Bloggers Unite for Human Rights – Thursday Thirteen style

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Bloggers UniteI struggled for a while to decide what direction to take when I posted about this today. There are so many human rights issues out there and all of them so important to address in some way.

But in the end, given that this is a blog written by a mom, I decided to explore and research different ways to address human rights questions and issues in general with your children. This is something that I know we need to do with ours, especially now that they are starting to get into school and will be faced more with seeing things in the media, hearing news stories, etc. So for my Thursday Thirteen today, I am listing 13 ways to talk about or otherwise teach your kids about some of these really ‘hard’ questions. Most of these are things that can simply be incorporated into regular activities so that kids learn about human rights in the same ways and in the same time as they learn other concepts such as colors, the alphabet, politeness, and manners, just to name a few.

This is a longer, more involved list than I usually do for T13, but I really feel that this is an important topic to address and hope that you will find it helpful as well.

Note: I’m not trying to say that any of these techniques are going to be effective for everyone – it’s up to every parent to decide when and how to introduce these topics to their kids. These are just some possibilities. I’m sure there are other ways out there that aren’t on my list – feel free to share how you may have addressed any of these issues with your children in the comments.

You can find other Bloggers Unite for Human Rights posts at Blog Catalog and other Thursday Thirteen posts here.

1. Role play

Many kids learn best by ‘doing’. There are several different ways that role playing can be utilized to help kids understand various concepts. Largely improvised, a scene is set up with some basic guidelines (this can be more complicated for older children or very simplistic for younger ones) and the participants act out the story or situation. It’s best to probably keep the activity short and to discuss how the child(ren) felt during it afterward.

Role playing requires kids to use their imaginations and communication skills to work through a particular scenario. It offers a way for participants to understand and relate to others outside of their usual experience and to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”.


Starting Point – Teaching Entry Level Geoscience: Role-Playing Exercises –

Role Play in Teaching Culture: Six Quick Steps for Classroom Implementation by Maria A. Kodotchigova, Tomsk State University, Russia –

2. Brainstorming

This technique can be used both with older kids who can write down their own ideas or younger ones, who can either draw pictures to describe their thoughts or have an adult list them. The way that this works is to think about a particular subject or topic and then write down everything that is thought or suggested, no matter how improbable.

One thing to keep in mind with brainstorming is that there should be no limits on what can be suggested. Everyone thinks differently and if something comes to mind, then it’s often a valid point to be explored. Adults should try to refrain from criticizing what their kids might come up with, but to explore why that particular thought came to mind from the prompt given. There’s opportunity for everyone to learn using this technique.


“Ten Steps to Better Brainstorming” by Marie W. Sloan, BNet Business Network –

3. Stories

Kids love to tell stories and have stories told to them. And they remember them vividly (sometimes too much so!), especially if a story includes a character they can relate to. Most well-known children’s tales include morals and many of these can be interpreted to highlight human rights issues. Adults can even make up their own stories to include specific topics that they wish to address with their children, and have their children make up stories as well.

4. Games

What child doesn’t like to play games! And we all know that games can be very useful in education as well. Many times kids don’t even realize that they’re learning – they just know that they’re having fun. Here are a few examples of games that can be used to help teach some of these important issues:

  • Attributes:
    Children are placed in a circle. One person stands in the middle of the circle. This person states a single attribute. For example: “People wearing belts”. Those people who qualify under the attribute have to change seats with someone else who is wearing a belt at the time. The person in the middle also has to find a seat. The person left without a place to sit becomes the person in the middle, and has to choose the next attribute. Children will quickly see that they can be similar and different in many ways. An interesting ending would be to choose a more intangible attribute, such as: “People who are happy/kind”. The game usually breaks down at this point because it becomes more difficult to identify such attributes at a glance. Teachers may wish to discuss how such attributes are usually recognized.
  • A circle for talking:
    Children sit in a circle that includes the teacher and any visitors. The teacher puts the following statements:

    What I like best about myself is …
    I’d like to be …
    My favourite game is…
    I think my name means…
    I would like to learn about . . .
    I feel happy when …
    I feet sad when …
    I want to become more …
    Someday I hope …

    With each statement, each child has a turn to answer. Time is shared equally and listening is very important (so interruptions are restricted). Children can “pass” if they want to, and each person stays in her or his place until the activity is over.

