I have come to realize that there are concepts in history that students just can not fathom at their age, even though they are topics that are required of teachers to impart. The best that we can do is relate these subjects to things that are close to our students' understanding and build on them from year to year. They are concepts that, we ourselves can not truly fathom, having not been a part of them and experienced them for ourselves.
For example, my students are currently learning about segregation in the United States and, while it was not so long ago, it is a completely foreign concept to them. In most ways, I think that it is an amazing blessing that my students couldn't imagine hating/being afraid of another person just because of their skin color. It's a testament to how far we've come in such a short time. And yet, those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them, and because of this students must gain a deep respect for the past which our present was born out of.
Something that immediately excited me about reading our first selection about Ruby Bridges is that the students had a million questions. Unfortunately, the first whopper of a question was something to the effect of, "Why didn't the white people like the black people?" All of a sudden a brainstorm hit me.
One of my students is deathly afraid of spiders. So I asked her, "Has a spider actually ever hurt you?" She admitted they had not. I asked how many students hated spiders in my class and most of them raised their hands. Then I asked why. "One of my students explained that they look creepy." I further asked them what exactly they did upon encountering a spider and they unanimously agreed that they kill them. After this I said simply, "So you hate something that has never hurt you just because it looks different and that scares you. In fact, instead of spending time with it and realizing it is harmless, you would rather hurt it OR KILL it than accept it's existence in your life."
As we talked about how people are afraid of things that they don't understand, the students started to connect the dots.