MY CHILD'S ACADEMIC SUCCESS
Helping Your Child Learn History
With activities for children in preschool through grade 5
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History as Time — Activities

On This Page

    School Days
    Put Time in a Bottle
    Quill Pens & Berry Ink
    Time Marches On
    The Past Anew
    Weave a Web
    Time to Celebrate
    It's in the Cards


The essential elements of history as time are chronology, empathy and context.

Chronology
Although our children need the opportunity to study historical events in depth to get an understanding of them, they also need to know the time sequence of those events as well as the names of the people and places associated with them. When we are able to locate events in time, we are better able to learn the relationships among them. What came first? What was cause, and what was effect? Without a sense of chronological order, events seem like a big jumble, and we can't understand what happened in the past. It's important that children be able to identify causes of events such as economic depressions and to understand the effects of those events. These are skills that are crucial to critical thinking and to being productive and informed citizens.

Empathy
Empathy is the ability to imagine ourselves in the place of other people and times. To accurately imagine ourselves in the place of people who lived long ago, we must have an idea of what it was like "to be there." This requires learning about both the world in which a person lived and that person's reactions to the world. For example, in studying the westward expansion across our country, children need to be aware of how very difficult travel was in that time. They may ask why people didn't just take airplanes to avoid the dangers they faced on the wagon trails. When parents explain that people then couldn't fly because airplanes hadn't yet been invented, children may ask why not. They need an understanding of how technology develops and of the technology that was available at the time of a historical event. Just knowing the physical surroundings of a person at a point in time, however, doesn't allow children to develop empathy. Stories and documents that tell us about people's feelings and reactions to events in their lives allow us to recognize the human feelings we share with people across space and time. Helping children find and use original source documents from the past, such as diaries, journals and speeches, gives them a way to learn to see events through the eyes of people who were there.

Context
Context is related to empathy. Context means "weave together," and refers to the set of circumstances in several areas that surround an event. To understand any historical period or event children should know how to weave together politics (how a society was governed), sociology (what groups of people formed the society), economics (how people worked and what they produced), place (where the events happened) and religion, literature, the arts and philosophy (what people valued and believed at the time). When children try to understand the American Civil Rights movement, for example, they will uncover a complex set of events. And they will find that these events draw their meaning from their context.

History means having a grand old time with new stories. So, as you and your child do the following activities, help him to think about the relationship between history and time.



School Days
Kindergarten-Grade 3

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
What has remained the same about school from the past to the present? What has changed? If you could be the head of a school 20 years from now, what would you keep and what would you change based on your current school? How would you go about making these changes?

A good way to introduce children to history is to let them know how school—a main focus of their lives—has changed over the years.

What You Need

Map of the United States
Crayons or colored pencils

What to Do

  • Talk with your child about what school was like when you were a child. Include how schools looked physically; the equipment teachers used; what subjects you studied; what choices you faced; and your favorite teachers and activities. If possible, show family photographs of yourself or other family members participating in school activities—playing a sport, cheerleading, giving a speech, winning an award, talking with classmates, working in a science lab and so forth. Have your child notice such things as clothing and hair styles, the way the school building or classroom looked, the equipment being used. Have her compare the school's characteristics with that of her own.

  • Join your child in exploring what school was like 50 or 100 years ago. Ask your librarian for help in looking this up, talk to older relatives and neighbors and use the Internet. Again, include photographs when possible.

    • With your older child talk about some of the history of work in America and explain how it affects schooling. Tell her, for example, that many years ago, when America was a largely agricultural society, children were needed at home to help plant and harvest crops. Because of this, children often didn't go to school every day, or at all in the summer. In addition, the school year was more or less matched to the time of year that was less busy on farms—the late fall and winter months.
    • Next explain that when America was switching from an agricultural to a manufacturing society, some children worked long days in factories, doing hard, dangerous jobs. Eventually, laws were passed to keep factories from using children to do dangerous work. Along with these child labor laws, other laws were passed that officially required children to go to school until a certain age.

  • Ask your child to imagine what school will be like in the future. Your younger child may want to use blocks to build a future schoolhouse, and your older child may want to draw or write about theirs.

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Put Time in a Bottle
Kindergarten-Grade 3

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
What did the collection of items tell you about the period in which we live? Did the items tend to be of a certain type?

Collecting things from their lifetimes and putting them in a time capsule is a history lesson that children will never forget.

What You Need

Magazines or newspapers
Sealable container
Camera
Tape or other sealant

What to Do

  • Talk with your child about time capsules. Explain that when buildings such as schools, courthouses and churches are built, people often include a time capsule—a special container into which they place items that can tell about their lives and times to future generations who open the container.

