Resource Centre for Human Rights Education:
Teaching for Human Rights: Pre-school and Grades 1-4
A unit of work on 'Friendship' for pre-school/Grade I
I felt that I needed some level of intellectual stimulation, and looked forward to the professional interaction which would develop from my involvement in the program.
Another reason why I was interested in teaching for human rights is because of my migrant background.
My parents emigrated from Germany in 1954 when I was 12 months old. I remember distinctly the time during my school life when I was discriminated against because I was different...my lunch looked different to everyone else's...my mum went to work (nobody else's mum worked at this stage). As well as these basic ethnic/cultural differences, I felt that being 'German' held a great deal of stigma...
I still remember my elder sister being told at school, that even though she was Form Captain, she could not lay a wreath on Rememberance Day because she was 'not one of us!'...She belonged 'to the other side'.
I was most fortunate to spend most of my teaching career working for a man whom I respected immensely. He consistently taught and lived for human rights (although he probably wasn't consciously aware of it). Sadly he passed away earlier this year, but not without having instilled a sense of caring, respect and consideration in all the people who knew him and who worked with him.
He was instrumental in making our primary school community a most co-operative one which worked together for the benefit of the children. He inspired all those who were associated with him. He lived for human rights, and teaching it came naturally to him. Having taught with him for eight years, his ideas had a profound effect upon me.
He presented all the teachers on his staff with a little poem.
Children learn what they live
I found this to be a most valuable guideline to the development of my classroom atmosphere, and the consequent respect for the rights of the children who were in my care. In my current program of 'Teaching for Human Rights' I have often referred to this poem for inspiration.
My human rights program involved nineteen Prep. and Grade I children. We incorporated the program into all aspects of our curriculum: language development, process writing, art/craft work, literature, drama, camping and excursions.
I initially had no idea where to start, and after reading the unit of work for infants which had been sent to me, realised that if I was to have my heart in 'Teaching for Human Rights', I had to formulate my own ideas, and not follow activities which may not have been particularly suitable for my children.
I realised after much pondering that for any human being to be good for any one else, they must feel good about themselves. I always remember a quote I once read-'You can't love anyone else unless you love yourself'. Initially, this confused me, but it slowly made sense. An individual must be confident and at ease with himself or herself; an individual must feel a sense of self-worth in order to be able to interact effectively, and show respect for another human being; an individual must like what he or she is, to be able to treat other people kindly.
With the fact that my class consisted of Prep. and Grade I children in mind, I decided to explore the concept of 'Friendship', and inter-personal relationships. The rest of what we have done flowed on easily. I found I gained continual inspiration from the children as I gained a greater insight into their relationships and interactions. The parents have been most vocal in supporting the program and offering ideas.
The focus of the program for Term 3 has been upon others in our community, particularly the disabled and the elderly.
This involved excursions to:
A Grandparent's Day was also organised where the children served Devonshire Tea to their 'Nans' and 'Pas'.
During Term 2 and 3 I have had three student teachers from the local College of Advanced Education allocated to my classroom.
These student teachers have been involved in the 'Teaching for Human Rights' Program, and have found it a most valuable learning experience. The supervising lecturers have also had some input into the program, offering both suggestions, and praise for the work being done.
At our Term 3 Curriculum Day, I spoke to the other staff on the Human Rights Program being undertaken in my classroom.
On the recommendation of Colin Henry, the consultant to the Commission's Schools Program, a local Catholic Teachers' College asked me to present a tutorial on aspects of the Human Rights Program being taught in my classroom. I found this to be a most rewarding and stimulating experience, and it allowed me to see how important 'Teaching for Human Rights' is for these budding teachers. It also gave me the opportunity to get some feed-back about the work I was doing from people who were not involved in the Schools Program.
I have encountered no major obstacles in teaching my program. The parents have been supportive, the kids have been great, and I have loved doing it!
Group Work was employed on several occasions and was always particularly successful as the children were concerned about helping and sharing. However in a small group of nineteen.children, often groups develop naturally in tackling a task.
Problem Solving situations were presented (see the activity on the development of trust); however they were not quite effective, or rather, in this case, safe.
Team Teaching strategies were employed during the times (thirteen weeks in all) when I had a visiting student teacher. This strategy proved extremely useful and effective during excursions, the special afternoon tea, and during our school camp.
