How do you teach history to your children if you yourself have always found it painfully boring? For many, the topic of “history” conjures up memories of dry textbooks and long-winded documentaries narrated by monotone voices.
Other parents love the subject of history but feel overwhelmed at the thought of trying to actually teach it. If we look at history through the right lens though, the task becomes easier.
History is a story
History is nothing more than the story of how something or someone came to be. If I find a lost child, I want the history of how they arrived to that location so I can help them find their parents. Learning that story provides me with the understanding I need to make an informed decision.
Our kids don’t need an endless list of historical facts, although that will be important too at some point. But before we throw trivia at them, the best way to make sure they will someday retain it is to first nurture a love of history in their earliest years. This foundation will eventually lead to a child’s natural desire to learn the story of how something or someone came to be.
Below are six ways to foster a love of history in your children.
Visit the elderly. Often.
Expose your children to the elderly from a young age. Seniors are walking history books. They also function at a similarly slow pace as kids, so the old and young often make perfect companions. They both love the simple wonders of life, such as filling a bird feeder with seeds, learning new songs or enjoying the texture of clay.
While your young child won’t have the attention span to sit and listen to their grandpa’s life story, these early interactions can form a bond that lays the foundation for that story-telling to happen when the child is older.
Create an object lesson using historical symbols found all around us
One idea for this is to use the money in your pockets to teach your child about the presidents. You can start by having your child clean a bowl of pennies with an old toothbrush and a bowl of water and vinegar.
After the coins are germ-free, show them how to stack, count, and collect coins.
You can also help your child find their own “birthday” penny by sorting through a pile of them until they find one with their birth year. This makes for a fun keepsake.
Finally, end this activity by reading picture books about the real leaders behind those famous faces. Have kids try to match faces from the books to the coins or bills you have out.
Use holidays for more than just a party
In the 19th Century, July 4th was often called the Nation’s “Political Sabbath”. It was not just a day of picnics, parades and fireworks like we know today. Those activities were just the icing on the cake. Most gatherings in that era included a public reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic hymns, toasts given to the nation’s founders, and public prayers. It’s clear these gatherings were used not just to celebrate but to educate as well.
Some fun ways to bring the past into the present during holidays is to provide dress-up boxes of historical costumes for children to use and wear, show You Tube video presentations of historical scenes from movies and take kids to public re-enactments, plays, antique car shows and living history events.
Consider their Interests.
Use your child’s hobbies and interests as a springboard to the past. If your child loves baseball, for example, read picture books about the history of that sport. Next to a child’s trophies, post a photo of Babe Ruth or another famous early “great” or bring history to life with an old-fashioned baseball game using rules from the good ‘ole days.
Make a toy treasure chest
Have a collection of era-themed dolls and historical toys and relics that are kept in a treasure box so children get a visual that says these toys are “extra” special and only to be played with at special times with an adult present. During these play times, initiate conversations about “pre-TV” and “pre-phone” days and what children did to stay busy.
Make it personal
These activities are geared more for the upper-elementary-school ages.
The lives of people from the past can seem irrelevant to young people. Genealogy can provide the stepping stone that takes us from our own life to famous events in history. When you want to teach your child about a historical event, show them a photo of family members who lived through it, such as an ancestor who lived through the Great Depression and wrote about it.
Teach your kids the thrill of being a history detective by showing them how to find family members on sites like Ancestry.com or make a scavenger hunt with family history questions for them to find the answers to online. Give them clues for how to find the answers themselves.
Another “history detective” activity is to have them do a grave rubbing at a historical cemetery. Take a big, flat crayon and a big sheet of paper and after they do the rubbing, head to a nearby historical library to research and learn about the real life behind the name on the tombstone.
Kids are naturally curious. If we put them into environments that draw out that curiosity and bring them face to face with history in the process, we’ll raise citizens who see the beauty in all things old because they understand that old age simply means that something – or someone – has a story to tell.