100 years on from the end of World War 1 it is increasingly difficult for our children to relate to what day to day life was like in 1914-18, let alone life in the trenches. The further removed we become from this time, the easier it is to consider events as something out of a book, film or even a computer game. However, it is so important to continue to pass on the knowledge of the past so we don’t forget the lessons it taught us. So how do we teach WW1 to our children?
From life at home to soldiers uniforms, to the letters written home, there are so many fabulous resources that can teach our children about WW1. The best way to learn about any history is to look at artefacts from the time or to read eyewitnesses accounts. History doesn’t have to just be reading a text book. These activities to learn about World War 1 are engaging, interesting and hands on.
I have compiled a list of how to teach our children about World War 1 below. Due to the nature of the topic, most of the activities are suited for older children from 10+. Some of the museums with large exhibits are suitable for 4+. To involve younger children the learning you could do some Poppy arts, crafts and baking activities which you can find in my Autumn Activities for Children board on Pinterest. You may wish to read or watch the materials before you decide if they are suitable for your child.
World War 1 Books and Poetry
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
Private Peaceful is my favourite text to educate children about life in WW1 both at home and at war. The story centres on the events of family life in the English countryside which is ripped apart by the dawn of World War 1 and the subsequent impact the Great War has has on the individual family members. Not surprisingly the material is very emotional.
I would definitely encourage that Private Peaceful be read alongside factual research on World War 1 (see the online resources below) to help your child understand the key events of the war that are discussed in the story as well as those of a wider nature.
I would recommend discussing what is happening in the book as your child reads the story. It is most likely they will come across events, and language they have not encountered and some children will need some help to understand the true meaning of some aspects of the story. The ending is very sad and your child may need to talk about this with an adult to process it. Although some younger children read this book, I would recommend it as a text for children aged 11+.
World War 1 Poetry
A lot of poetry was written in the trenches by soldiers. The two poems below are very famous, but there are many other poems if your child would like to read more. These World War 1 poems are full of imagery and emotion. Some of the language is old fashioned and may need to be discussed to help your child understand the poetry.
These poems are first hand accounts of life in the trenches. John McRae was a Canadian soldier and surgeon who tended to the troops in Belgium. Wilfred Owen was a British soldier who enlisted in 1915. After injury in 1917 he was treated in Edinburgh before returning to the frontline. He was killed on 4th November 1918 just a week before the end of the First World War.
World War 1 Musicals
War Horse the musical is a stage adaptation of the book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo. At the outbreak of World War 1 Joey, Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the Calvary and shipped to France. Joey finds himself at war and fighting on both sides. Then Albert who misses his horse, enlists underage and embarks on a dangerous mission to bring Joey home.
If your child is a theatre lover then this performance may capture their imagination and be a great hook to begin to learn more about World War 1 or as a lovely treat once they have finished learning about the topic.
War Horse is currently touring the UK. If it isn’t on at a venue near you there is a film adaptation or your child could read the book.
World War 1 TV shows
The second series of Downton Abbey is set during World War 1 in the English countryside and is a great way to teach children about how different life was in the early 20th Century. Lord of the Manors, servants, women who are not supposed to work, war hospitals being set up in villages for wounded soldiers and so on are great ways for children to visualise what life was like in WW1.
I think most 14 year olds would be fine watching series two of Downtown Abbey, however, I would recommend you watch the episodes beforehand so you can judge this for your child. Some aspects of the storyline may not fit what you wish your child to see. If you think your child is too young to watch whole episodes or that the storyline isn’t suitable for their age then you could still show them suitable clips to help them visualise what life was like alongside other discussions.
World War 1 Museums
Imperial War Museum
This fine museum is a great place to learn about both World Wars. Here you will find a great collection of artefacts and interactive displays from World War 1 which tell stories about life on the battlefields. Until 24th February 2019, there is also a commemorative and immersive WW1 exhibition at IWM North called ‘Lest We Forget’.
The Imperial War Museum also has a collection of online resources which your child can access from home to learn about WW1. If you search for First World War on the link then you will find photographs, weapons, photos of records, uniforms and more. There are resources which are suitable for children of all ages to look at if you check them in advance.
Below is a list with links to other museums around the UK with World War 1 exhibits. (Due to the changing nature of museums please check if the exhibits are on before you travel.) Some of these museums specialise in large artefacts such as tanks and aircraft. These offer a great option for younger children to learn about WW1.
- The Museum of Liverpool
- Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum, Caernarfon
- The Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham
- The Tank Museum, Bovington
- RAF Museum, London
- The Somme Museum, Newtownards, Northern Ireland
World War 1 Online Resources
If you have never encountered it before, BBC Bitesize is a great way for kids to learn online. They have a good selection of World War 1 resources including videos. The links state which key stage the resource is suitable for to help you choose the correct learning tools for your child.
National Geographic Kids
This site has a good simple resource of key facts and information about World War 1.
World War 1 is a key event in our history and one that is important not to forget. If the war had never taken place life would be very different across the world. World War 2 would probably not have occurred, nor would the Cold War. Would America be the superpower nation it now is? Would conflict have occurred in the Middle East without the dividing impact at the end of World War 2? Would society still have a great divide between the rich and poor? Would money have been spent on technology quicker making us a nation far superior and advanced? If the assassination of the Archduke had missed how different would life be now? This would be a great question to pose to your child after they have learnt about World War 1.
I hope that you are able to find a great range of resources to use to teach your child about World War 1 from this selection. Please let me know which ones your child enjoyed using in the comments below.
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