Depending on how you were raised, you might not have grown up discussing things like economic disparities, racial injustice, religion, or differences in sexual and gender identities. Talking about these topics with your kids might feel uncomfortable to you.
If so, you are not alone. These topics are sensitive, but talking about them doesn’t have to be scary or avoided. There is a very simple way to introduce these topics to your children in a natural way that sparks conversation: books.
I have found that reading books – specifically, books about real people and real events in history – has been the catalyst to incredible conversations and insights from my children. Our local libraries here in St. Louis and St. Charles are filled with children’s books about brave Americans and their trials and triumphs.
My boys are nine and six, and we have been reading these kinds of library books together for over three years. We have read books about people who experienced racism, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia, and enslavement. And we read about how the same people who experience these things rise above and made (or, in some cases, are still making) a difference in their communities and in American history.
When possible, we drive in the “history is all around us” concept further by visiting historical sites related to the books we read. Missouri has many opportunities for historical field trips. We’ve been to the courthouse in downtown St. Louis were Dred Scott’s fate was decided. The home of Dred Scott’s lawyer, Roswell Field, is also a museum in the St. Louis area. Further out of the city but still in the state, the farm where George Washington Carver was born enslaved is now a National Monument in Diamond, MO, and they offer a Junior Rangers program where children earn a badge for filling out a packet as they learn. My sons and I have enjoyed continuing our learning when we travel, exploring historical sites and connecting what we are learning with books we have already read together.
Reading books about real people and real events grounds the conversations and understanding in humanity. Even my youngest child is able to recognize when people in the stories are being treated poorly and denied dignity. This has helped him better identify when these injustices happen in front of him, and he is not shy about stepping in and saying when things are not fair or not nice.
What used to be awkward or uncomfortable conversations now come naturally when we read together. These books give us the opportunity to talk about empathy, compassion, accepting ourselves and our differences, and standing up to bullies. They give us space to reflect on our nation’s history and talk about the decisions of leaders, both good and bad.
Most especially, they show how one person can stand up to do the next right thing, and how their bravery can change the world.
Amanda Spencer is a nurse and mom with a passion for using books as a way to talk about the big stuff of life like history, empathy, and perspective. She can usually be found at the library, at a park with a book in hand, or online at TheRadicalAgenda.com.