  • The lifeline:
    Each child stretches out a piece of yarn. This represents his or her own life. They then hang drawings and stories that detail the important things that have happened to them on this line. This can be done in chronological sequence, or in any order that the child may want. It can also be extended into the future.
  • Me on the wall:
    Trace the outline of each child on a large piece of paper (best done lying down). Have the student paint in physical details, and then write personal and physical qualities (name; height; weight; what the child would most like to learn or do at school) on a label which is then attached to the paper. Pin these up around the wall, allowing all students to learn about each other as well as themselves.
  • Trust games:
    Used to raise the children’s awareness of their responsibilities towards others. They could play ‘Blind trust’, in which pairs of children take turns to be blindfolded. The sighted partner leads the blindfolded partner around the room, then they reverse roles. Afterwards they discuss their feelings about how it felt to be blindfolded and how it felt to have responsibilities as a leader.


“ABC, teaching human rights: Practical activities for primary and secondary schools”, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Human Rights –

5. Letter exchange/pen pals

Set up a letter exchange between your child(ren) and a child from another city, state or even another country. You can explore the differences and similarities between cultures and how kids play, act and are educated in various parts of the country or world. This can be done via either writing and mailing actual letters (also a great way for older kids to practice penmanship!) or over e-mail. Just make sure to be involved and monitor all correspondence for safety’s sake.


International Kids & Teens Penpal Club –

Students of the World –

The Kids on the Web: Pen Pals –

6. Movies/videos

As much as we parents all try, there really is no avoiding television for our kids. But, we do have control (at least for a while) over what they watch. And we can incorporate educational programming – I know that we try to do so as much as possible. There are ways to either open discussion involving movies that they might already be watching (similar to ‘stories’ above) or we can show them programming specifically aimed at teaching certain topics or issues. One example of this is UNICEF’s “Top 10 Cartoons for Children’s Rights”, aimed at both children and adults. “With its captivating images and cross-cultural appeal, animation is the perfect tool for informing children about their rights and society about its obligations.”


“Top 10 Cartoons for Children’s Rights”, UNICEF –

UNICEF Television video catalogue –

7. Books

This is differentiated from ‘Stories’ in that this category involves children’s books specifically written to address human rights issues as well as books to educate adults, since in order to teach kids about human rights issues, we need to make sure that we understand them ourselves. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of some of the types of books that are out there.


UNICEF Publications –

Book list from “Teaching Human Rights in Elementary Classrooms: A Literary Approach” by Linda Farr Darling (University of British Columbia), published in Canadian Social Studies, Volume 39 Number 1, Fall 2004, Special Issue: Social Studies Research and Teaching in Elementary Schools –

  • Aliki (1998) Marianthe’s Story One: Spoken Memories and Marianthe’s Story Two: Painted Words. New York: Greenwillow Books, William & Morrow.
  • Bunting, Eve (1994) A Day’s Work. New York: Clarion Books, Houghton-Mifflin.
  • Castle, Caroline (2002) For Every Child: The rights of the child in words and pictures. New York: Red Fox Books in Association with UNICEF.
  • Choi, Yangsook (2001) The Name Jar. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House.
  • Ellis, Deborah (2000) The Breadwinner. Toronto: Douglas & MacIntyre.
  • Ellis, Deborah (2002) Parvana’s Journey. Toronto: Douglas & MacIntyre.
  • Fenner, Carol (1997) Yolanda’s Genius. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster.
  • Fleming, Virginia (1997) Be Good to Eddie Lee. New York: PaperStar Book, Penguin Putnam Berkley Group, Inc.
  • Shea, Peggy Deitz (1996) The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Boyds Mill Press, Inc.
  • Williams, Karen Lynn (1990) Galimoto. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd Books, William & Morrow.

8. Charity

They say that ‘charity begins at home’, and it certainly begins with kids. Kids who grow up in homes with a charitable mindset are more likely to become charitably-minded adults themselves (at least in my own opinion). I fully recognize that this is one area where Ron and I have not done a very good job so far, and realize that we need to start modeling charitable behavior ourselves for our own kids. I think that everyone can benefit by learning about giving to others – especially to those who live in circumstances and situations far from what our kids are used to. And as I think more on it, charity really doesn’t have to be a long, involved project – simply having kids pick out toys or clothes to give away can introduce the concept of people in need. There are more organizations out there than I could possibly list (certainly a T13 post in its own right), but here are a few to start exploring. (Note – I’m not specifically endorsing any of these organizations, just providing a list for informational purposes. I’m not personally familiar with any of these – although I intend to do some further research myself)


Compassion –

Children’s Charities of America –

Save the Children –

9. Museums/Exhibitions

This is something that you may want to reserve for older kids, depending on the exhibit, your own comfort level and that of your child(ren), but can start out as simply as finding an ‘Around the World’ type of exhibit near you so that your kids can learn more about how people in other parts of the world live.

