The European Union, or in short, the EU, might be a complicated topic to discuss with your children, but with the elections to the European Parliament coming up soon, there really is no better time to share with your children what you know. Here are a few ways to teach kids about the European Union, with age-appropriate information and lesson plans.
What is the EU?
In short, the European Union – unlike the United States – is not a country (even though citizens of member states of the EU also hold European citizenship). It’s also not synonymous with Europe even if it’s often used that way. Not all countries that are in Europe (the continent) are member states – and some countries that are EU member states … aren’t even in Europe.
Most simply put, after the horrors of WWII, several countries decided that they wanted no more wars, hatred or bigotry and decided to cooperate more closely together, forming first the European Coal and Steel Community, and then the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1993, the European Union was finally created with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. From 2005 onwards, the EU has expanded to include some countries from Eastern Europe and now includes 28 member states.
How do you eat that?
In Poland, where I am from, when we want to know how things are done, we ask “how do I eat that?” In the case of the EU, how do you govern an entity that includes around 510 Million people, 28 member states, 24 official languages? The answer: it’s not easy but it’s possible. It’s important to teach kids about the European Union and its most important institutions.
It’s almost like any other parliament… only bigger and with more languages. And citizens in the EU can vote directly. As my husband and I are both from different EU countries and we live in a third EU country. We could have chosen to vote for members from our own countries (various parties with similar philosophies form supranational parties in the European Parliament) or vote for the country we currently live in – and that’s exactly what we did. There are others, such as the European Commission, Council of Europe as well as such organizations like Europol or Eurojust.
Teach Kids about EU Symbols
When you teach kids about the European Union, take a look at the money! The EU has an official currency – the Euro, but it’s not used in all member states (for example, Poland, my own country doesn’t have the Euro). The banknotes show Europe’s most famous landmarks (bridges, temples, etc.) while the coins show national symbols on one side, so you can always see which country this one came from. For example, Dutch coins often show the former queen Beatrix, the German one has the Brandenburg Gate on it etc. Smaller and bigger denominations also have different symbols.
The official hymn is Ode to Joy, and the flag is deep blue with 25 stars on it.
Learn about EU Personalities
The founding fathers of the EU are Konrad Adenauer (the first chancellor of West Germany after WWII). Willi Brandt (most known for his gesture of reconciliation to victims of Nazi Germany in Warsaw). But former French president Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill – the UK prime minister who imagined a “United States of Europe.”
Modern EU personalities include Polish politician Donald Tusk – who is currently participating in Brexit negotiations, Jean-Claude Junker (President of European Commission) and many others. And if you think that women are missing from EU politics, consider, among others, Cecilia Malmstrom, Eu trade commissioner, and Federica Mogherini, the Eu foreign affairs chief.
Understand EU Initiatives and exchanges
Many people all over Europe wonder what the EU has ever done for them. They feel everything has become way too complicated and feel threatened by the free flow of migrants from one EU country to another in search of better employment. But these people also benefit immensely from cheaper phone tariffs and flights while they’re on holidays in Spain, France or Italy.
The EU has also spent a large number of funds to protect the environment our health (consider for example, a EU wide smoking ban), build a better infrastructure, as well as supporting national and regional cultures and languages.
Most importantly – for children, the European Union has schools for children of their employees all over the Union. The way these schools work is that it’s like many schools – in many languages – are under one roof. Children attend classes in their section languages, have mother tongue support and also learn other languages, for example English if it’s not spoken at home. Our children are learning three of their four languages in school, while I teach them Polish at home.
There are also exchanges between the schools and later at university. This gives children the chance to meet peers from other countries and cultures and spend a few weeks with another family, in another country.
Additional Resources to Teach Kids about the European Union
Download the Europe in a Nutshell information sheet and lesson plan.
- Europe in a Nutshell Information Sheet
- Europe in a Nutshell Lesson Plan
- Lesson Plan: What Can Third Graders Learn about Cooperation from the European Union?
- Lesson Plan for 6th graders: The Value of a Nation’s Currency Goes Beyond its Price
Download European Union-created guides to EU topics.
- A Short Guide to the Euro
- Bringing Europe to Your Classroom Lesson Plan Guide
- Countries of the EU Passport
- Europe Teacher’s Guide
BBC: “What is the EU?”
I’m originally from Poland and live with my German husband in the Netherlands. Moving across Europe wasn’t very hard for us as we can live and work anywhere we want and don’t need a visa. While racism, xenophobia, and gender inequality are still big issues, I love it here and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.