Teaching Young Children about the Civil Rights Movement: Applying Effective & Developmentally Appropriate Strategies

By Foster, Janet E.; Root, Tonja L. et al. | Multicultural Education, Spring/Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Teaching Young Children about the Civil Rights Movement: Applying Effective & Developmentally Appropriate Strategies


Foster, Janet E., Root, Tonja L., Lee, Seungyoun, Multicultural Education


Introduction

It is crucial for teachers to persistently examine, be knowledgeable about, and reflect on their beliefs, assumptions, values, standpoints, experiences, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes about diversity and multicultural education that they carry into their teaching and learning. Teachers' viewpoints and interpretations about the Civil Rights Movement will affect their problem-solving and decision-making as well as discussions on the topic and resources and materials they choose for such lessons.

The Civil Rights Movement is today just as important a topic as it was in 1954 when Chief Justice Warren of the United States Supreme Court wrote in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local government...Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954, Opinion section, para. 10)

As a part of children's education, the study of the Civil Rights Movement can help us achieve Chief Justice Warren's stated ideal. To this end teachers should include instruction about the Civil Rights Movement to provide evidence that every citizen of the United States of America enjoys the rights and freedoms outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Considering the importance of the Civil Rights Movement, children need to be introduced to the related concepts early in their school experiences, and teachers need to consider students' developmental needs and curriculum standards in order to provide appropriate content and methods of instruction.

The purpose of this article is to introduce a variety of resources to support teaching and learning about the Civil Rights Movement based on the premise that concrete learning experiences permit children to build an understanding that will impact their learning, attitudes, and beliefs about diversity and multicultural education.

Curriculum Standards Related to the Civil Rights Movement

Many states have curriculum standards that specifically relate to the Civil Rights Movement, or standards that can be supported and fulfilled by including content about the Civil Rights Movement as a part of the curriculum. By reviewing their state standards, teachers can identify the opportunities that exist to provide children with background experiences to allow them to build a foundation for knowledge and understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

Standards for grades kindergarten through five typically include topics that range from identifying and describing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and describing how historical figures displayed positive character traits, to discussing the lives of people who expanded people's rights and freedoms in a democracy and important events of the Civil Rights Movement. As children engage in developmentally appropriate learning experiences, they can obtain an understanding of the events, people, and significance of this important historical movement.

Selected Developmental Characteristics That Influence Children's Learning

Teachers must consider the developmental levels of the children they are teaching as guidance in planning instruction about the Civil Rights Movement, since aspects of emotional, social, cognitive, and moral development are important in organizing effective instruction. According to Copple and Bredekamp (2008), kindergarten-aged children are able to form and sustain relationships and seek peer acceptance. These characteristics are important in understanding the Civil Rights Movement.

In order to create harmonious relationships with people of diverse races, ethnicities, and cultures, children must be able to form friendship bonds with others and care about forming those relationships. Likewise, kindergarteners are at an age when they are becoming increasingly sympathetic and better able to understand others' minds and emotions. …

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