7 Useful Tips for Teaching Immigration to Elementary Students
Understanding the reasons and emotions behind why people make the decision to emigrate can be difficult for adults to fully grasp. So imagine the difficulty for children. Read on to find out 7 useful strategies for teaching immigration to elementary students.
Teaching Immigration to Elementary Students
Settling on a way to talk to children about immigration is a decision that needs some thought. Immigration involves moving to a new country and is an emotionally, physically and mentally challenging experience. TV and newspapers are full of stories about immigration, both positive and negative.
Understanding the reasons and emotions behind why people make the decision to emigrate can be difficult for adults to fully grasp. So imagine the difficulty for children. If they see images of refugees trying to reach safe harbour it can leave them feeling confused and lead to many questions.
There are books and immigration lesson plans created to help children understand the courage, risks and emotions involved in migration. I have organised external links into different areas for you to focus on.
7 Tips for Teaching Immigration to Elementary Students
1. Start with your own learning
Make sure you are providing your students with a balanced view. The more you educate yourself on the issue of immigration the more you feel confident about what you are teaching. Don’t rely on what you see on the TV or your assumptions. Use different sources to broaden your knowledge and understanding of this complex global situation.
These videos from UNHCR and CAFOD will give you an overview of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. You may also want to use them with your students, but please watch them first to make sure they are appropriate.
2. Talk with empathy and respect
Focus on empathy, acceptance and respect and try to help children imagine being in the shoes of a child refugee. Only do this if your students are emotionally ready. Think about the age of your students and what would be appropriate.
Use these immigration picture books as a starting point to further discussions.
3. Start from what your students know
Have open and honest conversations but age-appropriate for your students. Give time for your students to ask questions or for you to clarify any mixed messages they may have come across. Keep focused on what they are curious about, but if you don’t have all the answers, it is okay.
4. Create a safe and reassuring environment for open discussions
For many children seeing images of the refugee crisis can lead to fears that they will be separated from their own family. Reassure them that they are safe with their family and within the school. But that they can help others feel safe. Using picture books helps students of any age understand basic concepts of immigration and build empathy.
5. Use credible sources
Control the media exposure in your classroom to limit misinformation and confusion. Use picture books or child focused news sites to make sure the information is appropriate for the age of your students. Here are a few websites that focus on news for children.
6. Use real examples of immigration and avoid stereotypes
Think about the stereotypes you and your students may be exposed too by family, friends, media, music videos, etc. What can you do to make sure your students are open-minded to question these stereotypes of negative views? Here are a few websites that have stories from real refugees.
- ABC Australia: Long Journey, Young Lives
- CAFOD: Meet the Children – video stories of children in Bolivia, Myanmar, Uganda, Sierra Leone and El Salvador
- Scholastic: Stories of real children who immigrated to the United States
- TED video: What it’s like to be the child of immigrants
7. Use Immigration Lesson Plans
I have collected some immigration lesson plans and resources specifically for use in the classroom. They are from charities working with refugee, established museums or credible educational websites. You won’t be surprised to find that most are recommended for 7 year olds and above. I would be interested to know if you have any resources you use in the classroom. Let me know in the comments below.
- British Red Cross: Refugees and Migrations
- Child Migrant Stories: Learning Resources for Schools
- Learning to Give: Refugees: Finding a Place (K-2) Lesson Plans
- Merseyside Maritime Museum: Migrant Teacher Resources
- Migration Museum Project: Advice for teachers
- Red Cross: Refugee and Migration lesson plans
- Scholastic: Immigration Collection
- Teaching Tolerance: Increasing Tolerance through Immigration Learning Plan
- The UN Refugee Agency UK: Refugee Teaching Resources for 6-9 year olds
- UNHCR: Teaching materials about refugees, asylum, migration and statelessness
- UNICEF: In Search of Safety – Teaching About Europe’s Refugee Crisis
If you have parents who are unsure how to talk about immigration with their child, you can of course share this page. This TIME article also goes into a lot of detail about how to talk to children about immigration. In the article, journalist Carey Wallace talks to Professor William Perez for tips on starting a conversation with children on this complex issue.
How do you approach this complex topic with your students? Do you have any useful tips for teaching immigration to elementary students? Let us know in the comments below.