Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Windows and Mirrors: A Program about Diversity for Grades 4-5

Activity 3: When Children Work

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Review Leader Resources 1-6, Child Labor Photographs. Print images to post and/or to pass around the room. Keep at hand the information from the leader resources about what the children are doing in the individual photographs.
  • Obtain more images from books or online. On The History Place website, find a captioned gallery of child labor documentary images by Lewis Hine.
  • If the group is very large, plan to form smaller groups of at least five children. Arrange to have enough adults to facilitate each small group. Make multiple copies of each photo image.

Description of Activity

Tell the children:

In an ideal world, everyone would feel valued, successful and self-respecting about the work they do. However, too often workplaces are not safe. People are not treated with dignity. People are not paid enough money for what they do.

A long time ago, the laws in our country allowed children to skip school and work instead. Plenty of children did this to afford clothes and food to survive. A hundred years ago, almost two million children in the United States had jobs. They worked in factories, on farms, in shops, and at jobs like shining people's shoes, washing dishes, and mending clothes.

This is against the law in our country today, but there are many other places in the world where children work instead of going to school. We are going to look at some pictures of children at jobs.

Pass the photos around the room or invite children to come look at the photos you have posted. Allow some conversation. Then, looking at photos together, one at a time, ask:

  • What are the children making or doing in the photo?
  • What kind of industry do you think they work in?
  • Besides the fact that you might expect to see them in school instead of working, what might be some challenges they find in this particular workplace? How hard would the work be? How safe? How comfortable physically?
  • In what ways might this child experience "dignity of work"? In what ways not?

Allow the group(s) at least five minutes to explore all the photographs in detail. After children have had a chance to speculate about the photos, share the information you have about individual images.

Then say:

About a hundred years ago, some children in the U.S. took action against the long hours they worked, the difficult and unsafe conditions of their jobs, and the low pay. Some of them wanted to go to school. They joined adults in a movement to improve dignity of work for all workers in the U.S. They marched and protested for better wages and safer, healthier places to work and jobs to do.

Lead a discussion using these questions:

  • What do you think workers should do if they do not find dignity of work?
  • What can an individual worker do?
  • What can a group of workers do?
  • What can people other than the workers themselves do to help?

Affirm all reasonable (non-violent, ethical, justice-motivated) suggestions. To conclude, say in your own words:

Dignity of work should be universal, but it is not. As Unitarian Universalists, we have a responsibility to honor our own dignity of work and give others the respect and appreciation their work deserves, too.