Last year, a study made waves when it revealed that large swathes of American adults knew little about the Holocaust. Many could not even name a single concentration camp. Couple this news with the blatant anti-Semitism on display at the recent Capitol riots, and the call-to-action for parents is clear: we can’t avoid talking about tough subjects, even with our youngest kids.
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“The Holocaust provides a unique lens through which to understand the consequences of unchecked hatred and widespread indifference,” said Amanda Friedeman of The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. “But we must be mindful to introduce these lessons to our children in a way that is consistent with their developmental needs.” In other words, take what Friedeman termed a “gradual, spiraled approach” to teaching your child about this moment in history.
How to Begin the Conversation: Toddlers and Kindergartners
As today marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, there is no better time to begin the conversation at home. For toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners, Friedeman, who oversees the Museum’s educational programming, recommended that parents make an effort to celebrate diversity in all its forms, to begin conversations about the power of words and the strength of their voice, to learn about justice and fairness, and to stand up for those in need.
“For younger children, we recommend parents share books and have conversations that celebrate humanity’s rich differences: stories from a range of cultural traditions, depicting a range of family groups, showing physical differences, and celebrating that we all deserve to be treated equally,” Friedeman said.
What to Teach Next: Early Grades
With this foundational understanding of diversity and fairness, Friedeman said that kids are ready for more nuanced conversations. Next up? Teaching little ones about great individuals who took a stand against injustice.
The lessons taught during the earlier years provide young people with a foundation on which to build their understanding and help them to see the human dimension of this history.
By fifth grade, Friedeman explained that children are ready to learn about the early years of Nazi Germany. This may be a good time to share with them that people who were perceived as different were treated unfairly and their persecution was made perfectly legal.
“The harsher and more difficult aspects of this history, including deportation and mass murder, should not be introduced before seventh or eighth grade, and may be studied more in depth by high school,” Friedeman said. “The lessons taught during the earlier years provide young people with a foundation on which to build their understanding and help them to see the human dimension of this history.”
If you’re ready to begin these important conversations with your children, no matter their age, the books below offer a gentle starting point.
Books to Lay the Groundwork for Understanding
For toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners, lay the foundation for bigger conversations by choosing books that focus on kindness, fairness, and the beauty of our differences.
Books About Heroes and the Start of Nazi Germany
During the early grades, children are ready for more nuanced conversations about the beginning of Nazi Germany, and heroes who stood up for others throughout history.
Books About Jewish People Who Changed the World
Round out your conversations by teaching little ones about the remarkable contributions countless Jewish people have made around the world.