or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Childhood and Beyond › The Childhood Years › The Holocaust and a third grade WWII report
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

The Holocaust and a third grade WWII report

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

My son is in Montessori and they are encouraged to do reports on subjects that interest them. So my 3rd grader (just turned 9) and two of his friends are doing a WWII report and loving learning about it. At first I encouraged him to focus on the politics and the battles (all of which fascinate him), but his teacher told them she wanted them to also include information about the Holocaust. I am struggling with how much or little information to give him and what to tell him at this age. I am pretty honest with him normally, but this is an event I consider very horrific and tragic and I guess I am I not sure if I am being overprotective or unreasonable. Also, I am mindful that this report will be "presented" to the class, which consists of 1st and 2nd graders as well.


I did end up getting him a book at the library that explains it in some detail and should give him all the information he needs for the report, but isn't "personalized." I, myself, am a history buff and have read several first-hand accounts of the Holocaust. I looked at the book or movie "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" with the thought that maybe that would give him a sense of it, but when I read the ending I thought "No way!." The same goes for almost any dramatization. He is certainly not sheltered and has watched many PG-13 movies, but in almost all cases, the good guys always come out ahead.


I guess I am just wondering if 8/9 is too young to tackle tough subjects like this? He is really not an overly sensitive kid, so I don't think he would find it as heartbreaking as I (and most adults) do. But, for example, my 7YO 1st grader IS sensitive and I think would be truly affected by learning something like this so young. Thankfully he isn't in the same class, but still.... Am I over-thinking this? Would this be on the curriculum in a regular 3rd grade class? Would you take a child this age to the Holocaust Museum? Show them actual footage? A fictionalized movie? Do I give him just the facts on their own merit or try to really help him understand why it was so horrible? Where is the line, or is there one?


post #2 of 23

If you have Netflix "watch it now" there are a few biography/movies that go into the holocaust without going into all the death. 










http://www.amazon.com/Survivors-True-Stories-Children-Holocaust/dp/0439669960  Amazon has these used for under $1.  I love Amazon.  But, this has a warning that it might be a little too harsh for younger readers.  Check the reviews.

post #3 of 23

What are you afraid of for him? I think answering that question will help you figure out how to approach the information about the Holocaust.


I've got a very sensitive 9 year old. His 4th grade reading group read Number the Stars this year and he did fine with the content. Now that story does focus on the Jews that were saved, rather than the millions who perished, but it did bring up discussions of the Holocaust.


Personally, I can't imagine having my child study WWII without some knowledge of the Holocaust. The fact that millions of people were killed in very brutal ways because of their religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity is something that is central to the history of the war. IMO, 9 is old enough to begin to understand.


post #4 of 23

I've explained the Holocaust to my 9 yo ds before...  He had run into the term Nazi in some online games and I wanted to make sure he realized they weren't the good guys.  I didn't describe the really horrific and gristly aspects but I explained that whole groups of people were rounded up, all of their things taken away, and that they were treated like animals and killed just because the people in power believed they were inferior.  I pointed out that the people who were killed would have included his relatives and friends and likely himself.  I told him about a few of the ways people hid and escaped.  He was fine with that level of information.  But I would avoid movies/videos with actual or realistic portrayals until he is older.    

post #5 of 23
Thread Starter 

Thanks 4evermom. That is pretty much what I have said as well. He will get more details from the book (which he needed to do research so he could include it in the report). I don't disagree with his teacher about including it, and of course it is an extremely important aspect of the war. I guess I was surprised she encouraged it because I would worry that these 3rd graders will talk about some of the more gruesome aspects with the younger kids in their class.


Lynn, I guess my "worry" for him isn't so much that he can't handle the basics of it at this age. As I said I already told him some of it. I am more concerned that he isn't mature enough to handle that content in an appropriate way and will make light of it, or tell others some of the more "interesting" things he learns and that those kids' parents may not want their children learning of that kind of evil yet. Does that make sense? That is why I was struggling with how much to try to help him "get" the horror of it vs. him not being ready to truly understand it. That book your child read sounds really good. I wish it were about boys instead of girls, though. I doubt I could get my son to voluntarily read it without a boy protagonist.


