Holocaust Education in the K-4 Classroom

Grade Level: K through 4


According to Piaget (1969), young children should be expected to have difficulty with time-related concepts. It is widely believed though, that concepts about time and a sense of the passage of time are critical to the young child's understanding of history. Closely related are the concepts of continuity and change, which are especially important in the study of history. These concepts do have a legitimate place in the early childhood classroom. Children in primary grades can develop conceptual understanding and learning processes about time that are important for future acquisition of history concepts.

Recent research on elementary students' historical knowledge and understanding points toward more appropriate ways of teaching the subject to children. This research identifies several consistent patterns in the way students think about history, as well as the areas they know the most (and the least) about (SE, January 1997). Teachers should use the results of this research to construct cognitively sound history instruction--instruction that builds on what students already know and addresses the gaps and misunderstandings in their knowledge. Students learn a great deal about history outside of school. This knowledge comes from experiences outside of school with historic buildings and sites, artifacts, stories told by relatives, and images presented in the media. Sharing objects, such as family heirlooms or an object from each year of the child's life, can be important. By beginning with student's experiences they have meaning and significance.

For history learning to occur, young children need ample opportunities to develop concepts related to time, the passage of time, and continuity and change. Classrooms that are rich in involving children in thinking, speaking, listening, and writing about these important concepts help to create the sense of time needed. These experiences provide excellent opportunities for involving children in a variety of integrated learning experiences and constructing knowledge about complex and abstract concepts.

Just what is history? What does it mean to study and learn it? In the broadest sense, history is everything that has happened. History is the story of humankind and the traces people left as a result of their existence. Teachers must always provide the experiences, referents, and analogies which allow students to connect their present learning with previous learning and experience. This bridge building is important to all learning, but of crucial importance in teaching history to the young child.


It is strongly recommended that the term Holocaust is not introduced prior to fifth grade. Between fifth and eighth grades, it is recommended that the students study about the events and history that lead up to the final solution. Leave the camps and final solution for high school. There is so much to explore and learn prior to teaching about attrocities. Anne Frank is best utilized and understood in eighth grade.

Learning about the Holocaust is often a powerful experience for young people. They need opportunities to reflect upon what they are learning and to express their feelings. They also need opportunities to clarify misconceptions and to seek additional information. The following suggestions can be used according to their appropriateness for the various age groups.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.

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