My students have been inquiring about endangered animals and our responsibility as humans to care for living things. Though I try hard to shelter the students from the potential hazardous information they may see by giving them specific websites or apps to utilize–life happens.
After a safari in Kenya, one student returned eager to learn as much as he could about rhinos and why they are endangered. Through his searching, he found this:
…and needless to say it became the talk of our grade 1 classroom!
What a *perfect* (enter eye roll here) time to discuss the challenges we all face in this visual world. Kids today are saturated with images (some appropriate, some not) and they’re generally expected to interpret their understanding of these images on their own. The above image is questionable for grade 1 kids, so I talked to three students about their impressions.
What do you see?
- I saw a dead rhino.
- I see a lot of blood.
- Is the rhino dead?
Why do you think that image is there?
- I think people killed it and took it’s horn.
- I think they are trying to tell us about the people who steal the horns and tusks from the elephants. I think it’s “porching” (they meant to say poaching).
- I think the picture is there to tell people that it’s bad to kill animals for their stuff.
What do you think it’s message is?
- I think they are trying to tell me that if we keep killing animals for their horns, they will be dead. And endangered.
- I think the author wants me to know that stealing animals horns means they die and then there will be not many left.
- I think they are saying that if you take the horns then you hurt and bleed the rhino.
How does it make you feel?
- I’m sad because the rhino didn’t want to die.
- I am really mad because people shouldn’t do mean things to animals.
- I am sad and mad because the baddies are not being caring.
Life happens and kids will see, hear, and experience things we don’t expect them to… no matter how many parental blocks we put up. But if we’re engaged in our children’s lives, I mean… really engaged–talking, checking in, listening to them (not hovering!) we can teach in to those moments when things go astray.
So how did I deal with that terrible photo of the dead rhino? I used it as a teachable moment. I talked with the group that “found” it and I listened to them tell me what they saw and how it made them feel. I suggested that it’s probably not something we wanted to share with everyone else and then we discussed why I might want to shield others from that image. After that, we discussed why people would do what they did to the rhino and the challenges that these special animals face. Our group talked about ways we can share what we learned without showing the bloody photograph and then, together, brainstormed solutions about what can be done to protect rhinos.
At the end of it all, we adults need to make adjustments to our behavior and have to deal with these things. I want my parent community to know this too! I want parents of all children to know that our kids are living in a world that we couldn’t imagine. Their ability to see, hear, and do things that we wish they didn’t have access to, is real. So rather than look for the next way to hide, block, or avoid content– help your child understand. Use every opportunity to teach the lessons that you believe in. It’s the only way they will be able to decipher the world around them.