Teaching About Trayvon Martin with Young Children

As national attention continues to focus on the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder and schools hold Hoodie Days for Trayvon Martin, teachers have asked for advice for talking about Trayvon in their early childhood classrooms.

Many other schools have remained silent about Trayvon Martin’s murder. This could be because of concern about how to address a story with young children that is so full of hate and injustice. But it is important for children to have a place where they can process what they are hearing in a nurturing and honest setting, share their fears and questions, and be comforted through collective action.

Here are some suggestions from early childhood educators Bill Sparks and Louise Derman-Sparks (co-author of Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves) about how to talk with young children about Trayvon Martin and actions to take. We welcome your feedback and stories.

1. Start by asking children what they have heard about Trayvon Martin. Correct any misinformation. Listen for their feelings.

2. Explain: If they don’t know or have a lot of misinformation about what happened, you could use a description like this one:

Trayvon Martin was an African-American teenager who was walking home from the store. A man named Zimmerman believed that Trayvon looked “suspicious” because he has a lot of stereotypes (wrong ideas) about young Black males. He thought Trayvon did not belong in that neighborhood, even though some of Trayvon’s family lived there. The man decided to take the law into his own hands — even though the police told him not to — and he shot Trayvon. This was a terrible thing to do. It is a tragedy.

3. Explain: Many people — parents, teachers, ministers, professional athletes, authors, actors, congresspeople, students, and the president — are working together to make sure that people with wrong ideas about skin color do not hurt people of color. One way is to make sure people learn fair ideas about skin color. Another way is by people meeting, marching, and talking to people who make laws.

4. Explain: Millions of people all over the U.S. are sad about and thinking about Trayvon Martin and other people who were hurt or killed unfairly. Hoodie Day is our school’s way to say how we feel.

5. Ask: How does what happened to Trayvon make you feel? (It’s good for the children to voice their fears.)

6. Reassure children that their parents and teachers will keep them safe.

7. Engage the children in brainstorming ideas about what they can do in their classroom and school to make sure it is fair and safe for all children. They can also write (dictate) a letter or make cards for Trayvon Martin’s family.

Thanks to Jhonna Turner, Allyson Criner Brown, and Amy Rothschild for ideas and feedback for this post.

Related Resources

For teachers of older students: Teaching #BlackLivesMatter

Essay from Teaching Tolerance: Will We Learn from Trayvon Martin’s Death?

News for students and teachers: Stories from Democracy Now!