September 11th is a tough topic in an elementary classroom, but I have always felt that it was imperative that I discuss it with my students. I know that some teachers feel that it is too negative or will scare the kids. I agree that this is a possibility. But students will hear about September 11th one way or another. They might hear about it from a friend on the playground, from a sibling or from an older student at lunch. What they hear may or may not even be accurate. What they hear may very well scare them or confuse them.
So I think that teachers have the very important (and tough) responsibility of making sure their students hear accurate facts. I also think, that if done correctly, we can send our students home with a sense of hope and pride. My lessons on September 11th are all about the heroes of the tragedy. Even with September 11th falling on a Sunday this year- I still feel that I have a responsibility to cover this sensitive topic!
Here is a look at the activities that I like to include in my classroom during the week leading up to September 11th.
There are several online videos that have been made specifically for kids. I like to show this Brain Pop video. It is short but very accurate. It has a timeline of the events from that day. It has great vocabulary too.
THIS video was made by a elementary school principal and it is amazing. He briefly talks about the devastation, but then quickly moves on to talk about heroes- both from that day and everyday local heroes. My favorite part is that he talks about the September 11th Memorial and shows lots of pictures. It ends with hope!
There have been several wonderful books written about September 11th and I love sharing them with my students! Here are a few of my favorites along with my Amazon affiliate link to make it easy for you to locate the books.
The book America Is Under Attack is a very factual and straightforward account of the events on September 11th. I like that it is more of a historical account rather than an emotional account. I want my students to spend time learning the facts of the day. However, the story still has some personal stories that always keep my students interested. It also has beautiful watercolor illustrations.
The book Fireboat is such a cute story! It is about a 1930s fireboat that was called back into action on September 11th. Even though the boat is not nearly as fancy as the newer boats, it proves to be a huge help in the days after the disaster. I think this is a very positive and upbeat book about hope and being brave.
Reading the book September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right is a MUST every year. It is a great book to read right before you send them home! The book was written and illustrated by a first grade class. The message of the book is that even though our world will never be the same after September 11th, we will push forward and move on. We will be alright. Kids need to hear that!
Every year my students make THIS paper bag book. It is full of stories that I researched and wrote about specific people and animals who helped to rescue others on September 11th. The stories are true and my students LOVE reading them. They are heartwarming and remind my class just how many heroes surround them.
Students glue these stories into this simple paper bag book (just paper lunch bags folded and stapled down the spine). Then they get to illustrate each of the stories.
I just love listening to the students as they discuss their illustrations and their amazement when they read the stories. It is my favorite part of the day for sure!
I ask my students to take the book home and share the beautiful stories and illustrations with their families. Every year I have gotten sweet thank you email from my classroom parents!
Nearly every year I have been blessed to have a firefighter or police officer come and talk with my class! The kids love it- even in third grade. Last year the firefighter who came into our class talked about why he chose to be a firefighter and what a hero was to him. My students enjoyed asking him questions about his job. I think it is a good way to remind students that there are heroes all around us all the time- not just on September 11th.
Getting a firefighter or police officer to come talk to your class is usually pretty easy. If you have a student whose parent works for fire or police, they are a good place to start. Otherwise, call your local departments. Many have special officers and firefighters who regularly talk to students.
I know that this is a very sensitive subject to cover in the classroom, but I hope these ideas make it a bit easier. I applaud you for your hard work! You are heroes everyday!