Anyone know of anything similar on a 4th/5th grade reading level that features a boy and isn't gruesome? The books the above poster mentioned look good, but maybe a little young.


post #6 of 23

Personally I think that something like Art Spiegelman's "Maus" is a good place to start.  It is a graphic novel where the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis are depicted as cats.  I find that kind of allegory a good way to ease into these types of events.  It sort of takes the human element out of it while effectively telling the story and the morality surrounding the actions, good and bad.  It is a tough subject but my now 4.5 DD is becoming aware of these types of events, and while I handle it gingerly, I think it is important that she is aware.  She first became of aware of the Nazis when she watched "The Sound of Music."  And, although that is a fictionalized account of a real (non-Jewish) family, it has given her some perspective that there were evil people out there and they meant to cause many different people a lot of harm.  She seems to be accepting it all in due course.

post #7 of 23

Interesting.  WWII and the holocaust do tend to go hand in hand though it was so much more than that, and there are so many other aspects to consider...I wonder why they were told they could report on whatever they wanted and then informed they had to include certain elements. 


Do you think it would help him to know that the holocaust wasn't the first nor by a long shot the last genocide of the past century?  I mean to say if you asked him to look at the nature of genocide and what drives dictators to engage in it and more importantly what drives common people to go along with it and then tie it back in to how it played an integral role in the plans of nazi party and why?  Then being able to go back into the political and social environment that allowed for such an atrocity to happen?  He might even discuss the mass murderings the Japanese forces were waging on the other side of the world.


Perhaps he could ask the question, what is it that drives a nation to want to wipe out all other nations/races rather than live in peace and harmony?


I don't think he needs the gorey details to know the facts of the matter, and more importantly the facts that lead up to the shifts in politics that form these events and allow them to come to pass.  

post #8 of 23

as the mother of an 8 year old who knows too much... i would not worry about 'others' so much. just focus on making sure your son's questions get answered.


one way of approaching this is to talk to the side of information your son enjoys. 


i share a lot with my friends son too. while with dd i focus on the philosophical aspect of it, with her friend i focus on the facts aspect of it because those are the aspects that appeal to them. 


my dd and i watched 'the boy with the stripped pyjamas'. mind you this is my dd who at 4 knew about the various ways in which we took care of dead bodies - including the tibetian way of chopping them up and feeding them to the birds.


i have noticed some kids like mine its easier to tell them things a little earlier - because of their curiosity they ask more 'fact' based questions. for instance at 3 1/2  dd wanted to know what exactly happens when we die. HOW do we die. right when we were about to get on the plane. 


dd and i have not gotten so much into the holocaust. we have with the idea that people like hitler existed and still do. for dd the horror is not what happened but as she pointed out while watching ninja turtles 'what does it make us if we attack and kill the bad guys. how are we different'. horror for dd is that capital punishment exists in our country. the very fact that 'evil' does exist. 


instead she got more interested in the atom bomb - teh effects. and of course you know where its leading to.


we have not read any real books on it. at least enough for her level of info she wanted. so instead we read more online thru websites. 


focus on what he wants to focus on. if he wants to pursue the horror let him. if not then go with what he wants. let him take the lead. 

post #9 of 23

I appreciate Maus on many levels, but I would never suggest it as a good book for a third grader.  The books are about Spiegelman's experiences dealing with his father as an adult as much as they are about his father's experiences in the Holocaust.  They deal with a lot of very adult emotional baggage - Spiegelman talks very frankly about his own suicide attempt, for example.  For a while, my school district had a middle school teacher who was fond of assigning both volumes of Maus in their entirety to the 6th grade classes, and as a high school teacher I saw that students who had read it really did not understand the subject in an appropriate or respectful way.  YMMV, depending on your child. 


I'm a little surprised that a 3rd grade teacher would ask a student to research the Holocaust independently.  I imagine she feels that a project on WWII would have a gaping hole without some coverage of the Holocaust.  I think she's forgetting how very terrifying the subject is.  Remember, the first victims weren't Jewish people - they were disabled children.  The Third Reich invested a great deal of energy in propaganda efforts in which they claimed that parents wanted their children "put out of their misery" and that people with disabilities created an unfair burden on the rest of German society. 


There are some things I do with my classes (9th graders) that might be approachable for a third grader. 


