Teaching About 9/11 to Our Youngest Students

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It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.

Senator John Kerry

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? Can you believe that it was 17 years ago? Think about the feelings and emotions that gripped the country that day and the following days. Our nation was torn apart by the terrible events that took place, but also pulled together by the grief and despair felt by all.

Almost every single student in our country was born after this date. They don’t have the personal memories of watching events unfold on tv. They can’t think back to where they were when they heard about 9/11. To our students, 9/11 is a historic event, not a personal experience.

Sharing our experiences from these events with our students is important. We need to tell them our feelings as the events unfolded on that day, how we learned about it, and how others reacted. These personal connections help students understand that this took place during our lifetime and provides context to how this relates to our nation’s current history.

Fortunately, there are many resources to help us share the story of September 11, 2001, with even our younger students. These books, videos, and more provide the basic facts and information to tell the story in ways that all children understand.

  • Begin your research with these TeachersFirst September 11 Resources. This collection includes links to 911 Memorial and Museum, videos, and activities for all grade levels. Be sure to look at the In the Classroom suggestions for ideas on using these materials in your classroom.
  • The 9/11 Memorial published a fact sheet specifically for early childhood students. This PDF begins with a description of the World Trade Center and explains what happened on 9/11 and why the terrorists did this. Also, it shares ideas on how we can remember these events through discussions with families and friends.
  • All educators know that teaching events with books helps to connect students through personal stories. Barnes and Noble shares this list of eight books that tell the story in a thoughtful, sensitive manner appropriate for any age.
  • This YouTube video created by an elementary school principal shares the story of September 11 and highlights the role of the heroes that rose to the occasion to help their fellow Americans.
  • Helen Ellis Art Therapy collected children’s artwork in response to this tragedy.  Find some of their work on this site. Click any image to enlarge it for better viewing. Students of all ages drew these images. Consider sharing those created by students similar in age to those in your classroom.
  • If you aren’t sure how much to share about the events of 9/11, the Today show has an age-by-age guide on how to talk to kids about 9/11.  Suggestions begin with examples on how to share simple facts with preschoolers with an emphasis on the knowledge that they are safe. The guide continues with how to have discussions with middle and high school students including the suggestion of limiting exposure to graphic images. Another valuable tip is to keep in mind each child’s temperament; some students are much more sensitive than others.

Discussing 9/11 is still difficult for adults, but it is essential that our students understand the importance of this event. In addition, they need to hear our recollections of the events and the effect on our nation. Choosing materials appropriate for each age-level helps us teach about the event appropriately and provide context to an event that may seem like just another chapter in their history book.

What resources do you use for teaching about 9/11 to your students? What helps younger students understand what took place on that day? Do older students really understand the impact it had on our country? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.


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