We named Little Sir after his dad, who was named after his dad, who was named after an uncle who died during World War II. I wrote this bit of family trivia in his baby book, which Little T discovered early this year. The questions about World War II came non-stop a short while after.
We spent over a month learning and thinking about the war as a result. We read a wide range of books about it, talked a lot (I googled everything that I didn’t know or forgot from my school days), and visited several places of interest in Manila and Bataan.
I am writing this as the first of a three-part series to share how even little kids can be excited about history. I hope that you will find enough inspiration in this series to introduce the topic to your kids or to at least make history fun and exciting for them this summer, whether you’re homeschooling or not.
Why introduce a topic so dark and horrible to a little child? My reason is simple. I want to fuel the fire of my daughter’s interest, whatever the topic may be. Though we use a curriculum in homeschooling our children, we are still dictated by their interests, our beliefs, and general environment.
I started to plan our unit study by setting a goal. At this point, I decided that being exposed to the idea of war, familiarizing ourselves with some of the countries that participated in it, and learning how the Philippines was affected by it, would be more than enough.
I took Little T’s curiosity about the war to learn about this dark moment in world history. I wondered, though, how I would introduce it to her, as she is just six years old. Deciding that familiarization would be our goal made it easy. I chose to go the conversational route and not aspire to do so many activities as I really was overwhelmed at first.
So, I planned to delve into the topic for one month, with one main book and topic per week. But with Little T’s growing obsession with the war, our month easily became almost two. Here are some of the gentle ways that we dipped our toes in the war.
I kept reminding myself that Little T is just six, so I tried to answer her questions as simply as I could. To explain why there was a war, I just said that Germany and Japan wanted to have more land and they were fighting with other countries saying, “It’s mine! It’s mine!” To explain about the Jews’ genocide without actually talking about the killings, we read books and talked about how some people, like the Nazis, do not celebrate, much less accept, the differences between people.
I also glossed over another dark aspect of the war in the Philippines. In Maya Calica’s Goodnight, Lala, a collection of short stories set during the Japanese occupation of Pampanga, Victoria’s hair was cut very short to make her look like a boy. Instead of going through the topic of avoiding rape as a reason for this, I simply said that some of the Japanese soldiers hurt women then and everyone did everything they could to protect them.
Read picture books
I don’t think you’ll find a textbook about the war for really young kids. And besides, textbooks aren’t really fun, right? So, I chose Five in a Row books that are set in Europe, Japan, and the United States during World War II. I added related stories that were not necessarily about the war, but were mentioned or discussed in the books. Of course, I looked far and wide for a Filipino children’s book on this topic. I found Goodnight, Lala, which is published by Adarna Books.
I will be talking about the war-related books that we read in the second part of this series, as well as some that I wanted to read too.
Visit war memorials
The Philippines was occupied by the Japanese during the war. There was heavy fighting and many people were affected by it. I remember my grandmother’s stories about hearing gunfire and bombs in the distance. I knew from school, too, that there are several markers or memorials to be found in our country. We went to quite a number of war-related places in Quezon City, Taguig, and Bataan, but I will be sharing about all the good places to visit in the third part of this series.
Look for first-hand sources
I love history and I believe that talking to people who were actually “in the moment” is the best way to learn. I looked for grandparents to interview, and found my sister’s mother-in-law a willing storyteller. She told us about running to a distant barrio every time there was news of Japanese soldiers near where they lived. In the forest where they hid, they covered their faces with mud and stayed there for days. It was just wonderful seeing Little T intently listening to the old lady and trying to digest what she was hearing!
Another first hand account that we had was the memoir of my friend Sanne’s grandfather. Written in the first person, the two chapters were enough to give us a soldier’s perspective on the war, as well as some glimpse of life back then. The book, though, was just privately published for the Rodriguez family. Sanne generously lent me her lone copy.
Watch a war movie or documentary
The Sound of Music, I think, is a good war movie for kids. Except the flirty “I am sixteen” number and the part where Captain von Trapp and Maria declare their love for each other, the movie is as wholesome as can be.
The Sound of Music photo from IMCDb.org
With the story set against World War II, Austria and Germany were frequently mentioned. It allowed us to make connections with the books that we read. When Little T complained about how scary the second part was (when the family was chased by the Nazis), I asked her to imagine how much scary the war was for the people who were actually there. And of course, the movie gave us a glimpse of the Nazi soldiers’ uniforms and their infamous greeting.
Though unplanned, Little T also got to briefly watch a documentary on History Channel with her dad. We will definitely scour YouTube.com when we go back to World War II when she is older.
I’m looking forward to sharing the rest of what we did, so do watch out for the second installment of this series on Monday. We will talk about war-related books then!