Primary students have much to gain from human rights lessons
Some teachers believe that the subject of human rights is too complicated, controversial or upsetting to be taught to children who are under the age of 11. If this is your position, I would argue that you are underestimating your students.
I regularly teach my class of seven-year-olds about human rights. I tailor lessons to suit their age, yet I am always surprised by their grasp of the issues and level of engagement.
It is important to make the lesson relatable and interesting. A good way to introduce the subject is to talk about needs as opposed to wants. Guide students through the discussion, asking if needs and wants are the same for everybody - in the class, the school, the country and around the world.
Amnesty International has produced a child-friendly version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a great resource for demonstrating what rights every person is entitled to. Remember the age of your students, though: they will not absorb the information solely through discussion.
Try games and activities to make the topic fun. A good one involves the book If the World Were a Village by David J Smith and Shelagh Armstrong, which converts world population statistics proportionally to a village of 100 people. Ask students to find 100 Lego men in the classroom, then gather the figurines together. As you read out the estimates of how many people in the world lack basic rights, count out the corresponding number of Lego men. Extend the task for older students by getting them to present the data in different forms.
Such activities do not have to be randomly inserted into lessons: human rights is a topic that lends itself to many areas of the curriculum. For example, in my class we have been focusing on Judaism as our religion for this term, and the children learned about the Jewish holiday of Succoth. After creating a "succah" (walled structure) in the playground, we discussed what shelter means in the 21st century. This led us to consider homelessness and homeless people in the local community. The talk had a profound effect, so much so that the children wrote to their MP asking what the government was doing to help the homeless.
Younger children are able to understand ideas that we sometimes believe are too complex for them. If you can relate the concept of human rights to their lives, they see how it affects everyone, and the topic becomes less intimidating to teach.
Human Rights Day is on 10 December. Dominic Lee is a teacher at St Mary and St Peter's Church of England Primary School in Somerset, England.
Top 10 human rights resources
1. Needs must
Is a personal computer a want or a need? Students may surprise you with their answers during this activity from children's charity Unicef, in which they must categorise aspects of life depicted on a set of illustrated cards. This will help them to understand the link between needs and rights.
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