- we look at the caloric value of daily food rations that were assigned to Jewish people, Polish people, and German people in Nazi-occupied Poland.  That's about 180 calories for Jews, 700 for Poles, and 2300 for Germans.  I have students bring in food wrappers with nutrition labels and we make piles representing the amount of calories people in each group were permitted to obtain in a day.  I ask students to think about how many meals each pile represents, and at what point in an average day they think they have eaten that many calories.  We talk a lot about that 180 calories number - what does it suggest that the Nazis thought about the Jewish people?  What would you have to do to survive if that was all the food you were legally allowed to obtain? 


- we talk about the process of carrying out the Holocaust.  Hitler didn't just wake up one morning and tell the German people it was time to exterminate the Jews.  There was a process.  First there was propaganda, then legal restrictions on the civil rights of Jewish people (the Nuremberg Laws), then seizures of property, and restrictions on where they could live, then selections, and trains, and more selections, gas chambers, and stoves.  A third grader is probably too young to see that this is almost an industrial process, with steps and machines and processing.  However, he should be able to see that this was a gradual process, and that people who could have effectively resisted (the German people as a whole, NOT individual victims) did not.  That last part is really difficult for students to understand.  At age 8 (and even at age 16) they don't understand that sometimes individual choices are worthless. 


I like Remember the Stars for addressing the Holocaust at the elementary school level.  It's a more hopeful book, because it deals with resistance in Denmark. 


Here's an article about teaching the Holocaust to third graders: http://website.education.wisc.edu/sschweber/pub_pdfs/Teachers-College-Record-October-2008.pdf

It mentions some resources aimed at the 3rd grade level.


ETA: The Holocaust Teacher Resource Center starts their annotated bibliography of resources for school children at the 4th grade level: http://www.holocaust-trc.org/chldbook25.htm 

post #10 of 23

There are a lot of age appropriate Holocaust fiction for that age group. Maus is definitely not. I actually went through a Holocaust stage at around that age and read almost exclusively Holocaust books at that age and actually handled it very well. I had several grandparents survive the Holocaust and WW2 so I grew up with real life stories and the knowledge of a lot of dead family so it was something that was very real to me from a young age. 

post #11 of 23

Schnitzel, can you remember any of the specific books you were reading around that age?  Anything that was especially good?  Knowing how it shows up in my district's curriculum, I'm looking for resources to help introduce my dd to the subject at home over the next couple years, before it's covered at school.

post #12 of 23

Sorry for suggesting Maus.  I guess I'm looking at it through an adult's eyes and the fact that I personally was ready to accept such data when I was that age.  I think it really comes down to the individual kid and how much information they are able to process.  I just remember very early on being highly aware of the tragedies. People above made some good suggestions.  I'm curious to see additional responses.

post #13 of 23

There's a book by Patricia Polloco called The Butterfly that might be a good introduction to the Holocaust as well.  I talked to dd about this when she was 6.  It came up for some reason and it felt wrong to not tell her about it.  I don't remember what led to it, but she handled the information reasonably well.

post #14 of 23

There is a documentary on Netflix Watch Instantly called "Paperclips."  It is the story of a small town in Tennessee (which is not so diverse) and how the children began a project about the holocaust where they asked people to send in paperclips to collect to represent the millions that died.  The students could not conceive of the sheer number of those lost.  They decided to collect paperclips because the paper clip was a symbol for support of the jews back in WWII (people wore them on their collar).  The whole community gets involved and then eventually the world.  Its very inspiring to watch.  The kids really led the whole project, even giving guided tours, bringing a rail car from Germany over to make a museum, etc.  Its awesome.


To me, that might be a great solution.  Because it absolutely deals with the tragedy but also focuses on the good of a community and how powerful kids are to have organized this amazing thing.  They are educating the world and reminding everyone that we can choose to do things differently.


I, too, struggle with how to introduce these topics.  My DD is almost 5, but gets easily upset/scared by even silly villains in Barbie movies.  She is very sensitive.  We are going to watch a children's play about slavery this month in honor of Black History month and I've been gently introducing that idea.  Its so important to teach them, but also difficult to know how much is too much at what age. 