Visiting Speakers have proved to be most valuable, and have enabled us to obtain information more easily than would have been possible if excursions were organised.
The Devonshire Tea involving over thirty grandparents was a particularly rewarding experience for all involved. The cooking session during the morning illustrated a level of co-operation in the group work which I am sure was due to our Human Rights Program.
A visit from Jim's grandmother, a most interesting lady (82 years of age) who thoroughly enjoyed her interaction with the class and whose presence made Jim feel very proud, was again both a particularly rewarding and exceptionally educational experience.
After incidental discussions, the children have asked me to contact my mother and ask her to speak to them about her life, particularly during the family's first few years in Australia.
Home Research--the children have been asked to research e.g. The Family Tree, Family Treasures and Mementoes, Family Photo Albums. This has been instrumental in developing a keen interest in both parents and children in finding out important aspects of 'Their Family'. The need to retain information about family happenings and the need to keep mementoes and the importance of memory, became particularly evident.
Teaching for Human Rights
Session 1: Introduction
It became quite obvious to me that my children took for granted the rights they were given at school to enable them to function as happy, healthy children. Rights such as--being able to have a drink, eat their lunch, go to the toilet--were taken completely for granted until the children were asked to consider how they would feel if these rights were restricted. They were asked to consider the situation where their teacher: would not allow them to go to the toilet during work sessions; didn't allow them to eat their lunch until work was completed; would not allow children to have a drink when they needed one.
The children were appalled at the possibility of being in such a situation, and their
They realised that in a school situation their state of mind, and general happiness and security was very much dependent upon the attitude, kindness and consideration of their teacher.
I proceeded to explain to the children some cases of violation of human rights which I
had experienced during my teaching career e.g.
As a result of this quite moving discussion, the children appeared to indicate that these cases of maltreatment did not fit into their expectation of life. They all come from protected family backgrounds, and obviously had not been exposed to this type of human behaviour, and some children were obviously not aware of its existence in this world.
We then proceeded to discuss the right to live in a safe and fair environment. The aspect which continually became evident was 'how I felt' and 'he/she must have felt awful'!
As a result I have decided to make the aspect of feelings an important consideration in my 'Teaching for Human Rights'.
Outcomes from Session 1
They also discussed the following aspects with regard to human interaction:
The children were asked to consider times when they felt sad, dejected, inadequate, lonely, etc.
They were asked why they thought they felt this way.
The discussion then proceeded with individual children reporting on their own experiences in the school ground, or in the classroom, when they felt unhappy.
This was an extremely interesting session as I gained an insight into the attitudes children have about each other as a result of their interactions in the school ground.
The children were very open in their expressions and felt they could be honest and open in explanations.
They decided to formulate a set of rules which would provide a guideline as to how they expected to be treated, as well as how they should treat others.
The discussion which ensued was extremely interesting as the children were quite aware of the consequences of being treated badly.
Outcomes from Session 2
This session was instigated by a Grade I child after she brought a family book to school to show for 'Morning Talk':
A lot of love-the meaning of friendship, Hallmark Editions.
The children, by this stage, were showing a continual concern for treating others with respect and were beginning to actually reprimand any children who had performed a misdemeanour. This was being done in a gentle way with reference to feelings and the guidelines we had developed for our classroom. As a teacher, I found this to be rewarding and in some ways quite amusing. But I felt I was nevertheless achieving something.
We read the book and discussed aspects which interested the children.
We then listed our ideas about both friendship and friends e.g.
I was extremely impressed with the responses elicited.
I felt that the children were given the opportunity (in the program 'Teaching for Human Rights') to express their thoughts about human issues which they had not been asked to consider previously in their lives.
I was astounded as to how well some of my children could listen to and absorb the discussions and then summarise and verbalise their thoughts clearly and precisely.
Outcomes from Session 3
What is friendship?
What is a friend?
I have often felt that children of this age group (5 yrs-6.5 yrs) are underestimated,
and with teaching this human rights program, I have learnt that given the freedom and
opportunity to express themselves, these children are extremely aware of their right to be
treated in a manner which makes them feel worthwhile.
As with most sessions, this topic was approached mainly through discussion. The children found it easier to think about 'good' things which someone had done for them than what they may have done for someone else. Many children related or associated this good thing with a material possession or pet, and there were only a few children who spoke about an action.
