But what do we tell the children? 9/11 thoughts from an eyewitness

September 9, 2011

We all have moments of time in which our lives took a dramatic turn. A wedding, a birth (or several), a death.

For me one of those moments was 9/11/2001

The impact that day had on my life and the chain of events it spawned is not illuminated in that post, but they are bright in my mind. I left New York City within 6 months of the attacks. My childhood home, my adult playground, NYC will forever be in my soul, my heart but I had to leave after that. I realized after that day that I was not my career, which I had been chasing for years, my passion, the music industry. I loved it, I adored it, but there was one thing more important and I just didn’t realize it until after that day.

Me. Happiness. Love. Life. and now I’ll add to that, My Family

So 6 months later I packed up my Brooklyn apartment and moved to Boston to be with my then boyfriend. now husband (See! It worked out!).

But right now this isn’t about me so that story will have to be for another time.

With my oldest child starting kindergarten this coming Monday, it occurred to me.. How are they teaching our children about 9/11?

My first thought was about how do I explain this tragic event without overflowing with emotion about my own fear and panic and scaring my child. Followed immediately by – He should know I was there and that ‘history’ happens all around us as life unfolds and we should be aware and grateful for every moment.

Well clearly THAT is too heavy for a kindergartner. *SIGH*

I reached out through my channels to ask the teachers that I was connected to this very question. I received a wide variety of answers and resources.

Several friends and teachers mentioned that there were workshops that have taken place in the last month (some this weekend) that are helping teachers develop their own programs for discussing 9/11 with middle and high school students. I know that there are programs for younger kids, but the teachers I spoke with were specifically teaching in this age bracket. From what I can tell (and I’d be happy if you all had better information than I do!), this education happens more in the later years (which makes sense based on maturity levels).

Then I became interested in materials that were being used and thought they would make great tools for parents to help talk to their own kids about this day.

A few pointed me to the US Department of Education site. Sadly I found this resource lacking in substance with the exception of one beaming light called Voices for Peace – Nonviolent Strategies for Change. WOW this program look like an amazing teaching opportunity, but that might be (definitely is) the Human Rights activist buried deep (OK, not so deep) inside me.

I’ll be brief about this because the lessons are wider rather than 9/11 incident specific but I feel it is an important resource and information to teach our children. From their site:

Voices for Peace was developed to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The site provides a collection of resources for exploring alternatives to violence for promoting political change.

They include a teachers guide as well as a section called Strategies for Change which includes information and examples about change through the Arts, Change Through Cross-Community Work, Change Through Education and more. If these are the types of values you want to teach your children, and I do, the resources here are fantastic for parents as well as teachers.

This might not specifically be about teaching 9/11 education, but I do think it is relevant to teaching children that there are other ways besides attacking innocent people to express anger.

Moving on.. yes.. 9/11

US DOE Site also leads you to other places where more materials can be found. It lead me to a site organized by the Smithsonian National Museum of American history called – September 11: Teaching Contemporary History. These online recorded conferences are free and available now. I also love that on their description page for the programs it outlines the audience this material is meant for, middle school age, High school, elementary and even mentioning parents specifically in one.

From their site:

On Wednesday, August 3 and Thursday, August 4, 2011, the National Museum of American History, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Pentagon Memorial Fund, and Flight 93 National Memorial, offered a FREE online conference, September 11: Teaching Contemporary History, for K-12 teachers. Designed to provide educators with resources and strategies for addressing the September 11 terrorist attacks, the conference included roundtable discussions with content experts and six workshop sessions. These sessions — all of which were recorded and are now available — highlight resources available at each organization, provide background information on September 11, and encourage conversations on how to document, preserve, and interpret recent history and current events.

Once again.. these resources are mostly meant for teachers, but parents will greatly benefit from these resources as well. This one might very well be my favorite of the bunch.

Finally, for more resources, check out teachinghistory.org’s page about 9/11 for even more teaching tools and information.

Do you have resources you are already using? Ideas for discussion with young children about tragedy? Let me know, I’d love to have them in my arsenal.

As for us? We are going to hold off for now. But I am making myself ready for these conversations, I will keep my ears open for the curiosity and questioning of my own children to lead the way in to this discussion, or will introduce my own story when they start learning about it in school.

Maybe I’m selfish or naive or both.. but I want my 5 year old to stay innocent about these things just a little bit longer.



  1. Thank you for this post, I tweeted it and sent it to my sister in law. I also live in Salem, well Peabody but we are on the line! So glad to find your blog through Boston Parent Bloggers

  2. If you are on the Peabody line, you are not far from us! Meet you at Treadwell’s? LOL and thanks for the kind words!

  3. I was just wondering about this exact issue! It’s so hard to imagine what to say. Great post, Liz!

  4. Thank you for doing this!!! My son is 7, he put up the Statue of Liberty on his dream board wanting us to visit NYC. So I think that’s what we will do, visit the ground zero and talk about it… Though I emailed his teacher, but no respond yet. I’m curious to see what she would suggest. There should be childrens book!

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