We are living through a very significant period in history; the current social justice movement will have an impact on policy, process, and the lives of individual citizens for generations to come. Explaining social justice to children can feel daunting due to all of the nuance and heavy topics involved – not to mention the fact that none of us have all of the answers – but it’s a vital component of helping children understand what’s happening in the world and where they fit in.
Key social justice topics for students include equality in education, the goals of the social justice movement, actions children can take in school and in their own lives to contribute to the social justice movement. In this post, we’ll provide some insight into how you can begin having these challenging and critical conversations with your children.
Teaching Children About Social Justice
When you first think about explaining justice to a child, you probably think about the media you consumed as a child, and how popular culture portrays “good” and “bad” to children. In your favorite childhood films, justice always prevailed, good won out over evil, and everyone lived happily ever after. You may even consider reaching for those same resources to share with your children.
Teaching children about social justice often means rethinking what you’ve been taught, pulling back the curtain, and revealing the inaccuracies in these cherished stories. It can mean explaining that justice and equality are the ideal, not the default or the given. To start, commit to spending a certain amount of time each day or each week learning together, listening to the stories of Black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC), and examining actions you can take with your child to promote social justice.
The Goals of Social Justice
If you’re looking for a point of entry to begin discussing social justice with your children, a great place to start is with the goals of the current social justice movement. You can begin by explaining how eliminating inequality, bigotry, and discrimination, based on race, nationality, sexuality, gender, etc. is the ultimate goal, and also the ultimate challenge. From there, you can talk about ways that different groups and individuals are taking action.
Depending on the age of your children, they may already have questions about the things they’ve seen, read, or heard about – for instance, police reform (defunding), peaceful protests, or qualified immunity. Be sure to do your research on each of these topics and think about examples you can discuss with your children. It’s perfectly acceptable to admit that you don’t have all of the answers, and to do research and discuss your findings together.
Social Justice Teaching Methods for Kids
So you’ve discussed racial differences, bias, and diversity – what next? How can you bring these lessons to life and encourage your child to continue engaging with social justice topics? Here are a few ways:
- Use the power of reading – Storytelling is one of the most powerful means of spreading knowledge and encouraging understanding. Find books that are appropriate for your child’s age and level of understanding that you can read and discuss together. You can find a book list from the New York Times and PBS to get started, and order these great titles online.
- Teach anti-bias lessons – Children begin to notice differences in skin color as early as six months old. Silence teaches children which topics should be avoided, so make sure to open lines of communication early and keep them open with regular conversation. Let children know that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging or even celebrating differences, but it’s important not to pass judgment based on physical characteristics or make generalizations about a group of people based on a shared characteristic.
- Encourage active listening – Talk to your children about the difference between listening to understand vs. listening to respond. Encourage them to be attentive listeners when it comes to the stories and experiences of BIPOC. From articles to podcasts and blog posts to TED Talks and even social media, there are plenty of opportunities for you and your children to seek out the lived experiences of BIPOC and learn from them together.
- Practice allyship – Being an effective ally to BIPOC means educating yourself and taking consistent action. Discuss allyship with your child, ask them how about ways they have practiced allyship in the past and/or can be a supportive ally moving forward. Remember, you are your child’s best example, so be sure to demonstrate anti-racism and allyship and be ready to reflect on and discuss how your children can do the same.
We see powerful images and hear moving stories from the front lines of protests, but there are also plenty of ways for you and your child to contribute to the social justice movement together without leaving your home. You can research and select organizations to donate money or supplies, sign petitions, write emails to your elected officials, and support black-owned businesses.
At La Jolla LearningWorks, we believe that change happens one person at a time. It is an honor to be a part of a child’s education but we know that getting good grades and being successful in school is only one part of a child’s learning journey. Follow us on social media for “Keep the Movement Going” posts that will help inspire the types of conversations listed above. Let’s all commit to being lifelong learners together!