Today’s youth has a broad global perspective, and as you may have seen in the news, young people are committed now more than ever to advancing human rights. This December 10th, as we celebrate International Human Rights Day, take some time to educate students on their human rights and how they can protect their freedoms.

What is International Human Rights Day?

International Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10th, as it commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to the UHCHR (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner), the formal inception wasn’t until two years later in 1950 when the assembly asked all states to adopt December 10th as Human Rights Day.

The Declaration of Human Rights Day sets out a broad range of human rights that all individuals, regardless of their race, nationality, sex, religion, or any other status, are entitled to. For example, everyone is entitled to rights such as the right to life and liberty, the right to work, the right to an education, as well as freedoms such as freedom from slavery, freedom of expression, and so on.

Why is it Important to Celebrate International Human Rights Day with Students?

Educating our youth about human rights is important because many of us take them for granted every single day. Having knowledge of these rights and these laws that protect us all will give students the skills they need to defend them or apply them in their own daily lives. It will also help them understand how they should be treated as well as how they should treat others. Educating students about human rights empowers them with learning outside of the classroom and onto the playgrounds, their homes, and even in their community. It can help create a healthier school culture that can lead to reduced bullying and other negative or unwanted behaviors.

Ways to Celebrate International Human Rights Day in Class

One of the best ways to educate students on human rights is to start by showing them the history. Have students watch this short YouTube video to get some background about human rights before you dig deeper into the topic. Once they understand the basics and the history, you can move on to classroom activities.

Human Rights as a Human Being

To continue the conversation about human rights, show students the abbreviated version of the Declaration of Human Rights. Explain that after World War ll, all of the countries agreed on a document that would make the world more peaceful if everyone respected every human being.

Then ask students, “What does it mean to be human?” Write down student answers as they brainstorm. Then ask, “What is a right when we speak of a human right?” Record these different meanings as well. Next, write down this definition:

Human rights belong to all people regardless of their sex, race, color, language, national origin, age, class, religion, or political beliefs. They are universal rights, simply because we exist as human beings.

Ask students to write a brief paragraph explaining one way they could make their community more peaceful by showing respect to others.

Mapping Human Rights

Each community and neighborhood has a variety of different landmarks that can each be associated with a different human right. For example, a church or other place of worship would be associated with the freedom of religion. This activity challenges students to work together in small groups to create a map of their community as well as identify what human right is associated with each landmark. Younger students can be given a map as well as a list of human rights, while older students can draw their own map and research which human right correlates with each landmark.

Create a Human Rights Tree

Fruit trees only produce one specific fruit, but a magical (pretend) human rights tree can produce a variety of different fruits. For this activity, have students use craft supplies to create a one-of-a-kind piece of fruit that has a specific human right written on it. Students can choose from the United Nations copy of the Declaration of Human Rights. Create a wall display of a tree with a lot of branches that students can attach their magical human rights fruit onto.

Human Rights Group Project

Students will work in teams or small groups to illustrate a specific human right that they choose from the abbreviated Universal Declaration of Human Rights list. For this presentation, students can create a skit, commercial, online presentation, iMovie, song, dance, or any other way they feel will best illustrate their chosen topic. Once projects are completed, classmates must try and guess which human right each group is presenting.

Take-Action through the Youth for Human Rights Organization

The actions of young people and other like-minded individuals can create awareness and even build movements in their community. The website Youth for Human Rights helps young people become one voice for human rights awareness by helping them take action. Students can get involved by petitioning their government and making human rights education part of the curriculum or get involved in creative competitions like art, essay, and poetry contests.

Start a Family Service Project

Human Rights Day is the perfect opportunity to challenge students to start a family service project. This can be anything from putting together care packages for those in need to dropping off extra food from home to the local food bank. If volunteering isn’t something that students and their families are able to do, then children can simply make cards for those in need.

Online and Remote Learning Activities for International Human Rights Day

Educating our youth about human rights is essential. Here are a few remote and online learning activities to help you understand human rights and protect the fundamental freedoms.

E-Games for Change

Students can play games on human rights, citizenship, and anti-discrimination on the website E-games. Students can learn about noteworthy individuals who have fought for human, as well as respect, responsibility, and engagement about human rights in the game “Fighters for Rights.” In this game, students learn exciting information about the lifeworks of some famous individuals who have fought for human rights in various countries by matching the biography with the correct character and building up a brief description of each person.

Students can also learn how fundamental access to quality education is a worldwide issue by playing the online game “Education for All.” It consists of two parts: a memory game and reporting on the issues. The student’s task is to identify a statement card and a picture card and match them. The text on the card is related to general problems of human rights and education.

Watch Cartoons for Children’s Rights

Help children learn that they have rights, and help them recognize and understand why there is a need for these rights by showing them cartoons from UNICEF. UNICEF aims to inform people around the world about children’s rights. Students can watch these important cartoons, which are all non-verbal, to help get the right message across to everyone, regardless of language.

After watching the cartoons, have students think-pair-share to respond to what they thought about the cartoons on children’s rights.

Amnesty International YouTube channel

Amnesty International is an activist organization with more than three million supporters who campaign for universal human rights from more than 150 countries. They have a YouTube channel with over 500 videos that students can watch to get educated on various human rights issues. Encourage students to watch a few videos from the list and choose one video that piques their interest.

Challenge students to create a Flipgrid video for their classmates that sums up the human rights video they watched. Then as an extension activity, students can choose their human rights topic or story to share and create another short Flipgrid video of their own.

Human Rights GIFs

Voices of Youth, a chapter of UNICEF that raises awareness about children’s rights, created a series of GIFs to help mark World Children’s Day. To help students remotely celebrate Human Rights Day, have them go online to view these GIFs; then challenge them to create their own GIF for International Human Rights Day using a free GIF maker. Students’ GIFs can be anything that falls under the umbrella of human rights, but some ideas are mental health, ending discrimination and racism, education for all, saving the earth, etc.

Make a Human Rights Calendar

An easy and fun activity students can do remotely is to create a Human Rights Day calendar. To get started, have students review the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) document, an international document that protects the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Next, have students use the website Print with My Pic to create a Human Rights Day calendar that includes pictures corresponding with each article in the UDHR.

For example, day one of the calendar, students would place a picture of something corresponding to article one of the UDHR, which is “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Students would continue filling in the spaces until the calendar was filled up and they had a corresponding picture for all 30 articles in the UDHR.

An education in human rights will help students appreciate the rights they have. Knowing about their rights and responsibilities, as well as understanding them, will help them gain a better understanding of the world around them. Children of all ages may feel or see something unjust at some point in their lives, and having a human rights education can help build upon that understanding of injustice and explore the human rights that are around us.

*Updated December 2021