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Explaining Migration to Kids

As part of my son’s school curriculum this year, parents were invited to talk to the class about what they do. But how to break down the complexities of IOM’s work into a language that seven-year-olds would understand? 

I started by asking the class who had heard about the United Nations. About half of the pupils raised their hands. Then I put up an image of different UN agencies and asked if they could guess what they did. With much enthusiasm, they guessed all of them correctly. One boy was particularly excited to see the IOM logo on the screen – his father has an IOM t-shirt. 

We then talked about what migration is. Of the 14 students, only one had been born in Senegal, so there was a lot of excitement as they took turns telling each other where they had migrated from. 

Already through this simple story exchange, many familiar reasons for leaving one’s country came up: one student’s father migrated from the US to be with her mother in West Africa; another student migrated to Senegal when his mother got a job here.  

When I asked the class to identify some of the main reasons people migrate, the answers came quickly: work, study, to be with family and due to adverse events

Next, we discussed what you need to migrate to another country. The first part was easy for the group – they knew you needed a passport. The second part, about visas, required more discussion. After explaining what a visa is, one boy asked: What happens when your visa expires, or you run out of pages in your passport? This was a great question and lead us to a longer discussion. 

And finally, we talked about some of the things that IOM does, such as working with governments on migration policy, supporting migrants to move to new countries, helping migrants in transit, and building trust through community engagement

Discussing migration with the class reminded me how integral migration is in our world, and particularly for this group of second graders. Many aspects of their lives have been shaped by someone’s decision to migrate, and their understanding of the drivers behind migration decisions is informed by what they see, hear and experience. I wonder how many of them will end up working in fields that support migration and migrant rights in the future. 

Here are some tips for talking about migration to children: 

  • Take advantage of existing online resources that are specifically for children. I showed the CBC Kids News video “United Nations – Explained”, and then talked about some of the work different UN agencies do: food security, environment, health, children and, of course, migration.  
  • Use visuals instead of words. This helps children to understand concepts that they don’t necessarily know how to express, such as the broken house for people displaced by conflict or environmental factors. 
  • Avoid distractions. Handing things around for children to look at during the presentation (in my case, my passport showing visas inside) can easily lose their attention, best to do that after the presentation. 
  • Be prepared to answer questions: I went on holiday to France, was it migration? I had to move to a new house in the same city, was it migration? The questions children ask provide great opportunities to clear up misconceptions about migration. 
  • Give children time to share their stories. Everyone wanted to talk about their travels and how they ended up in Senegal. This was a great way for everyone to participate in the learning experience.  

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