The children were inclined to reverse the topic and think about a dreadful thing someone had done to them. When the children were asked to illustrate their experiences, they put a great deal of detail into facial expressions and the use of hands, arms and legs. As a teacher, I found the illustrations relating to human rights topics to be quite revealing with regard to the children's feelings and experiences, as well as inter-personal relationships.
With the open and accepting atmosphere which was developing within the classroom, the children did not hesitate to discuss any misdemeanours they had committed against someone else in the past. They were becoming aware of the need for honesty and reconciliation in their relationships. Needless to say, in an open discussion about such a delicate topic, honesty on the part of the child is imperative due to group pressure.
At this stage I became aware of children developing empathy towards other children in
times of stress. Comments such as 'I don't like it when Steven gets hurt by the big boys'
became evident. During play times and lunch times, I noticed more of my children coming to
the staff-room or classroom with 'tales' about problems in the school ground, than had
occurred previously. Needless to say, this caused a problem for the other teachers if they
happened to be confronted with the problem. However, for my part, I was pleased as I felt
that my teaching for human rights was having an effect. The children were becoming
conscious of their rights within the school grounds, and were aware instantly if someone
else's rights were being hindered or infringed. The maintenance of human rights was being
enforced by the entire class. The children were becoming confident in discussing and
sorting out their own problems.
The concept of discrimination is quite difficult to relate to children of this age group in a meaningful way. The story The ugly duckling provided an excellent means by which the children could understand discrimination at their own level.
Whilst reading the story to the children I became aware of how the children became affected by the plight of the ugly duckling and several were quite sad by the end of the story-until the ugly duckling was accepted by the swans, and was in fact quite beautiful.
Following the story, I told the children about my own childhood experiences. (Being a migrant child, eating a very different school lunch, and being treated differently because of this...having doonas on our beds, and being too embarassed to bring our friends home to play in case they laughed at us...pestering our parents for blankets so we could be like the other kids...having a mother who had to work in the days when mothers didn't work and stayed home cooking 'yummy' things for their children's lunches-as I saw it...)
The children absolutely loved me telling them about my own childhood experiences and they were extremely sympathetic towards me for what I had experienced during my childhood.
At this stage I must point out that I do feel my experiences in the late 50s and early 60s have had an impact on the way I feel about teaching human rights. Added to this, I must admit that I am a bit of a dramatist when I relate my own experiences to the children.
The lesson continued with a discussion about hypothetical situations concerning our
school and classroom e.g.
The reactions to these situations were quite positive e.g. 'we would treat her really kindly'. However, I wondered what a true situation would bring. Also, I do believe that children at this age learn prejudices from their parents, and learn impartiality with maturity and independence. Therefore teaching for human rights is an enormous task if it is to have an impact on this world.
We continued this discussion about differences, discrimination and resultant feelings during an Art activity. The children each cut out a large, heart shape, and drew break lines on it.
They illustrated an occasion when an experience nearly caused their heart to break, and wrote about that experience.
The children enjoyed this activity and it was quite obvious that they could identify with the children in the illustration. Various explanations were offered as to the cause of the argument and the children wrote interesting stories about the illustration. They enjoyed discussing these with the rest of the class at the conclusion of the lesson.
The activity was concluded with dramatisation of arguments or disagreements the children have been involved in.
The children enjoyed this poem and even the Preps made an attempt to read it to the class.
The children were asked to offer their explanation for what may have been occurring in the picture.
Explanations offered included:
The children were asked if they had ever felt lonely or rejected, without a friend.
They offered many examples of their own experiences, particularly school ground experiences.
A related vocabulary list was made up e.g. sad, unhappy, crying, upset, selfish, kind, unkind.
The children were asked to write about a time when they felt extremely sad and lonely;
or a time when they assisted a child who was in a lonely and rejected situation.
This was an extremely interesting topic to discuss with children in Prep. and Grade 1. Some children seemed slightly bewildered regarding the actual existence of a conscience, in regulating their particular actions.
I approached this topic by discussing times in my childhood when I felt guilty about something I had done. The children love hearing about my childhood experiences and obviously identify with my examples. Because I am very honest and open with my class about things which may have pricked my conscience when I was younger--or even now as an adult--the children show their appreciation for this directness and are extremely honest with me about things which they may have done.
