| September 8, 2017

What to do after Charlottesville: Ideas for Listening and Being Curious with Kids

Although it has been several weeks since the painful, heartbreaking events of Charlottesville, I continue to be haunted with how to move forward. I wonder how to talk about all the pain, tragedy and history that surround this event. These conversations can be uncomfortable. When I think about my kids in particular, I wonder how I can prepare them for what they will face everyday and for what they will encounter in the future.

How can I support my children without lecturing and venting about the tragedies of our history? How can I empower my children to do right in the face of hate and hurt? My instincts tell me that the first step is to teach them how to listen to others. My heart also tells me that it is important to be curious about others and their stories. Asking questions such as: Who is this person? How do they feel? What is their story? are essential to learning more about others. How do I teach them to suspend judgement while giving others the space to express themselves? I want my children to know how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and have real empathy and understanding for another person’s struggle. As a white woman, I recognize the privilege that I hold, as well as the privilege that my children hold and will hold as they grow older. I don’t know about you, but when I go to start this conversation with my children, I often feel afraid I am going to say the wrong thing or not have a deep enough understanding of what is happening.

White supremacy, racism and privilege are issues that my children and I must face in our lifetime. Having the skills and ability to reflect on how we want to show up can contribute to a shift. A shift to more equity, better listening, compassion, empathy and overall kindness towards one another.

So, what is the next step? Well, I was wondering just this the other night. So, after the kids were in bed and my husband was watching another episode of Westworld, I snuck off on my computer and decided to do my own research in hopes of finding an answer. As I looked, I finally stumbled across something that caught my eye: a social justice booklist created by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). This sparked excitement in me- what if I use picture books or chapter books from this booklist with my children to dive deeper into perspective taking? What if I use these books to teach about listening and being curious about other people? Yes, I thought! My late night quest was successful!

Here is my plan, for the next several weeks I will highlight a book from the Social Justice Booklist. I will create a type of “lesson plan” with potential questions or places to pause and reflect with your child. The values of listening, curiosity, empathy and perspective taking will be the guiding forces. My hope is that these plans will inspire you to read some of these books with your children too. Together we can support our children and our country to be a more loving, inclusive world. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I hope this is a step towards the light.

The first book I chose to spotlight is The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. This is the story of a bull who is different from the other bulls- he likes flowers instead of fighting and sitting under a tree alone instead of being with his friends. Ferdinand teaches us the power of self-awareness and self-acceptance.


  • Pick questions that resonate with you- there may only be one or two. I find if I ask too many questions my kids get a little frustrated, so pick a few that you think will be the most meaningful to you and your child.

  • Write your questions on a sticky note so that you don’t forget your questions. It is also helpful to leave it on the page you want to ask it.

  • For the questions that ask you and your child to think about how the characters feel or what they are thinking, you could make some horns out of aluminum foil and have your child make a face of the feeling of the character or act out how the character feels/what they are thinking.


Below are some questions that you might ask your child at various parts of the book to get your conversation going:

Before reading:

  • What do you notice about the cover?

  • What do you know about bulls?

  • Do bulls usually smell flowers?

  • Do you think Ferdinand will be like other bulls? Why? Why not?

Page 4:

  • How is Ferdinand like the other bulls?

  • How is he different?

Page 6:

  • How does Ferdinand’s mom feel about him being different? (Be sure to use the pictures and words to help you and your child understand how she is feeling!)

  • Do you think she is worried that he is different? Why or why not?

Page 7:

  • How do you think Ferdinand feels about being different?

  • Do you know anyone different from you?

  • How do you feel when someone is different from you?

  • Do you think it is okay to be different? Why? Why not?

Page 28:

  • How do you think Ferdinand feels about being in the ring?

  • How do you know?

  • What do you think he is thinking?

  • Why do you think that Ferdinand did not fight?

End of book:

  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?

  • What does Munro Leaf want us to learn from Ferdinand?

  • How can we use what we learned from this book in our own lives?

  • If Ferdinand was here with us right now, what questions would you ask him to learn more about him?

    You could role play this with one of you being Ferdinand and the other asking questions. This is a good time to discuss good listening.  You might mention looking someone in the eyes, turning your body towards the speaker, making sure your brain is on, and thinking about what the person is saying. A good tip to help your child look someone in the eye is to remind them to notice the color of the speakers eyes!

  • Do you know anyone that is different like Ferdinand? What questions would you ask them to learn more about them?

    Remind your child that asking someone questions about themselves and listening to the answers is a way to be curious. Being curious helps us learn and understand other people that are different from ourselves.

I would love to hear how this goes with your own child or if you asked other questions that got the conversation flowing! Be the light!

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