How to talk to your kids about Immigration
If we desire to raise well rounded, well grounded, well informed and compassionate children, today more than ever we have the responsibility to talking to our kids about topics that are relevant right now. One of those is immigration. And I believe the Fall season is the perfect timing to introduce even our pre-K and elementary school children to the topic of immigration. So, how do we go about it without it being confusing, awkward or partisan? Last year and this we have done it by reading fun living children’s books that told us the stories of children who experienced all the joys and challenges of immigration.
CelEbrating fall season with MulitcuLtural Pilgrim books “Pilgrims now & Then”
Fall, autumn, Herbst, El etono, whatever you call it, is just a special season.
It's cozy. It's colorful. It's leaves turning colors. Fall is weather chilling down. And it's a time to call my free little explorers inside, dry out their swim clothes, put away the sand toys and gather them back inside around the kitchen table. It's the time to reminisce about the fun summer memories and look forward to what we will do in the new season.
The weather is starting to chil down and we pull out apple cider, hot chocolate (well, chilled chocolate milk for us still sweating out here in Cali!), apple pie, pumpkin latte, pumpkin smoothy, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin candles pumpkin everything!
Fall is preparing the Thanksgiving turkey and .... learning about the pilgrims and their first Thanksgiving.
It's that time to play blocks inside and watch the first rain showers soak and wet our dry land. And it's that time to read books about the new season. New books. Books about new people, new culture. Books about pilgrims. Pilgrims now and then.
It's not out of the blue but connecting your children with what they are experiencing and celebrating everywhere anyways: Celebrating new people entering new land and by that adding their rich culture to the community. The New England pilgrims were the first immigrants to the United States. And they brought the Native American British customs, Bristish chicken pot pie, cute accents and turkey celebrations. That’s worth celebrating! When studying immigration in connection to the first pilgrims you are organically going just a tiny level deeper with your students this year. You extend the word "Pilgrim" to a wider group of various people. To ALL people who also came to a new land, learnt new things and brought and contributed new things.
Last year as I was gathering our books for the a season we learnt about the hardships that the first pilgrims overcame and how they eventually settled and celebrated.
And we began reading beautiful books on modern day pilgrims and exploring the theme of pilgrimage and immigration.
So how did we practically go about it? After talking about the Mayflower etc, I chalked the word "Pilgrim" in big letters on the board. Right next to it, I wrote the word "Immigrant" (we already studied migration of birds about a year before, so they were familiar with the term:). I'm aware that this is a very charged word and therefore intentionally imbedded it into our pilgrims study creating the downloadable “Pilgrims Now & Then” study for my elementary kids.
We then began listing all the people in our life and family who have moved and migrated to a different country over the years. For any kind of reason: college, work, humanitarian and missionary journeys, war, etc. Then we listed historical figures we knew who migrated and immigrated and so in. Finally we named specific reasons why people leave the comfort of their home and go on a journey.
Beginning with Abraham back in the days we discovered that going to a new land always entails the difficulties and hardships that come with starting anew: learning anew language, new cultural codes, new foods, new weather, a new kind of humor! Coming to a different place entails feeling alone and missing your home, food and family (I guess I should put it in a different order. But keeping it real here:).
We talked about what it could have meant for the children and teenagers to leave their friends, toys, bedrooms and family to enter a new country. We talked about their own mom (me) having walked in those shoes before when I came to the U.S. (and still missing German food very much!).
I asked my students who they know that has come to a different country. And we just let the conversation flow.
It was such a beautifully rich time of discussing and I was amazed how even my pre-K student understood the basic concepts so well. And I believe reason for that was that I incorporated life stories of people we know. Plus, we read many picture books on children who were modern day pilgrims!
If you have never done a fall study study or reading books beyond the New England pilgrims I want to encourage you to take your little (or big) ones and embark on this journey this Fall!
Such a study will create a unique opportunity for your students, children, nephews, nieces or whoever you are influencing to get a gentle yet authentic introduction to the topic of immigration without having to go into too much detail yet.
I believer more than ever it is important that we as educators and parents or influencers provide guidance not just in past but reoccurring events and prepare them as they encounter people who have been or are on such a journey. As your children become more familiar with the thematic they will be able to encounter modern day pilgrims with grace and understanding.
Moreover, it's important to tell our own stories or those in our families and ancestors to young people. Even if it simply means explaining about challenges as you adjusted moving to a new state or college. Use this season and try to recall the stories your parents, grandparents or great grand parents told about how they first came to this land. In my case I only had to pull out my own photo album of about 16 years ago. They saw and heard about this young blue eyed woman coming to the U.S. only knowing formal British (the Queen's:) English. They laughed as they heard how I would at first would sheeply look up to the sky whenever people asked me, "What's up?"
Tell your own funny and joyful stories but also don't leave out the authentic passages of the struggles that came with each season of change for you. I'm always surprised to see how even young children understand far more than we think and will at a later point draw from what they have read and heard from you.
