Tips for Exploring Universal Human Rights Month in December

Group of kindergarten kids friends arm around sitting togetherCommunity in your classroom begins with you. Your students come from different cultures, family structures, home lives and experiences, but it is the work you do to build community that will instill a sense of safety and belonging for each child in your learning space.

In December, we celebrate Universal Human Rights Month, which honors the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), an international document adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration states basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled. Many of these rights are ones we, as Americans, may take for granted, including freedom from discrimination, the right to equality, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. But some have raised questions among my students, including freedom from torture and degrading treatment and the right to recognition as a person before the law.

These are tough conversations, but they are also important conversations. And spending time with the content over the course of a month can allow for richer conversations and deeper understandings among your students.

The Universal Declaration contains 30 articles. Read on for suggestions on approaching this content with your students and building meaningful understandings and connections between your students and the Universal Declaration.

Get to Know the Universal Declaration

The Universal Declaration was written nearly 70 years ago, but it’s not a document that’s often taught in schools. Luckily, a number of helpful resources are available to support you as you engage your students in the historic document.

  • Child-friendly Version: A printable child-friendly version is available from Compasito, along with a glossary and other helpful resources.
  • The UDHR in Pictures: Along with the child-friendly document, you can use illustrations and a video to help you explain the meaning behind the articles in the Declaration:
  • Activities and Lesson Plans: Compasito offers a free Manual on Human Rights Education for Children, which includes more than 40 activities complete with easy-to-follow instructions and tips, appropriate for the elementary classroom and above. The manual also includes a Themes section, which offers a summary of each theme (such as citizenship, discrimination and peace) as it relates to the Declaration, as well as questions to begin meaningful discussions.

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Form a Human Rights #BookADay Challenge

Try devoting a month of read alouds to books about human rights, experiences and cultures. The #BookADay challenge was started by Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, in 2009 as a challenge to read and share one book each day throughout summer break. Since then, educators worldwide have taken up the challenge, many continuing to share all year long. There has even been an insurgence of #ClassroomBookADay challenges popping up (thanks to teacher Jillian Heise), where teachers read aloud a book each day to their classes and record what they’ve read throughout the year on eye-catching bulletin board displays. This challenge can be adapted for Human Rights Month.

Here are some of my favorite book lists on the topic in order to inspire your read alouds and expand your classroom library collections.

 Adapt Instruction

There’s no one “right” way to tackle this challenging subject. Some teachers will choose to tie in Human Rights themes to their instruction throughout the month and beyond. Others may prefer focus activities to a set time each day or week. Others still may opt to approach the Universal Declaration as a whole just once and then revisit the document’s language throughout the month or year when opportunities present themselves.

How you approach Universal Human Rights Month is up to you, and what your involvement looks like this year will no doubt be informed by your students and what they bring to your class in terms of discussions, ideation and participation. Regardless, opening up these topics for discussion among your class can help students become more knowledgeable about the world and its people, gain a greater sense of empathy for those in different circumstances than their own, and learn what steps they can take to help protect the rights of all humans on this planet.

So bring your passion and your heart front and center in the classroom this December! And be sure to let us know what challenges you and your students set for yourselves in the comments below or by connecting with us on Twitter at @MatthewWinner and @demco.

Author

Matthew Winner

Matthew Winner

Library Media Specialist and Host of The Children’s Book Podcast
Matthew Winner is an elementary school librarian in Howard County, Maryland. He is the host of The Children's Book Podcast (formerly All The Wonders), a weekly podcast featuring insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf. He is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean, about a girl, her arctic fox companion and her magic bag. In 2013, Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Visit Matthew online at www.matthewcwinner.com/blog or on Twitter at @MatthewWinner.