10. Declaration of the Rights of the Child

In 1959, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted basic standards recognizing that mankind owes children the best that it has to give.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also provided a more simplified (plain language) version of the Declaration, that is easier for kids to understand, without all of the ‘legalese’. Older kids can read through both versions and compare them. And even young kids can understand the basic concepts outlined within it:

Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959)


Principle 1

All children have the right to what follows, no matter what their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, or where they were born or who they were born to.

Principle 2

You have the special right to grow up and to develop physically and spiritually in a healthy and normal way, free and with dignity.

Principle 3

You have a right to a name and to be a member of a country.

Principle 4

You have the right to special care and protection and to good food, housing and medical services.

Principle 5

You have the right to special care if handicapped in any way.

Principle 6

You have the right to love and understanding, preferably from parents and family, but from the government where these cannot help.

Principle 7

You have the right to go to school for free, to play, and to have an equal chance to develop yourself and to learn to be responsible and useful.

Your parents have special responsibilities for your education and guidance.

Principle 8

You have the right always to be among the first to get help.

Principle 9

You have the right to be protected against cruel acts or exploitation, e.g. you shall not be obliged to do work which hinders your development both physically and mentally.

You should not work before a minimum age and never when that would hinder your health, and your moral and physical development.

Principle 10

You should be taught peace, understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people.


“ABC, teaching human rights: Practical activities for primary and secondary schools”, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Human Rights –

11. Fair vs. unfair

As I’m finding out, kids learn about the concept of ‘fairness’ at a very early age. Now whether or not we parents agree as to the definition of what’s ‘fair’ or not is a whole different issue. But we can certainly use this idea to help kids understand human rights issues.

Many kids will think of fairness in terms of age, and how some activities are restricted to certain age groups. This can be a good place to start. Then discussion can continue with debate about other situations that your kids think are unfair. Are boys and girls treated equally? Are there any other types of discrimination among children?

“Discuss examples of unfair treatment in stories and other literature. Focus on a particular story, eg Cinderella, to discuss fairness and situations where rights are infringed. Who had the responsibility to ensure that Cinderella’s rights were upheld? How do stories such as these demonstrate justice?

What are the consequences when things go wrong? What are children’s responsibilities if they know another child is being treated unfairly? The children undertake an enquiry into various types of unfairness, eg bullying, racism, discrimination. They find out what the law says, and what the school’s policies are, checking whether these make it clear that in such situations children’s rights are being infringed and that others have a responsibility to support them. They find out what sources of help and advice exist – in school, locally and nationally.”


“Citizenship at key stages 1 and 2”, British Department for Children, Schools and Families, Standards Site –

12. Songs/music

Most kids love music and songs are a valuable teaching tool both in the classroom and at home. I was curious how many songs might be out there on the broad topic of ‘human rights’ and was pleasantly surprised to find a great number of them – including many which I already knew, but hadn’t necessarily thought about in this context. I’m sure there are more, but here are a few. You’ll want to check over lyrics to make sure that there’s not any references to things that you’re not comfortable talking to your kids about (yet). Again, I’m not specifically endorsing any of these, just listing off a few which fit the topic in some way.

  • “Let There Be Peace On Earth” by any number of artists – not sure who originally recorded it.
  • “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday
  • “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Kingston Trio
  • “Give Peace a Chance” or “Imagine” by John Lennon
  • “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil
  • “John Henry” – traditional
  • “We Shall Overcome” by Joan Baez
  • “Black and White” by Three Dog Night
  • “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “One” by U2
  • “Shelter” by Sarah McLachlan
  • “Black Day in July” by Gordon Lightfoot
  • “They Dance Alone” by Sting
  • “Tears Are Not Enough” by Bryan Adams, David Foster


Songs for Human Rights –

Yahoo! Answers – and

13. Art

This can be as simple as asking children to draw their own pictures dealing with topics talked about or explored in any of the other techniques listed (or not), or viewing and discussing artwork created with a human rights theme. There are a few coloring books and coloring pages created with a human rights theme that I came across as well – they are listed below.


Artists for Human Rights –

Peace at Home, Coloring our Human Rights –

Rosa Parks Coloring Page –

What it comes down to in the end, is that educating our kids on human rights issues is only one of our responsibilities as parents. What we teach and the ways that we choose to do so is up to each individual family and their own beliefs and experiences. Our kids are our future – the future of all of us, together.

General Resources:

Kid2Kid is a comprehensive educational project that connects children worldwide so that they can learn from and help one other –

Human Rights Resource Center, University of Minnesota –


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Human Rights –

United Nations CyberSchoolBus –