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World War One for Kids

Updated on August 23, 2014

Great Ways for Children to Learn about WW1

World War 1, also known as the Great War, happened 100 years ago. It changed history, not just for the leaders of the countries involved but for ordinary people. Kids are fascinated by tales of trench warfare and the first tanks and warplanes. As we know, when children are interested, they learn more effectively too. By teaching them about WW1, we teach them about history, about how countries are run, and about the world we live in.

Of course, war stories can be full of horror and sadness. Even though some children have a strong stomach for gruesome tales, others are sensitive. So the World War 1 books and movies for kids that have been collected here are all age appropriate.

Should We Remember Them?

Do You Think it's Important for Children to Learn about the First World War

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A Canadian soldier on sentry duty in a trench -- a 1918 painting
A Canadian soldier on sentry duty in a trench -- a 1918 painting | Source

Find Some Common Ground in Family History

100 years ago can seem an age beyond all imagination to kids. At their age, even parents and teachers can seem like ancient beings! The challenge is how to make the people of the Great War era feel real to youngsters, even though they wore different clothes and wrote in what can seem like much more formal language in their letters and poetry.

For Europeans in particular, you will probably be able to uncover records and even photos of ancestors who fought in World War I. We find it difficult to identify with the countless masses who fought and met their deaths in this terrible war, but having a John, Arthur or Bess in the family who was part of it all can make it much more personal.

This is even more the case if you can put a face to the name. These days there are many free or inexpensive family history resources online that can help.

If you don't have European ancestry dating from this era, or have lost track of that branch on your family tree, even finding someone who shares your surname on a war memorial can be a useful connection.

Use the power of the internet to make history more vivid. War poetry gives valuable insights into the reality of the ordinary soldier, but poems themselves aren't always an easy way for children to relate to an experience. There are many paintings and posters from the era that open up a window on that world. Photos of trench warfare and soldiers can also be found, but some can be disturbing to youngsters so use your judgement.

The British Soldier of WWI

Four officers and one private soldier
Four officers and one private soldier | Source

An Introduction to the First World War: For ages 7 years old and up.

World War 1 Facts

When kids need to know WW1 facts for school, or to satisfy a sudden interest in the topic, you need to go to a trusted children's publisher. Usborne created this guide to the Great War in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum. Nobody can accuse them of not doing their homework on the First World War!

Why it's worth buying:

The book is packed with images and all kinds of information about the war in the battlefield and life for those left behind in Britain too. Most women never went near a battlefield but still played their own role in WW1, and their stories are told here too.

Also learn about the battlegrounds in other parts of the world, not just the trenches in France. This book makes it clear that this truly was a World War.

Horrible Histories: The Frightful First World War

Kids love the Horrible Histories series, which keep the nasty bits of history in (but without giving them nightmares)!

Why it’s worth buying:

This series is written in a kid-friendly way that helps information sink in while being fun. An entertaining read, it’s packed with factual information not just on the quirky side of life in the trenches but also on who fought and why. It has loads of cartoons so is not too text heavy either.

Anything to look out for?

The mood of these books is light-hearted and funny, so children might be left not understanding how awful the Great War was. If they are old enough, combine it with other less jokey learning materials for a more balanced view.

What must it have been like to be a young man called to battle?

A young soldier (from an Irish regiment) in 1917 takes a moment to rest against a trench.
A young soldier (from an Irish regiment) in 1917 takes a moment to rest against a trench. | Source

For ages 8 to Teen: Join a Soldier in the Trenches

My Story: The Trenches -- A First World War Soldier, 1914-1918

Stories are a wonderful way to introduce children to the lives of those involved in World War One.

Why it’s worth buying:

The ‘My Story’ series of history books for kids lets them experience events such as WW1 through the eyes of fictional young people from history.In this book we follow the story of 16 year old Billy Stevens. Billy starts out as a telegraph operator and sees the tragedy of war for himself. By getting to know Billy, children feel involved in the events.

Anything to look out for?

Younger children may be upset by the death in this book, which is in diary form and creates a feeling of knowing the people in it.

For ages 8 to Teen: Discover How Girls and Women Served their Country

My Story: Road to War - a First World War Girl's Diary 1916 - 1917

Why it’s worth buying:
Stories of the soldiers in the trenches are something all children learn about, and rightly so.

