Shani Miller and I went on a week long course at Yad Vashem to learn about teaching the Holocaust to children of different ages. One of Yad Vashem’s teaching philosophies is the idea of ‘Safely in, safely out’. This means that when we teach children about the Holocaust, we should start and finish the teaching in a ‘safe’ way that doesn’t overly shock or traumatise them.
On Yom Hashoa we tried to put this into practice. We started the day by looking at Jewish life in Eastern Europe before World War 2. Using video footage and pictures the children looked for aspects of Jewish life that they recognised. By the end of this session the children came to the conclusion that Jewish life at this time had many similarities to their lives today.
We then decided that rather than talking in general terms about the atrocities of the Holocaust, we would focus on individuals to make this a more personalised learning experience. We split the children (Mixed Year 5 and 6) into groups and gave them a person who suffered through the Holocaust to research. We provided them with information about each person’s life and their experiences during the Holocaust- particularly through the use of diaries. Each group created a poster to reflect that person’s life including their hopes and dreams . The children did a fantastic job of expressing the lives’ of these people in their posters.
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In the afternoon the children had an opportunity to present their posters and tell the other children about their person. We then asked the children to write down what they thought the dreams and aspirations of their person might have been in a bubble. We also asked the children to pick out one of these dreams and write it on a leaf. We then went outside and told the children about the fate of each person. We burned the bubbles to show that their dreams had turned to ashes.
However, we then took these ashes and put them in soil surrounding a tree. We took all the leaves and put them around the branches of the tree. This was to represent the idea that although the dreams of these people died, Jewish people still live on and their dreams survive through us.
The day was extremely successful and the children produced excellent work and we felt that they gained a lot from this experience.