I questioned the children if they were conscious of their actions being controlled by a moral sense of right and wrong; or in their language--was there something inside them which tells them not to do something because it was not right.
Many children were extremely honest about their own experiences, particularly when their lapse in doing the right thing involved another class member.
The children were asked to write about their experiences and the story and illustrations were put on a piece of cloud-shaped paper--a symbol we decided on to signify a conscience. e.g.
I felt sad when
The children were most attentive when we read and discussed the finished products. Some children were particularly surprised when an incident which involved them was related. (It was interesting to see their reactions when a friend admitted a misdemeanour they had committed against them. It certainly did bring back memories for a few children, and in some ways cemented friendships which had lapsed for a short time over a past incident.)
When this work was displayed, many parents took a great deal of interest in reading the
stories and analysing the illustrations. In fact, the parents have made an effort to view
and read all displays regarding human rights topics. Many parents have made comments
concerning the honesty of the children in their writing.
(N.B. The Good Apple series was introduced to me at a meeting organized by Colin Henry. I have found them to be excellent, and adaptable to all age groups.)
The children and I discussed the illustration in the book, and the children were asked to relate stories about a time when they felt a wall existed between them and a friend. They were intensely interested in the concept of the 'wall'; and were readily able to offer ways in which friendships could be destroyed.
Some of the suggestions offered included nastiness, unkindness, fights, secrets, stealing, hurting, not caring, lying, anger and gossip.
The children were prepared to discuss their own experiences, and again, their acute level of honesty and directness was evident. The examples given were then discussed further by asking the children what the most beneficial or effective course of action may have been to overcome the problem.
The children were asked to illustrate 'wall-forming characteristics'.
This illustration was then placed on a brick to become part of our wall between friends.
Again, this display has aroused much interest on the part of parents, as well as children from other classes. I have found that the Prep. and Grade 1 children are taking time to analyse the illustrations of their class members. Obviously they are learning that these illustrations are providing a deeper insight into their friends, which in itself could assist in their friendship interactions.
Topic: 'Bridging friendships'
The children were asked to think of actions or characteristics which may knock down the wall.
These were listed as: kindness, love, friendship, sharing, cuddles, apology, present. The children listed these characteristics across a bridge shape between illustrations of estranged friends.
The concept of the 'wall' between friends really intrigued the children and on many occasions, since the 'Walls, between friends' session, the children have explained a dispute or rift by saying, 'Mrs Muzik, there is a WALL going up over here! I would promptly answer, 'Well knock it down quickly!'
The children clearly understood the vulnerability of friendships as, at this age group,
their friendship patterns fluctuate
The class was randomly divided into two groups. One group was taken outside where an obstacle course was explained to them. Meanwhile the other group was blindfolded. The two groups were randomly combined, and the children were told what to expect, and the basic rules of the game. The 'seeing' group were to lead the blindfolded group safely through the obstacle course.
We all agreed to try the exercise again, but this time the children were permitted to choose their own partners.
The evidence of a more trusting relationship was extremely obvious, but still the carefree attitude existed whereby the children failed consistently to predict and identify problems for their blindfolded friend.
This session was most interesting and instilled a solid concept of trust in the
minds of the children.
We found a lovely book in our school book shelf, Friends written by Helme Heine.
The children thoroughly enjoyed this book as it seemed to summarise all the facets of 'Friendship' we had been exploring.
Concepts such as consideration, helping, sharing kindness, and consistency were exemplified very well in this delightful picture/story book.
We made a list of precious, or special characteristics inherent in our friends and class members, e.g. loving, helpful, gentle, happy, kind, funny, considerate, strong, sharing.
We then discussed who was the class member in which a particular characteristic dominated.
These class profile sheets were displayed for some time to enable parents to have a chance to see them. Eventually they were taken down and made into a class 'Big Book' for shared book-reading experiences. A cover was made- for this the children made a cut/paste coloured paper version of themselves.
The children derived a great deal of pleasure when I read the completed book to the class, especially when I read the page about themselves.
After we returned from the excursion several mothers informed me that their child had had reservations about going and several children had said that they definitely did not want to go. However, in the final count, all children were involved in the excursion. It was also interesting to note that no child indicated to me feelings and inclinations not to go. This was only made clear to me after we returned. All parents expressed their enthusiasm about their children going, and encouraged the children.
