms and legs. It took us all a few minutes to figure out what we were looking at, but as soon as we actually “saw” what we were seeing, my 9 year old gasped, instantly turned away, and walked out of the room.
He shouldn’t have to see that. He is old enough to know what he was looking at, but not old enough to process the emotions that go with a picture like that. That is when I realized this was too much.
No photographs. No actual footage. It is enough for them to know what a holocaust is and that a holocaust happened. But they don’t need to see it and have the images of it’s reality infiltrate their childhood. As a homeschool family (with a mother who really emphasizes the importance of understanding history) my children will know more and understand deeper than most. But not until they are older.
So that is all we learned about the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany. That is all they need to know right now.
(This was really good for me to think about before getting too deeply into Communist China, the USSR, and other similar histories I think are so vital for everyone to truly understand, but are better understand the older one gets. The primary understanding about the difference between totalitarian governments and those embracing Enlightenment ideals can be easily understood by children – and the real life applications and experimentation by many modern countries – as well as the US, think Wilson during WWI – helps children understand that as well. However, even though I spent multiple semesters in college studying and reading up on these experiments, my kids don’t need to end 4th grade, 2nd grade, and kindergarten with the same level of understanding.)
Just for your information – should you be prepping to tackle the Holocaust with your kiddos, I found the following site to be really helpful. The author has included many helpful links to guide you to other places as well to expand your search and research. She has lists of picture books, junior level books, movies for children, middle school, and high school. There are also links to her other blog posts as well helping you see how she handled WWII with her littles – maps and such. (WARNING: This is the awesome blog I found that prompted me to write the post about feeling like a failure. Just be prepared to see how awesome things can be done, and then remind yourself that you are doing doing pretty darn awesome yourself!!) I haven’t explored her blog too much, but I can imagine she has a lot of other wonderful posts as well.
Of course, there are many other things pertaining to WWII than the Holocaust. I’ll let you know when we finish those topics and how well we did there. 🙂