How to talk about current affairs with our kids  

Responding to the world around us

By Chelsea Yeo 

Natural disasters, war and accidents occur every day where lives are overturned and even lost. When we hear of such tragedies in the news, they are often sensationalised. For a young child, this could be distressing and overwhelming to take in. The children in my class would tell me they are scared and ask if such disasters would happen to us. 

How can we help our children make sense of what is happening in the world? How can we help children in reframing their thoughts and extending their learning? Here are 3 steps to make current affairs relevant and relatable to children. 

1. Select the right news 

Good news or bad news? When I heard about the Turkey Syria earthquake early last year, I pondered upon which articles I should share, and how to deliver it to the children at Little Seeds Preschool (TSA – Tampines). Even though the incident was tragic, it was a learning opportunity to understand different perspectives. 

I selected a news article about how Singaporeans supported earthquake victims by donating necessities. During our discussions, some children shared that the earthquake did not concern them as they did not know anyone in Turkey. Some also said that they could not be of help as they were just children.  

I then asked: “If you were one of the victims, how would you feel? What would you need and what can make you feel better?”

Instead of looking from the outside, the children were encouraged to look from the angles of those affected. This helped them develop a sense of empathy and understanding for others.  

From the news article, the children saw the outpouring of support from our local community towards strangers from a foreign land. They witnessed people take action to help others amidst chaos. When they saw a child packing necessities with his mother to help the victims, it sparked ideas among the children to come up with ways that they could contribute.  

One of the children even asked, to everyone’s amusement, “Aunty Chelsea, what about their pets? We need to give them dogs to make them happy again!” 

2. Pick the right media channels

Plenty of resources are available when it comes to obtaining news – from newspaper articles to online videos, and even radio podcasts. How should we pick and share them?  

I like to harness the power of multimedia by using various channels to share current affairs in class. First-hand interviews and videos are one of the best ways to share news with children. Of course, as adults, we are responsible to screen and vet through the content that is shared to ensure that it is child-appropriate.  

An interview in a different language or dialect can also be a potential for surprises. I once shared an interview of an elderly karang guni man that was conducted in Hokkien. To my surprise, some children said that they have heard their grandparents speak the dialect. Even though they did not understand Hokkien, the children were focused on closely observing the facial and body language of the interviewee. Language is not a barrier when we can understand tone and expression.  

I also use newspaper cut-outs which is tactile and easily obtained. Younger children may just look at photos, but exposure builds interest. The perks of having printed news is that we can display them in the classroom which spark conversations in the children. It allows the children to share their thoughts and feelings with their teachers and friends.  

To build a safe environment for children to speak what is on their mind, we can encourage these conversations by asking open questions and being willing to listen. 

3. Apply learning in and outside the classroom

Once you’ve shared the news with the children and discussed topics of interest, what’s next? I believe that children learn through many ways, and learning does not just stop at the end of the lesson.  

As an extension to the current affairs session on earthquakes, the children were interested to find out why some buildings are more stable than others. From a current affairs lesson, it overflowed into a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) exploration session.  

We made a DIY seismic shake table with items found in the classroom. The children were also engaged in a mini team challenge where each group attempted to create the most stable structure.  

As the children were very interested in the topic, we decided to leave the materials at our discovery learning centre. From time to time, the children would bring up what was discussed and asked about the situation of the earthquake.  

A DIY Shake Table made with items from the classroom 

Not every piece of news can be extended to an activity. However, we can still use current affairs to expand the children’s world view, spark healthy discussions and help them find their place in the world.   

When there is good news, we celebrate and share the joy. When there is bad news, we empathise and care.

I would like to end off with a quote from American Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky: “There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.” 

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