How did you, or will you, discuss the 10th Anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in your classroom?

I frequent a bargain board forum where often times things go off task and things are discussed that are not "bargain" related. Yesterday there was a post that has me thinking both as a parent and a teacher. Here is the post:

"I just read the teachers blog and my 8 year old has an assignment for the weekend. This was on her blog: My homeroom class assignment to research and write two paragraphs on what 9-11 is, why is it so important, and what does it mean to you. This assignment is due Monday 9-12-2011. (social studies)

I just walked into the room and asked XXXX if she knew what 911 was. Then she proceeded to tell me about the assignment and I asked her if she knew what she was going to write about, she said she didn't know what it was and was going to google it.


This really got me thinking about the discussion of 9/11 in the classroom. As I read the responses to the post I was shocked that so many felt this assignment was totally inappropriate and that 9/11 was a topic that should not be discussed in the 3rd grade. Many thought it wasn't an appropriate topic until high school age. Here's an example of a follow-up post:

"My problem with this is That *I* want to be the one to decide when the time is right to tell my kids about tragic events. As parents, we know our kids best. We know what is tmi, and what will be fine for them to handle. I guess I think this is more of a high school topic."

Of course there were others who posted and didn't see a problem with it. They argued that to an 8-9 year old child 9/11 is an historical event not that different than Pearl Harbor. Obviously this wouldn't apply to a child whose family was directly affected, but to the general population of 8-9 year olds, considering they weren't even born yet, it is history.

I have to admit I was a bit baffled by the feeling of inappropriateness. It honestly would not even cross my mind that 9/11 would be a taboo topic in the 3rd grade. In fact at school Friday was my 3rd grade daughters day to bring in a current event topic and give a small presentation. She took in a story about the ceremony happening in NYC on Sunday, 9/11, to unveil the memorial. She talked about how it is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on NYC, DC, & PA. How this memorial will open on Sunday, to family only, in a special ceremony that President Obama and Former President Bush will attend. Poetry will be read along with the nearly 3,000 names of the people that died that day. It never once occurred to me that it wouldn't be an appropriate topic for her to present. When I was helping her prepare and practice her presentation we had a long discussion about what happened that day. We talked about what terrorism is, why these guys felt the need to do what they did, how the passengers of Flight 93 probably saved hundreds of lives by fighting back, and how so many of the first responders on the ground lost their lives going into the building to save others. We even talked a bit about the science behind the buildings collapsing. She asked questions and I answered them in appropriate, truthful way. I feel this was totally appropriate discussion to have with my 9 year old.

My kid's school district also had a patriotic day on Friday where everyone was to wear red, white, & blue. The elementary school collected loose change for the local food shelter. The middle school collected canned food for the food pantry. It was a day to come together as Americans and help those neighbors in need as we did 10 years ago. Again I feel this was an appropriate response to the anniversary.

I just don't understand the purpose of keeping the 9/11 event a secret from children? Do you have to tell them gory details and show them graphic footage? No! But it is a part of our history as a country just as Pearl Harbor is. Why would we not discuss it with them? It is all over TV and they are hearing things. Isn't it better to discuss it with them and explain it on your terms as parents and in an age appropriate way in the classroom?

Now as a teacher I think I would have gone about giving out the assignment in a different way. I wouldn't have just given it to the kids and then posted on my blog. I would have sent the assignment home along with a note asking parents to talk over 9/11 with their child in terms that they are comfortable with and then have the children write something about what they learned from the discussion that they had together. I wouldn't just send a 3rd grader off alone to google it! I see the poster's point in that.

How did you as teachers handle the discussion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in your classroom? As parents how do you feel about it being  discussed in your children's classrooms?

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ETA: After posting this I headed over to The Lesson Cloud Blog (see link on the left) and saw a post from Sunny Days in Second Grade. I love what she did! Check it out:

Visit Sunny Days


  1. I have commented in a lot of places that I don't really feel comfortable talking about it in K (I teach K). However I do patriotic activities on Sept. 11 or after (will do Sept. 12 this year). I purposely wait until after because I want to have a discussion if any of my students have seen it on the television. Some years we discuss, some years we do not. I do not believe in sheltering kids or calling the subject taboo. I do believe in taking the child's lead.

    My own child starting asking questions in 2nd grade. I answered them. I think 2nd/3rd grade is the perfect age to start discussing in the classroom led by the teacher.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing the linky party. It is a sensitive topic, but there are definitely ways to approach it in primary classrooms. Unless they live in home without TV and internet and the children do not leave the home this weekend, they are going to see or hear some reference to 9/11. I don't think completely ignoring it at school is the right approach. Like I said in my post, one of my kids thought Patriot Day was to celebrate the the New England Patriots starting football season...that kind of misconception has to be clarified.
    Sunny Days In Second Grade

  3. I followed over from your post at The Lesson Cloud...I was JUST struggling with this topic today. Even as a 7th grade teacher, I am unsure how to approach 9-11. A few years ago it was easier, my 7th graders were able to remember the event and knew the, as we get further and further from the event, the students know less and less and it is our job to teach.

    Even with the 12/13 year old age-group, I struggle with the fact that the emotional/sensitive topics of 9-11 borderline on graphic when discussed in videos and documentaries. I'm not so sure I want to be the one to expose them to this, since it appears many of their parents haven't yet.

    Here's what I am teaching: