The Centenary of the First World War…for kids?

100 years ago, the First World War began. Events all over the world are marking the date. We are all remembering the millions of people killed. But how can we help young children to remember?

Last year on Remembrance Day, I was unsure of how much I should tell Pip, aged four, about war. This dilemma was sort of solved for me when she came home from nursery with a big handmade poppy attached to her cardigan. The only problem was, and this problem came up an annoying number of times with her old nursery, she had not actually been told anything much at all. They’d made poppies to ‘remember the soldiers’ but that was the limit of her knowledge. Inevitably, she started asking me questions. I have blogged before about our parental policy of never telling Pip any lies. So I ended up telling her that soldiers from our country fought soldiers from countries we were at war with, who were our enemies. I had to tell her that lots of the soldiers died.

As has always happened with these apparently tricky subjects, I was worried that she’d be upset or somehow traumatised. Instead, she accepted all of the information, said it was very sad and that she would remember all of the soldiers with her poppy. Then she carried on with her day. When we went out, she’d wear her poppy and whenever anyone asked her about it, she explained that she wanted to remember the soldiers that died. Some people looked as though she’d just told them to f*** off. Some people congratulated her.

So when it came to this centenary, she was already fairly aware of the war and the soldiers that died. I explained that the reason we’re remembering now is because it is one hundred years since the First World War began. Since she already has a basic idea of what war is, I thought it might be a good idea to give her an idea of what war would actually have been like, both for those fighting and for those at home, for ordinary children like her. Of course, any information has to be appropriate – I’m not going to start showing her pictures of dead or horribly injured soldiers.

Luckily, a few television programmes have been made specifically for children about the First World War. We’ve just watched the Horrible Histories First World Special (which will be repeated on CBBC at 5:30pm today). I’ve been reading Horrible History books since I was about seven or eight and I’ve watched the television series a few times so I knew it would be a good way of telling her about war in an entertaining, child-friendly way. She watched it and we talked a bit during about what was happening. It did explain why the First World War began but all that Pip really grasped was that it was all about some countries being friends and others not and it was very complicated. I think that’s probably enough for now. It showed what life in the trenches was like, including mentioning the football match on no mans land, and also how life changed for women.

There’s another programme we’ll be watching, which is an episode of My Story on Cbeebies at 4:40pm today, which is described as being about what it was like to be a child 100 years ago. I think this will help her relate to the whole subject, since she can imagine being alive at that time and being in the position of another child at another child in a way that would be too difficult to imagine with a fighting soldier.

I also showed her on the big world map in her bedroom where the main countries involved and where battles occurred are and also all of the other countries where soldiers came from. I think it helped to show her the vast scale of the war.

I really think that it’s very important to help children understand and consider the suffering of people in war. We all need to remember, as a society, how catastrophic war can be and that it should be avoided if at all possible. As the generation who witnessed the First World War are now few in number, its important that we ensure that the next generation knows what happened in our past.

How have you dealt with the First World War Centenary with your children?

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