Thursday, February 10, 2011

Teaching Our Kids the Value of History

I have written about teaching kids the value of history in the following articles and posts:
Don't Know (or Care) Much About History
Making the Past Seem Real to Children Part I
Making the Past Seem Real to Children Part II
Passing Stories Through Generations
...but my colleague and co-presenter for A Life in Context workshop recently wrote to me that she thought it would be useful for me to write about how I teach my daughter the value of history for our Life in Context Facebook page. The question of how to get younger generations engaged with the past has come up a couple of times during our workshops. This has encouraged me to write this blog post that discusses some  specific things I do everyday to instill my child's appreciation for a subject that I see as vital to a well-rounded education.

MANTRA - I repeat the mantra "Everything has a history!" No matter what interests us (or our youngsters) there is a history behind it. That history is almost always available to us in some format to discover and share. Dancing, art, soccer, building blocks...there is a story behind it all. Repeat: "That has a really interesting history!"

SEEKING INFORMATION TOGETHER - We constantly seek information related to our current interests. I am a former public librarian, but I do not limit us to that venue or a book format. We go to the library. We go to bookstores - old, new, local, online. We browse the Internet. We look for videos on You tube (a big favorite.) It's all good.

ANTIQUING - I also like to frequent antique shops hunting for information and "old" things. My daughter didn't enjoy this at first, but I kept relating things we found to things she likes. For example, my father-in-law often talks about New York City, where he lived for most of his adult life. To my daughter, it sounds like some kind of magical place. We stumbled across postcards of New York in an antique shop. This piqued her interest. She seemed to like looking at pictures, so I sought out older images for her. I found a stereoscope and bought it for us. It's now a fun game to find old images for our stereoscope together. She has branched out and started finding things on her own. Old paper dolls are a favorite for her. We have even started going to yard sales together and she suggests that we wake up early to do it! Frequenting garage sales isn't always about history, but I make sure she knows when we find something 'historical."

MY CHILDHOOD - History does not mean ancient history. History is also your history. My daughter likes to hear stories about the way things were when I was a kid. (It was that time before we used computers in our everyday lives and when phones were attached to walls. Whoa!) History is also grandma and grandpa's childhoods. I like to point out how things have changed and try to relate stories about a specific area of history. For example, one favorite story is about when grandma was not allowed into her school and got sent home in the snow for wearing pants instead of a skirt. She had pants in her schoolbag, but they would not let her in the building to change. Things were not like that for me, but I have related stories. My daughter's favorite is about the time my sister and I were told that our team would be disqualified from an invitational track meet if we tried to run in a steeplechase event because it was reserved for boys. There was no equivalent for girls.... I make sure to tell her that all of this is HISTORY.

VISITING MUSEUMS - At first, museum visiting was boring for my daughter and frustrating for me. We went once in awhile. We spent a lot of time in the kids' areas where my daughter could draw pictures and play games. We spent very little time looking at exhibits, but we kept going. She learned to like the gift shop. I kept going. She liked running outside in a big field at the living history museum. I kept going. She discovered a printing press and equated it with her love for books. She learned about Mary Cassatt at school. We went to the museum to look for a Cassatt. She found a video at the MFA that told her how to build a book shelf. She loved it and spent last weekend with my husband building a little picture cube out of wood. I think we've now instilled how museums have lot to offer. She can wander and seek out what interests her. She appreciates what interests me, but knows that it does not have to be HER main interest.

JINGLES - I have found that jingles have been a great way to get my daughter interested in the past. Out of the blue, my husband and I sometimes start quoting old commercials and remembering the jingles associated with them. (I think this new habit of recalling jingles might be related to a mid-life crisis, but that's okay. Our daughter doesn't mind and we'll get through it.)We'll then run to YouTube to find that old commercial. My daughter compares the products to the ones she knows now. It gets her thinking about the past, how things change and how they stay the same.

FACTS AND FIGURES - My genius moment was when I made a timeline for my daughter for American Girl and compared it to a timeline for our family. American Girl is a fabulous way to teach girls about history. They seem to make great pains to be historically accurate. Their stories and characters are engaging. As my daughter read their books and learned about the colonial era, Victorian etc. I added girls to the line in their proper chronological spots. I then added my parents right after American Girl "Molly" and myself right after American Girl "Julie." For three years now, I have referred back to that timeline to explain history to my daughter. How the world has changed, how American life has changed, and how the role of women has changed. Facts and figures are based around fiction stories my daughter adores. I try to hammer home the difference between truth and fiction and discuss the way her books make imaginative stories more wonderful with a history backdrop. (An online friend and I have been lamenting that they need a similarly engaging series for boys.)

REINFORCEMENT - Learning at school, going to a museum, talking about my childhood, looking at old pictures, etc.,etc. It all reinforces everything else we do that surrounds the "study" of history. The more exposure a child has to ideas of history the better. The more often we point to something in the present and relate it to the past, the more a child understand and learns to love history. Here's another example: Hello Kitty just celebrated her 35th anniversary and my daughter got a special celebration doll from a birthday party recently. I turned it into a short history lesson. "Well, I was five then and Hello Kitty wasn't popular with me yet, but I liked Holly Hobby...let's go read about her and let's see what else was  happening in the world then...let's go ask grandma what toys she played with as a kid...I wonder what they played with one hundred years earlier in American Girl Kirsten's time..."

Make it fun. Be imaginative. They really will get it and appreciate the past.

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