Vimy Ridge, Dieppe, D-Day. These are three of Canada’s most well known battles. Together with the Holocaust, these battles often dominate discussions of the world wars in high school History and Social Studies classrooms. As well, teachers often teach students to rate battle successes and failures based on casualty numbers. Since 2012, when I had the privilege to work at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, one of my philosophies when speaking about military conflicts has been that human stories matter more than statistics. I adopted this philosophy after realizing that my tour groups were more engaged in the stories of the men on the three memorial plaques than they were in my interpretation of the battlefield. I also recognized that visitors were highly engaged when I spoke of life on the homefront and the contributions made by the civilians of Newfoundland to the war effort. Nevertheless, it was not until the tour group visited the Beaumont-Hamel memorial park on July 11, 2016 that I considered how the battle at Beaumont-Hamel had affected the civilians of nearby towns such as Mailley-Maillet and Albert
One of the tour leaders was Dr Cindy Brown whose research focus is on civilians. Thanks to this, the teachers' tour challenged the participants to consider the wellbeing of civilians during war time and the issues surrounding the occupation, destruction, and protection of civilian spaces. We wrestled with many topics including the short- and long-term effects of war on civilians. We discussed such things as the Iron Harvest and the reconstruction of towns and cities following bombings.
I am grateful that we discussed civilians living in war-torn Europe. Tour participants will now be able to guide their students towards a deeper understanding of the totality of war. Teaching children about conflict is difficult. There are so many different dimensions of conflict to teach, not all of which are pertinent to early elementary students. Dr Alan Sears, another tour leader who specializes in improving social studies education, explained that it is important for teachers to teach their students about the violence of war. Nevertheless, I would argue that this is not appropriate in the early elementary school context. Children between the ages of four and seven are still learning how to behave ethically and morally, and they have yet to understand character traits such as kindness, responsibility, and citizenship. Five minute discussions of violent events counter the teaching of good citizenship and character traits.
After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that focusing kindergarten and grade 1 discussions of war around civilians is more important than concentrating discussions around battles. The focus of the Alberta kindergarten and grade 1 social studies curricula is on social skills, the uniqueness of individuals, community, and citizenship, and the discussion of civilians ties nicely into the last two topics. Furthermore, it is important that students learn to share with and demonstrate compassion towards their classmates and communities. Topics surrounding the effects of war on civilian life lend themselves to the discussion of sharing with and caring for others. Furthermore, many five and six year olds are already surrounded by violent television shows and video games. Many of my students' parents shared that their children often mimic the aggression portrayed in this media. As their teacher, it is vital that I help my students understand that war is not glorious and the participation in violent games is not appropriate. Discussions about the negative impact of war on fathers, mothers, and children will help students grasp the importance of promoting good citizenship and peace, as they love and rely on their parents. Another reason to focus kindergarten and grade 1 discussions around the civilian side of war is to set students up to think critically about continuity and change. Through learning about the roles of civilian men, women, and children between 1914-1918, and between 1939-1940, young students will begin to understand the differences between the past and present. As well, many of the issues surrounding civilians in the First and Second World Wars continued into the future. Teachers might even have a few students who have lived through conflict and can relate to the hardships endured by civilians.
I would like to thank Dr Brown for discussing the impact of the First and Second World Wars on the civilians who lived in war-torn Europe. It was the first time that many tour participants had considered this aspect of the war. I look forward to implementing the discussion of civilians in my early elementary classes.
Vanessa Johnson, Elementary School teacher
 Students between the ages of four and seven have short attention spans. Therefore, early elementary teachers have only five or so minutes to teach students a concept.