TINTON FALLS, N.J.-- On the eve of our nation’s tributes in remembrance of 9/11, I pause and think carefully about the impact of our long mourning on our impressionable young students and our own children, who are the future of our nation.
There are a few things to keep in mind that will help you talk to children if and when their questions may arise, and we can expect that there may be more questions on Monday and the days that follow as many adults at home will be talking or watching the news throughout this important anniversary weekend.
World Trade Center photo by Joseph Barbieri
1. Remember that elementary school students were born between 2001-2008. They have no understanding of what 9/11 is…no visuals, no context, no memory. They have never known the New York City skyline or a symbol of "grand" America with the Twin Towers' silhouette. They are a blank canvas of hope, optimism, vision, and endless potential. They are products of "post 9/11" America.
Therefore, especially for children up to first grade, 9/11 tributes should be about patriotism. Discuss the colors of the flag, symbols of our nation, (including the Statue of Liberty, stars and stripes, the shape of our map, and the ways we celebrate being American. . . our cultures and traditions.)
2. Students in grades 2-4 like shock. . . they have a morbid curiosity about life and death, tragedy and sadness. This is normal. They have a need to know of "cause and effect" and they chat often about gore, crashes, booms, blood, war and pain. Guide the conversation by encouraging them to vacate drama. . . embrace the need for somber thought and prayers and peace. Rely on the lessons of our community standards and the honor code and talk about 9/11 in context of tolerance, trust, empathy, and courage, about cultures and peoples, diversity and differences…most of all about Honor.
3. Fifth graders tend to cusp the readiness of conceptual understandings and can relate to moral and ethical dilemmas of conflict between peoples. They can talk about cause and effect and will share judgments about why 9/11 is so tragic in our nation's history. Talk to students about historical moments in the USA that were tragic, such as Shay's Rebellion, Civil War, Assassination of Presidents, Pearl Harbor. Draw correlations and talk about courage and strength, the power of unity and how good prevails.
I offer each of you, your families and friends peace as we remember together that faithful day, Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.
Reflections by Patti Marshall, Head of the Lower School and Associate Head for Academic Administration at Ranney School.