As an influencer it's such a privilege to be the one who first introduces new concepts to young people and the one who provides in depth answers or researches answers with them.
Every year I realize that we as educators don't need to have all the answers yet but we can engage with our learners, learn with them and most importantly dive into the stories of people with them. The books we read are beautiful stories of people on a journey to a new land.
If are interested in doing the same Fall unit study "Pilgrims Now & Then" we did last year, download here! The unit study I put together covers the books bellow (and a few more) and features children migrating during different historical periods. These children from a wide range of cultural context (such as Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe). If you are an educator or parent doing the study please feel free to join the discussion bellow this post to exchange teaching ideas and experience with one another!
This unit helps you to not just read the book to your child/student but walk through each book with a deeper comprehension..,, and to make it a fun, yet very insightful encounter with the book!
It includes a list of all our absolutely favorite books to read all through Fall, gentle discussion questions, activities, writing prompts, coloring pages, activities and more. You can easily use it if you homeschool, teach a larger class of students or just utilize it outside the school setting for a beautiful time between just you and your child to learn about immigrant children this Fall.
So yes the study is pretty extensive but depending on your context and your child's age you can do as much or little as you like! All you do is cuddle up on the couch, read the book out loud and to go deeper, follow the questions and activities in the curriculum for additional educational activities that your child will enjoy and that will help them process and retain the information.
As I researched books on past and modern pilgrims I tried as usual to:
1.) Utilize historical fiction picture books as much as possible (that's my history loving side coming out)
2.) Gather only living books that are written in beautiful language and illustrated with inspiring pictures (unless they are chapter books).
3.) Focus on authors that are authentically acquainted or connected to that particular topic either through a family member or themselves having lived it to some degree. I found there are quite a few diverse books out there but not all are culturally sensitive or go into a certain depth of topic that I believe is foundational to get a grip of the topic.
I'm providing bellow a link to this unit study "Pilgrims Now & Then". I loved this unit study so much that we are repeating parts of it (with added books) this year!
At the bottom of the page you will also find the links to some absolutely beautiful books that we read last year. (They are also included in the unit study).
1,) One is "How to make an apple pie and see the world". It's the charming story of a little girl that travels the world to pick ingredients for her apple pie. (:
2.) The other book is "Grandfathers Journey" and touches the subject of the narrators grandfather journey from Japan to the US and back. It beautifully illustrates the struggle of immigrants having two homes and always missing a piece of the other home when away. They are both some absolute favorite reads of ours!
3.) Some other books that we are currently reading and that are so relevant with the political situation are "My Diary from here to there", and "From north to south". The first one is the bilingual (!) diary account of a girl whose parents leave Mexico to find work in the US. It beautifully depicts the little girls worries, struggles and joys. I loved how this book depicts the girls love for her dad and how her greatest desire is just for her family to be together. The second book tells the sobering story of a little boy whose family is torn apart because of immigration issues. Jose goes on a journey to visit his mom in a deportation camp bringing her gifts and drawings as they wait for her papers to process.
4.) "My dog is lost" (first published more than 30 years ago!) is an absolutely fun books that we love in our study on modern day pilgrims. It tells the story of a little Puertorican boy who comes to New York and ends up finding his dog with the help of a bunch of new friends of various cultures as they help him look for his dog. It's such a sweet story (that mixes in Spanish phrases) by classic author Ezra Keats. Keats is such an Oldtimer and wonderful trailblazer when it comes to multicultural children books.
5.) Lastly, we really enjoyed reading "The Name Jar" this year and adding it to a VIP spot in our library. It's the story of a little Korean girl who comes to the US unsure if her culture and name will be valued in her new community. The book's ending is just plain deep and enforces a powerful lesson on the beauty that lies in maintaining and contributing your particular cultural heritage to your specific community and context. Itbhad me in tears and the kids loved it.
6.) ...oh yes, and we are reading this year again: "Molly's Pilgrim" because it's just one of those books that just NEED to be read sometime before we dig in to that thanksgiving turkey! It's the story of Jewish-Russian little girl Molly whose family moved to the USA and becomes a modern day pilgrim (:
So, if you even read only half of those books to your students or children this fall you will have laid a beautiful foundation for the topic of cultural competency in your youngsters! And I can pretty much assure you that each one of these will be books that you too will enjoy and remember!
Enjoy fall and wishing you a happy start into the apple pie, pumpkin exploring and harvesting new ideas season!
Ps: If you decide to purchase some or all of the books on pilgrims "Now & Then", please click on the links bellow! (By using this affiliate link I receive a small percentage which helps with the maintaining and site hosting fees of this blog. Thanks :)
California based Ghanaian-German educator, writer, bookworm and mama of three. A lover of all things nature, diversity & healthy.
"Education is nothing else than discovery.
And discovery full of diversity is beautiful."
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About the author
My name is Nancy. I'm a teacher, home educator, wife, mother, writer and accidental German-Ghanaian transplant to the U.S., in love with California and all things diversity.