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Activities for Families: Black and Asian Involvement
In learning about the past it is always best to start in an environment that is familiar. All children have some understanding of the world of today, which they can use as a point of reference to compare against historical events. It is important for children to view the multi-cultural world in which they live as a continuation of society in the 1940s, not as completely detached from it.
The activities below will help children look at the contribution made to the war effort by black and Asian troops. These activities should supplement formal education by giving a sense of what life was like in the 1940s, rather than a detailed factual knowledge of it. They are meant to be fun - both for children and for the adults helping them - and not to appear to be part of a structured curriculum. You can do one or all of the activities, depending upon time.
Before you start, you could refresh your own memory about the Commonwealth. Research the background to the formation of the Commonwealth or read the following.
Information - The Commonwealth
The Commonwealth began with the independence of India in 1947. It included countries that had previously been part of the British Empire. Many of these countries had sent troops to fight in Europe during World War Two. There are now 54 member countries spread through Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, the Mediterranean, North America and the Pacific. Its 1.7 billion people comprise over a quarter of the world's population. Over half of them are young people aged 25 or under. Equality, justice and democracy for all the people in it are the core beliefs of all members of the Commonwealth. The second Monday in March every year is Commonwealth Day.
Discuss with your child the meaning of the word 'common' - concentrating on the idea of sharing, applying to a large group of people. Discuss what the word 'wealth' means - concentrating on the ideas of richness, greatness but not necessarily money. Then ask your child to put the two words together and think of a definition of Commonwealth. Discuss the themes of working together and sharing heritage. You could then introduce the historical background of the Commonwealth and ask what common heritage the countries shared.
Together with your child, read the extract Making a Difference - Experiences of a Black British Serviceman, which is available on Story extracts page.
Discuss all the jobs done by the Commonwealth servicemen, and why they were so vital to the war effort. Explain, for example, how picking up injured air crews was vital in order to maintain the morale, health and safety of all units. Then discuss why the general population of Britain at the time of World War Two may not have known about these activities.
Pick a selection of books with various covers, which should be new to the child. Let your child look at the covers of the books only, and ask them to guess what the text is like and how interesting the topic might be, based on the colours and design of the cover. Ask them to justify their views as you are discussing the books.
Once they have finished tell them what the books are actually about. Then discuss the idea that people make quick judgements, which are not based on any real fact or understanding of a topic. Discuss how stereotypical ideas can be formed by making rash judgements, such as 'all large books are boring'. Ask them to think of examples in life where this way of acting can cause upset. Link the previous discussion to the ideas of discrimination/prejudice, explaining how people treat certain people badly based on appearance without finding out all the facts.
Discuss with your child who they think are heroes and why. Get them to consider the qualities that heroes should have. Read them the following extracts.
These stories are available on the Sources page.
You can either read these to your child/children or get them to read the extracts, in order to help with literacy skills. However, focus on understanding meaning rather than on accuracy of reading. As you are reading discuss the qualities the authors admired, and why it was important for children in World War Two to meet these heroes in order to prevent future discrimination.
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