Best wishes!



post #15 of 23

When I was eight, my parents took my sister and I out of school for a huge chunk of the year and we traveled Europe. We visited the Frank family annex and the Ten Boom home, as well as the father of one of my dad's school friends in Belgium. His family was not Jewish, but they were a family who helped found the resistance movement in Belgium. His entire family was arrested in one fell swoop when he was 13. His dad managed to convince the Gestapo that he was too young to actually have anything to do with the resistance (he was, in fact, working with them), so they left him behind. He had to flee immediately as the Gestapo came back for him the next day, but he maintained a role in the resistance work throughout the war. One of his sisters managed to survive by jumping off a transport train with a few other people, but otherwise he was the sole survivor in his family. To this day I am hugely impacted by this man. He took us to the Canadian cemetery outside of Brussels and the image I have is of this elegant older man crying as he surveyed the graves of the people who "helped put an end to the atrocities in my country". Do you think you might be able to find a descendant of someone like that who could put a human face on things for your son? What about the Hanna's Suitcase story? I think there's a movie as well as the book.

Before we left on that trip, I was given Anne Frank's diary to read. My mom is still appalled that they asked me to read it at that age, but I really was not negatively affected. I also read Corrie Ten Boom's "Hiding Place" during that trip. I do remember being a little more traumatized by that one, but Corrie did live through the experience, which I found reassuring at that age. I *think* that there are some child-oriented editted versions of the Ten Boom story out there. 

I read everything about the Holocaust that I could get my hands on at that age. I really liked "I am David". It has a male protagonist - it's about a young boy who escapes from a camp and makes a huge journey on foot to safety. It doesn't so much touch on the massive numbers or anything, but does give one boy's story. It's never very clear what his back story is, but I think I managed to piece together that his parents were communists or otherwise opposed the war and that somehow he wound up alone in a camp. I can't remember for the life of me who the author is, but I'm thinking it was a woman (Anne Marie ___, or something along those lines).

Would simply asking the teacher to send a note home to parents work? Like, "We're going to be discussing WWII and the Holocaust in class on Friday. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns." Your son and his friends could always give the teacher an overview before they present so she'd know how to respond to questions from parents. Might give you more leeway in terms of resources you can provide for your son? I certainly don't want my children to be traumatized, but the Holocaust is a reality and if we glaze it over or neglect to teach it, we're doing a great disservice to our children. I don't know if it's possible to present the material in a way that makes it "ok". 

post #16 of 23

I missed part of the OP when I read.  I didn't realize that this project is to be presented by the student to a class of 1st and 2nd graders.  


Different kids are ready for different information at different times.  A child with a grandparent who survived the Holocaust probably knows a lot by age 8 and has a lot of resources to process and contextualize their knowledge, just for example.  I don't know exactly where the line is in re. when a child should learn about the Holocaust and I don't think there is one clear answer to that question.  But as a teacher, what I would really, really NOT want would be for a class's first exposure to the Holocaust to come through a class presentation by a third grader.  A lot of things could go wrong with that.  


Honestly, I would drop the teacher a note and ask her to reconsider her request.  It's great that your son has learned some things about the Holocaust, but he's not qualified to handle the reactions of a class of 6 and 7 year-olds during his presentation of that material.  

post #17 of 23


Honestly, I would drop the teacher a note and ask her to reconsider her request.  It's great that your son has learned some things about the Holocaust, but he's not qualified to handle the reactions of a class of 6 and 7 year-olds during his presentation of that material. 


This sums up my feelings about it. I wouldn't want my seven year old learning about the Holocaust from a kid's report in school.  

post #18 of 23

If it's not too late, why not have him concentrate his report on the Pacific theater? Pearl Harbor, the A-bomb...

post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 

Well at the rate they are going on this report they may never get to that part! I asked him today if he had read any of the book I got him from the library and he said he is still doing Pearl Harbor. He told me his friends and he decided to write 10 pages per battle. His teacher is anticipating them taking until the end of the semester on this, so I will bring it up with her at the PT conference next month and express my concerns about the presentation. Thanks for all the replies!

post #20 of 23
Originally Posted by phathui5 View Post



This sums up my feelings about it. I wouldn't want my seven year old learning about the Holocaust from a kid's report in school.  

Me too. 1st & 2nd grade is too young (and I think 3rd is borderline for a lot of kids).

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: The Childhood Years
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Childhood and Beyond › The Childhood Years › The Holocaust and a third grade WWII report