    • Tell your child that you want to help him make his own personal time capsule. Talk with him about what he might want to put in it. Ask, for example, what things he might include to give people of the distant future a good idea of what he was like and what the time he lives in was like.
    • Have him use a simple camera to take pictures of a few important objects in his life—a favorite CD, poster or pair of shoes; a baseball bat, football jersey or basketball; his computer, music player or cell phone. Have him locate and add magazine pictures of games and toys; cars, airplanes and other types of transportation; different kinds of sporting events; and clothes. Next have him locate examples of slang, ads for movies and TV shows, and selections from important speeches, poetry and stories or novels. Also help him find stories about current heroes and local, national and world events; and accounts of current issues and crises. Finally have him write a letter to someone in the future that describes life today.
    • Call the family together and have your child do a "show and tell" of the items he's collected.
    • Once everyone is satisfied with the collection, help your child label the items with his name and with any other information that will help those who find them understand how they are significant to the history of our time.
    • Have him place the items in a container, seal the container and find a place to store it.
    • Have him write in his history log a short description of what he has done and record the date. Encourage him to draw a map that shows the location of the time capsule and to use the correct directional words to label it.

  • Try to find news stories (your local newspaper, library or local historical society or museum can often direct you to such stories) about the opening of such a capsule in your area and what was in it. If possible, take your child to look at the contents of an opened time capsule—perhaps at your local historical society or museum. Also try to locate buildings in your area that contain unopened time capsules. Take your child to see the buildings and point out the cornerstones—the places in which most capsules are placed. Talk with him about the information on the cornerstone.

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Quill Pens & Berry Ink
Grades 1-3

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
Why do we write? When do people in our family use writing? What written things do you see every day? What are their different purposes? What effect do different writing tools have on writing, for example quill pens, ballpoint pens, typewriters and computers?

History depends on writing, and writing has changed over time from scratches on clay to digitalized codes and letters.

What You Need

For quill pen:
   feather, scissors, a paper clip
For berry ink:

   1/2 cup of ripe berries (blueberries, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, or raspberries work well), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, food strainer, bowl, wooden spoon, small jar with tight-fitting lid
Paper
Paper towels

What to Do

  • Place the berries in the strainer and hold it over the bowl. Have your child use the wooden spoon to crush the berries against the strainer so that the juice drips into the bowl. When all the juice is out of the berries, throw the pulp away. Tell your child to add the salt and vinegar to the berry juice and stir it well. If the ink is too thick, have him add a teaspoon or two of water (not too much or he'll lose the color). Help him to pour the juice into a small jar and close it with a tight-fitting lid. (Note: Make only as much ink as you will use at one time, because it will dry up quickly.)

  • Have your child watch as you form the pen point by cutting the fat end of the feather on an angle, curving the cut slightly. (Note: A good pair of scissors is safer than a knife. But play it safe, and always do the cutting yourself.) Clean out the inside of the quill so that the ink will flow to the point. Use the end of a paper clip if needed. You may want to cut a center slit in the point; however, if you press too hard on the pen when you write, it may split.

  • Give the quill pen to your child and tell him to dip just the tip in the ink. Keep a paper towel handy to use as an ink blotter. Allow him to experiment by drawing lines and curves and by making designs and single letters. Show him how to hold the pen at different angles to get different effects.

    • Have him practice signing his name, John Hancock style, with the early American letters shown below. Then have him write his signature in his history log.
    • Have him write his name again, using a pen or pencil. Talk with him about how the signatures are alike and different.

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Time Marches On
Grades 2-5

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
What is the most important event on the timeline? What effects did the event have on your life? What are the connections between the events in your life and world events?

The stories of history have beginnings, middles and ends that show events and suggest causes and effects. Making personal timelines can help children understand these elements. They allow children to use events in their own lives to gain a sense of time, to understand the sequence in which things happen and to see connections between causes and effects.

What You Need

Large sheet of paper (butcher paper, for example)
Yardstick and ruler
Shelf paper
Colored pencils or crayons
Removable tape

What to Do

  • Sit with your younger child at a table. On a piece of paper, draw a vertical line. Explain that this is a time line. Use different colored pencils or crayons to make straight marks on the line in even intervals and label the marks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and so forth. Explain to your child that each mark is a year in his life.

    • Beneath the first mark, write "I was born." Then point to another mark and ask your child what he remembers about that year in his life. Help him to choose one important event from that year, then think of a label to write. Continue with the remaining years, filling in events for those early years that he can't recall.
    • Review the timeline. Allow your child to erase and change an event for a particular year if he remembers one that he thinks is more important. (Tell him that historians also rethink their choices when they study history.)

  • Have your older child make a timeline poster by placing a long piece of shelf paper on the floor. Have her use a yardstick to draw a line that is three feet long.

