Cuban Missile Crisis For Kids

The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the events of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR.  Try a role playing activity to bring to life the Cuban Missile Crisis for kids.  First you have to introduce the Cold War.  What was it about and who was involved?

Cuban Missile Crisis for Kids

Background

Basically the Cold War was a war of ideas between the United States with a freedom loving capitalist society and the USSR with a totalitarian centrally planned communist society.  Both sides wanted to prove that their ideology was best.  It was a struggle between control by the few and freedom for the many.  In the end freedom won the Cold War, but the outcome was not so sure for many years.  Both sides grew into powerful states poised to destroy one another if one false step was made.  Even the Olympic Games became an arena for a show of superiority.

The Crisis

Next you need to set the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis.  John F. Kennedy had been sworn in as President in January of 1961, two years after the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power.  By the time JFK became president it was apparent that Castro of Cuba, like so many other poor nations, was going to embrace communism.  The CIA and members of the presidential cabinet of advisers decided that communism could not be allowed in the western hemisphere.  They planned a covert operation involving members of the mob, military special forces, and CIA agents to go into Cuba by force and assassinate Castro.  They told the brand new president, JFK, very little about the operation but advised that he go ahead with it.  He okayed the Bay of Pigs operation and it went down in history as one of the worst fiascoes of all time.  So by the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in September of 1962, Kennedy was understandably cautious.

This is a map showing the range of the nuclear missiles that were being implanted in Cuba by the Soviets. Would your town have been a possible target? Image prepared by CIA, public domain.

The CIA had received information that Russia was setting up nuclear missiles in Cuba.  These were long range missiles that could hit a target nearly anywhere in the United States.  Their placement would give the USSR the upper hand and allow them to demand anything they wished.  They had to be dealt with before they were operational.

Script

Print out this Cuban Missile Crisis Role Play, giving each kid a different part to read.

Cuban_missile_crisis

You need people to play these parts:

  • President
  • CIA
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Expert on Latin America
  • Adviser
  • Military Adviser

This is President Kennedy meeting with some military personnel who had information about what was happening in Cuba, including some of the reconnaissance pilots. The president gathered as much information as possible before he made his decisions. Photo by CIA, public domain.

If you don’t have enough kids for all the parts, read more than one each and have stuffed animals sit in as advisers.  I recommend this activity for fifth graders and up, but I did it with my younger kids joining in too and they did well.

Some caveats about the script:  These are not the actual words used by the President and his advisors, but it is their actual sentiments.  Neither did the President decide so quickly that the blockade was the way to go.  The issue was hotly debated for days before any decision was made.  Also there were fourteen members of the council besides the president who debated the issue.  The script is purposely short for the attention spans of children, but descriptive as to the reasoning behind the decisions.  Do spend time in some discussion with your kids; the conclusions the President’s council came to are not necessarily correct.  Especially interesting was that the coming elections were important in deciding which action to take.  Discuss the pros and cons of having elections influence lawmakers decisions.

Additional Layers

  • Learn more about capitalism and communism and decide for yourself which is best.
  • Find Cuba on a globe and see how close it is to Florida.  Learn more about the country of Cuba.
  • Learn about nuclear weapons.  How do they work?  When have they been used in war and by whom, for what reasons?
  • The Space Race was also part of the Cold War.  Learn more about the space program.
  • Make a list of the qualities you think a good president should have. What qualities should a leader in any organization have?
  • It was a CIA spy in a bar in Havanna who first overheard the news that the Soviets were planning on putting missiles into Cuba.  Write a story about a spy adventure.
  • Pay attention to President Kennedy’s leadership methods as shown in this script.  The president doesn’t offer any of his own ideas or even talk very much.  What were the steps he went through when he made his decision?  Who did he listen to?  Once he made his decision how did he present it?  Is this a good way to be a leader or a bad way?

More From Layers of Learning

Learn more about the Cold War.

Learn more about the Cold War.

How to build and launch a PVC Rocket.

How to build and launch a PVC Rocket.

Make these printable space pioneer trading cards when learning about space exploration.

Make Space Pioneer trading cards. The Space Race was a big part of the Cold War.

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2 Responses to Cuban Missile Crisis For Kids

  1. Julie says:

    THANK YOU. I love history (just not this era!) This will help us work through the Cold War.

    • I love history as well. People are fascinating. For me the hard thing about any history after WWII is that there are so few resources for teaching kids. And yet, if you leave out the last 50 years it’s pretty tough to put today in context. And the Cold War is fairly important to how we got where we are today.

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