How to Discuss 9/11 in the Elementary Art Classroom

With September 11 th a decade behind us, most elementary students today don’t have any personal, first-hand experience with the tragic events of that historic day. To impress upon our students how culturally important 9/11 is to our nation, it is important to discuss the tragedy in our classrooms.

If you teach art, don’t feel like you can’t contribute. The following are the best tips to learn how to discuss 9/11 in the elementary art classroom and help your students feel a meaningful connection, while addressing the sensitive nature of this subject:

Display photos and tell stories

If you have a projector in your classroom, display images from 9/11 overhead on the screen. Show students what happened at each one of the locations: New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. As you discuss the events of the day, relate personal stories from those whose lives were affected and changed forever; check out Yahoo’s 9/11 Remembered for ideas.

Remain focused

As you discuss the events of 9/11 with your elementary students, remember to stay focused on the tragedy and the great sense of loss felt by so many. Avoid political rants or conspiracy theories. Remember that you want the students in your art classroom to learn about this important event so fresh in our country’s history, while you remain unbiased about your own political, religious or other views.

Allow discussion

9/11 – from the World Trade Center to the Pentagon to Flight 93 – is a lot to take in, as all of us know that lived through it. For elementary students, it can be overwhelming to learn about what happened that day and grasp the enormity of it all. As you show pictures in your art classroom, encourage students to discuss the photos and ask questions.

Be compassionate

While some elementary students may appear oblivious, others may become visibly upset or quiet during your presentation. Be compassionate and understanding with your students. Provide a safe classroom, where students can tell you how they’re feeling. Prior to your class, you may want to discuss your plans with your school guidance counselor and request their presence in your classroom.

Show 9/11 artwork

Tragedy and heartache greatly encourage artistic expression. Show your elementary students examples of artwork made by artists during and after the event, either as a response or a tribute. Explain how artists all across the United States are creating memorials for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. As well as 2-D artwork, consider reading poetry about 9/11.

Allow students to express themselves

Now that you’ve discussed with your elementary students a brief history of 9/11 and the day’s events, encouraged thoughtful discussion, and showed your students artwork inspired by the day, it is time to put your students to work.

Providing whatever materials you choose, allow students to express their own responses and feelings toward 9/11. Encourage every student to create something unique, based upon their personal reactions and emotions.

The elementary art classroom is the perfect place to discuss 9/11 and the events of the day. As their teacher, you are providing students with a safe, neutral area in which they can confront grief and tragedy, and use artwork as an outlet for their feelings.

Because of the sensitive nature of 9/11, you may want to contact the families of your elementary students, as well as the administration and guidance counselors in advance. Be prepared to let them know what you plan on discussing, how it will be addressed, and what your goals are for the outcome of the class. If desired, encourage parents to come in and volunteer on the day you discuss 9/11, share their own stories, and help your students while they work.

More from this contributor:

– Ideas for Art Lessons about September 11

– Ohio Artists Plan 12 Ft. Mural Commemorating 9/11

– How to Explain September 11 to Toddlers

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