Published : Thursday, February 2, 2017 | 12:39 PM
As parents, we all want to raise intelligent and socially aware children. But teaching children about values like justice and compassion is not as easy as teaching them their ABC’s. The value of justice is one that presents itself consistently, in many forms, all throughout the day. From fighting over the jam jar at breakfast to overhearing the news in the evening, our children are constantly dealing with the notion of justice through their own or others’ real-life experiences.
At New Horizon School Pasadena, where a values- based education is woven into the day, educators firmly believe in including children in discussions about social justice and harnessing their natural curiosity to explore problems and solutions. Religious studies teachers, Najwa Mardini and Shatha Eissa, work with children from Kindergarten to 8th grade to explore the issues of injustice in the children’s worlds as well in the greater national and global context. The teachers shared what has been most effective with their students. Here are five ways you can raise a socially aware child.
1.) Be open and honest with your child about current events.
Little minds are sponges of knowledge. And though it may not always seem so, children and adolescents are quick to notice when things are happening that distress the people around them. Don’t keep them in the dark. Use some news stories as teachable moments and ask your child questions about what they think.
Discourse in school, being able to talk about current events, is not only beneficial but necessary. Teachers at New Horizon provided small forums for students to share their thoughts on the recent elections and other world news. During these challenging times of change and uncertainty, setting aside time to give a child your undivided attention is imperative. Najwa allocated time with the students to just talk, letting them know that they could ask, complain, or simply vent about their feelings. Having an adult guide them through this process and learning how to respect differing opinions is critical for students’ ability to think and grow. It also allows the adult to clarify information, focusing on facts, not just emotions, and reaffirms the students’ feelings of worth as time is carved out to address their concerns. No matter how old, knowledge is always power.
2.) Ask them how they would feel.
Understanding the importance of fairness and justice starts with understanding how it feels to be wronged. “My students explore what the value of justice means to them by spending time writing how injustice feels,” Shatha explained. Spending much time with elementary students, Shatha notices that younger children often find it difficult to put themselves in another person’s shoes. Instead, drawing on their own emotions and experiences can be more effective in cultivating empathy and understanding. Asking questions like ‘How do you feel when that happens to you?’ can help a child see things from the other person’s perspective and understand why it is important that they act fairly.
Encourage your child to reflect on justice in their own world. Let your children reflect after an incident on the playground that leaves them disgruntled. Give them a paper and pencil and let them write exactly what they are feeling and why. Let them know they can scrunch the paper up and throw it away when they are done. The process of writing about emotions is very therapeutic and helps the writer sort through their feelings and come to a pathway forward.
Shatha also uses visual aids to help her students express their feelings. For her younger students in first and second grade, she helped them create signs that display facial expressions of how it feels to be treated fairly or to not be. Using visual aids can help a child communicate a complex emotion in a simple way and can be particularly useful for shy children or even with little ones learning to express themselves.
4.) Include solutions in discussions about the problem.
For adolescents and teenagers, discussing social issues in their nation and world can be an enlightening conversation. However, it is important to remember that it is very easy to become disheartened when thinking about the multitude of injustices all over the world. Bring hope and optimism into the conversation by showing your child how for any one issue, there are many counteractions taken by people who stand for justice. Najwa makes sure to teach her students about strategies to resolve problems in the world – peacefully. Giving children role models to look up to and success stories of peaceful protest or civic engagement teaches them that values like compassion and righteousness are not just flimsy concepts but truly effective in action as well.
5.) Do something about it- engage in service!
Look for local organizations that are making a difference and let your child pick one that sparks their interest. Being able to contribute positively for the betterment of humanity helps students feel empowered and that they can make a difference even within their small circle of influence. Students from New Horizon engage in service activities from collecting canned goods to give to the local homeless shelter, working in the school’s Peace Garden side-by-side with interfaith partners, or raising money for natural disaster relief or impoverished communities. Through serving others, children recognise the things for which they are grateful and make them shift in thinking from a self-centred mindset to a socially conscious one.
Navigating the daily encounters of justice locally and globally takes empathy and empowerment. But given patience, empathy, and the time to sit and simply talk, our children can become the socially aware individuals we strive to nurture!
New Horizon School Pasadena is a fully accredited and nationally recognized Blue Ribbon school. Find out more at http://newhorizonschool.org/