Remembrance Day is a tricky topic that can be difficult to broach with young children. Throughout my 20 years working in early childhood education, I’ve been in centers where worksheet poppies were completed by children, but conversation about what and why never took place, because ‘They won’t understand.” And at other times I’ve seen children scared and brought to tears with way too many details. How do you help children develop an understanding of this very important day, in a way that’s developmentally appropriate and within their realm of proximity?
I rely heavily on picture books (what a shocker!) to guide us through.
This year the conversation of Remembrance Day came up in my full day kindergarten class when a 4 year-old girl said, “Why do you have a red flower on your coat? My mommy has one too.”
We opened the conversation up to the class and the children offered up information they knew. “It’s because people fought in a war.”
I introduced the cover of A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson, illustrated by Ron Lightburn.
We compared the poppy on my jacket to the real poppies that grew in the field where soldiers fought a long time ago. And we talked about how poppies help us remember how brave those soldiers were, and how thankful we are that they protected us.
Red and black paint, a few poppies, and the cover of this book and Linda Granfield’s Where Poppies Grow, are added to the creative table.
And children began painting their own poppies.
We added the words poppy, poppies, remember and Remembrance Day to our word wall bank, and children began writing about the poppies.
The books are available to the children to look through, but I don’t read all the details to the whole group. I know the books well, so there are no ‘surprise pictures’ of inappropriate photos or details.
A few boys were very interested in the pictures, so they spent a great deal of time looking through the book, asking questions about some of the topics, and making their own book, (which they later shared with the class) while other children were comfortable with the idea of painting a poppy to help them remember the bravery.
I did manage to redirect a couple of very active 5 year-old boys (who are ‘in to’ super hero play) by pointing out that the soldiers on the cover of Where Poppies Grow were real live super heroes. That peaked their interest and they abandoned their rough-house play to spend some time at the creative table. (For a few minutes anyway 🙂 )
Later that day I introduced this poem to the class, sung to the tune of Bingo
There is a flower red and black that helps me to remember
P-O-P-P-Y, P-O-P-P-Y, P-O-P-P-Y
It helps me to remember
The poem was written out on ledger paper, and by the end of the day some of the girls were printing their own copies of the poem.
I use these great books as a reference and a point of discussion for the children, but I use my hands-down favorite Remembrance Day picture book Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion, by Jane Barcley, illustrated by Renne Benoit as a way to help the children make a safe but emotional connection to Remembrance Day.
A young child asks his grandpa questions about his experiences in the war. Grandpa explains that when he first wore a uniform he was ‘as proud as a peacock.’ He spent most of his days on the ship ‘as busy as a beaver’ and when he was in a dangerous situation he pretended to be ‘as brave as a lion.’ The illustrations are a perfect match to the story.
The very scary and very sad aspects of war are touched upon in this beautiful story, in a safe manner that young children can absorb.
As the young child watches his grandpa lay down a wreath in memory of his wartime friend, the child suggests that he and his grandpa be elephants, ‘because elephants never forget’.