But what of girls and women? In fact, women in WW1 had a number of important roles to play. This book gives kids a balanced look at the First World War.

Through the story of Daffy Rowntree we learn what life was like for an ambulance driver, a job that women increasingly took on during the Great War. It’s an engaging read, not just one for girls either.

War Horse: The Movie

War Horse: The Book and The Movie

The War Horse movie and award-winning play all began with Michael Morpurgo’s much-loved book.

Discover World War One through the eyes of young soldier Albert and his beloved horse Joey. The pair head to the trenches, a terrifying place of mud and gunfire.

Why it’s worth buying:

People who have both seen the movie and read the book usually prefer the book. It’s a wonderful emotional journey that brings to life a part of history that had been largely forgotten. Many of the enthusiastic reviews for this book were written by kids and teens.

Prefer watching to reading?

If you want to watch a family movie that you can enjoy together, or have a kid who isn’t a big reader, it’s worth getting your hands on the War Horse DVD instead. Directed by Steven Spielberg and with a score by John Williams, the movie has a cast of talented actors.

Very touching but does make changes to the plot of the book. Sensitive children might find it a bit much.

See the Amazing Puppetry of War Horse: The National Theatre Production

© 2014 Indigo Janson


Submit a Comment

  • indigoj profile image

    Indigo Janson 3 years ago from UK

    Thanks for your insightful comment, Jay. I agree that war should not be glorified.

  • Jay C OBrien profile image

    Jay C OBrien 3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

    You wrote, "By teaching them (children) about WW1, we teach them about history, about how countries are run, and about the world we live in."

    Yes, we should teach children about WWI, but what type of history should we teach. I am afraid if we glorify war and the people involved, children will be drawn to it. That is not the result we want.

    We should teach children to avoid violence, to walk away from a fight, to find constructive alternatives.

    I have seen many Hubs which glorify generals and it sickens me. Many Hubbers really enjoy war.

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 3 years ago

    I do hope so too... Though many Africans were enrolled in the German armies in WW2... :(

  • indigoj profile image

    Indigo Janson 3 years ago from UK

    Sad times indeed. You raise another interesting point about soldiers from Africa and other colonies who were brought over to fight and die fighting the battles of other countries. I hope during the 100 year anniversaries that will be happening for the next 4 years that some of the forgotten victims of war will be remembered.

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 3 years ago

    These times are still in some memories here - though with the massive immigration they tend to disappear since it is not "their" history. But I remember my grandparents telling stories from both wars - the ones they heard from their own parents, the one they experienced.

    Re WW1, one of my great grandfathers lived for 35 years in Dutch Indies, then went back to Belgium and settled in the countryside near the place he was born. He got married and... war began. It wasn't a nice welcome message for him.

    Another great grandfather was a fashion designer (hats for women) in Paris and lived near the Dutch border. With WW1 he lost his job, had to get in the army and... well, you know the rest.

    For a third great grandfather, he lived in Congo and I now nothing about his life during WW1 nor how Colons did live in this period. The last one, I've never heard of him, he was Dutch and my family never talk about that part of our ancestors.

    But from the things I could read, especially this year, both wars were awful.

    Although WW2 was the worse in terms of human lives, WW1 should never be forgotten because of the bad it did to everybody, especially with the use of chemical weapons and inhumanity of this war.

    As for those civilians in occupied countries, in addition to the lack of food and other crucial goods, those wars opened doors to so many crimes... Landru for example, who didn't join the armies but profited from the war to exploit and kill so many women.

  • indigoj profile image

    Indigo Janson 3 years ago from UK

    I've read a little about the experience of the Belgians during the WWI occupation by Germany, and it must have been a terrible time to have lived through with many deprivations alongside those atrocities that made their way into the history books. A good reminder that while many brave soldiers from countries like Belgium joined the battle for freedom, those at home in occupied countries also suffered (and possible fought in undercover movements).

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 3 years ago

    Ah, many many special celebrations occur these days in my area as Brits were guarantors of Belgium's neutrality and our safety. Then Germans didn't respect our neutrality and my great grand fathers found themselves fighting to set my country free. Along with Brits, French and other allies - although NATO didn't exist at this time. It was the last army war, the last one that did not involve civilians, the first war that brought modern weapons and technology... A war of which everybody on here should remember and honor those that died for the cause.