Mandy took us down a passage way, then stopped her wheel chair and talked to us about herself. The children listened intently, and obviously felt for Mandy when she was talking about her desire to move into a flat, and the problems she would encounter, e.g. bench heights etc. Also her need for an able bodied person to make a commitment to live with her to assist. We moved on to the adult training centre where several adults were packing small items and weighing them.
The striking feature of this room was a young man in a wheel chair who was laughing
quite loudly, quite consistently. He was also dribbling profusely. The children were quite
frightened and moved in closer to me and clutched my finger if they found there was one
We moved on closer to other adults and conversed with them. I encouraged the children to speak and try to make a friend with one of the disabled people. They were slowly becoming more relaxed, but were still quite cautious.
I had noticed a particular young man whose eyes were quite bright staring at me as I moved around talking to the men and women. As we came closer to him, he asked me--in a quivering voice--was my name Elke. As he asked me I immediately recognised him as a Teachers' College acquaintance. He had been involved in a most serious car accident shortly after Graduation Day and had suffered severe injuries including brain damage. I had not seen him since before his accident. When he realised who I was (obviously he still had his memory) he hugged me and kissed me, and joked about all these children being my own.
At first I could see the children thinking, 'Who is this strange man kissing our teacher...' but as Frank and I exchanged news, the children became involved in the discussion and it was most obvious, as well as relieving, to see that they were feeling more at ease.
The children then indicated that they were more relaxed by moving to other adults, and asked about what they were doing. Some learnt how to fold up cardboard to make a box for a local tiling factory.
We then saw the Kindergarten and Physiotherapy areas. Unfortunately no pupils were at the Kindergarten, but nevertheless the children found it intriguing to find things which they loved; and to be in an area which was used by children of a similar age group to their own.
In the Physiotherapy area we watched four children doing their program; and the children obviously could relate to these children more easily than they could to the adults.
The final aspect of the excursion included using a 'head-stick' to operate a typewriter (for disabled people who were unable to use their hands/fingers).
When we returned to school, I asked the mothers to record any comments which the children made, and observe any reactions. All mothers indicated that they felt it was a valuable experience.
The children were also asked to write about their experiences.
This picture story book was purchased from the Ashton Scholastic Book Club, and gave us many ideas for studying human rights in regard to elderly people. The children loved the illustrations in the book, and they particularly enjoyed the way in which the story was written. We all enjoyed the explanations presented to Wilfred by the elderly people as to what a memory is.
The children loved the way Wilfred Gordon 'went home...to look for memories for Miss Nancy because she has lost her own'.
After reading this lovely story we had most interesting discussions about our own memories.
(The previous evening, on the TV program 'Different Strokes', Arnold was going through his mementoes in a flash back session. When he was younger he had referred to his mementoes as his 'men's toes'! This program really complemented the discussions and all the children had watched the program and could make contributions.)
We discussed mementoes. Some children at first did not comprehend the true meaning of mementoes, but I am sure that now they have an exceptionally broad understanding of what they are. We discussed family mementoes and the personal mementoes of individual children in the class. The children were encouraged to bring along family mementoes and their personal mementoes as well as photos of their grandparents.
Observations during this Session
Outcomes of memory and mementoes session
The children brought to school mementoes which were their own, as well as mementoes belonging to their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and grandparents.
We experienced some, lovely sharing sessions when the children exhibited these mementoes for the perusal and viewing of their friends and they explained the history and importance of certain mementoes.
It was particularly obvious how the children loved to learn more about their friends in such a personal and meaningful way. The level of respect for others was evident throughout these discussions. The children handled the mementoes belonging to their friends with the greatest of care and respect.
Some mothers came into the classroom to give impromptu discussions about their valuable family mementoes. I was extremely pleased to see that no mother felt that she had to make prior arrangements with me to arrive at the classroom door, unannounced, and laden with mementoes. I thoroughly enjoyed these incidental interruptions to my program, and it was quite obvious that the children did also.
Some of the mementoes which arrived at school in the care of the children were extremely precious and quite valuable. This indicated to me the level of trust the parents were developing in the children, and also their obvious awareness of how the children were reacting responsibly to this program.
A vast variety of mementoes arrived at school including:
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Resource Centre for Human Rights Education:
Teaching for Human Rights: Pre-school and Grades 1-4