    • Talk with your child about important dates in her life—the day she was born; her first day of kindergarten, of first grade; the day her best friend moved in next door; and so forth. Tell her to write the dates on the line. Invite her to add dates that are important for the whole family—the day her baby sister was born, the day her favorite uncle got married, the day the family moved to a new place, the day a grandparent died and so on. If appropriate photos are available, have her add them to the timeline.
    • For a horizontal timeline, use removable tape to fasten the paper to the wall, making sure it's placed at a level that is easy for your child to see and continue working on. For a vertical timeline, hang the paper next to the doorway in your child's room.
    • Display the finished timeline and ask your child to tell other family members and friends what it shows.
    • Have your child expand her timeline by adding events that were happening in the world at the same time as each event of her life. Help her use the Internet or the library's collection of newspapers to find and record the headlines for each of her birthdays.

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The Past Anew
Grades 3-5

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
What was unusual or interesting about the reenactment? What role did each of the re-enactors play? If there was conflict, what was shown or said about its causes and effects? What obstacles did the characters face? How did they overcome them? What is the difference between the "real thing" and a performance of it? What did you learn from the performance?

Reenactments of historical battles or periods, such as colonial times, make our nation's history come alive—and get children involved.

What You Need

A library card
Local newspapers
Phone book

What to Do

  • Explain to your child what reenactments are—people dressing in the costumes of and acting out what life was like at some earlier time. With him, find out whether and where local reenactments are held by looking in your local newspaper or calling your local historical society, a state park or the National Park Service. If possible, choose a reenactment to visit. Prepare your child by taking him to a local museum or historical site that relates to the reenactment, by watching a TV program about the event or period or by searching for information about it on the Internet.

    • Attend the reenactment and participate.
    • Ask—and encourage your child to ask—the re-enactors questions about anything, from why they wear particular kinds of hats to the meanings of the event or period for the development or transformation of America.

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Weave a Web
Grades 4-5

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
When was the place you picked built? How is the place you picked connected to other events in history?

A history web is a way of connecting people and events.

What You Need

Large piece of paper or poster board (at least 31/2 ft. x 21/2 ft.)
Colored pencils, crayons or markers

What to Do

  • As you walk around your neighborhood with your child, point out interesting buildings, statues or other features. For example, you might pick a place in your community that has always seemed mysterious to you—an old ball field; a store, strange house or courthouse; a church, fountain, monument, clock or school building. Have your child study the place and write in her history log what she sees and hears. For example, have her look for plaques, engravings or other marks on buildings, such as dates and designs, or for unusual features, such as bleachers, windows or bell towers.

    • Help her to find information about the place by asking a librarian for resources, by searching the archives of the local newspaper, or by using the Internet. Tell her to be on the lookout for events that happened there, such as athletic records that might have been set or visits by a famous person. Also have her look for things that changed the place, such as the addition or removal of rooms, stairs or parking lots.

  • Help your child locate people who have lived in your town a long time. Arrange for her to interview them using questions about the place she studied and the events surrounding it, and about any important events in the town's history that they remember.

  • Help her draw a web. Begin by placing the name of the place she studied in the middle (like the spider who weaves a "home"). Then have her draw several lines ("strands") from the middle to show the major events in the life of the place. To finish, have her connect the strands with cross lines to show other related events. When the web is complete, talk with your child about the relationships among the strands.

  • Have your child send her web to the editor of your local newspaper and ask to have it published. She can write about the web and ask readers to contribute more information to add to it. Tell her that this is exactly how "real" history is written!

  • Newspapers often include timelines of events. Point these out to your child and talk with him about what they show.

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Time to Celebrate
Grades 4-5

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
What kinds of accomplishments or events do we celebrate in America? What similarities and differences did you find between American holidays and holidays celebrated by people from other countries?

On quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies is written the phrase "E pluribus unum," which is Latin for "Out of many, one." It is an appropriate phrase to describe how our country has developed and the many different people and groups who have made it so great.

What You Need

U.S. coins
Map of the world
Calendar

What to Do

  • Have your child look at U.S. coins for the phrase "E pluribus unum." Explain that the phrase means "Out of many, one," and that it refers to our country as one nation with many peoples and cultures. Explain that it isn't our families' ethnic heritages that bind us together as Americans, but shared democratic values.

  • With your child, talk about the following holidays that are celebrated in the United States. Look at a calendar and add other holidays, if you choose. Next to each holiday write (or have her write) when it's celebrated and what it celebrates.

New Year's Day January 1 New beginning
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday January 15 Birth of a leader
Presidents' Day Third Monday of February Originally, honored Presidents Lincoln and Washington; currently honors all U.S. presidents
Memorial Day Last Monday of May War dead
Independence Day July 4 Adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776
Labor Day First Monday of September Working people
Columbus Day Second Monday of October Landing of Columbus in the Bahamas in 1492
Veterans Day November 11 War veterans
Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November Day of thanks for divine goodness
Christmas Day December 25 Birth of Christ
  • When you are talking about holidays, take the opportunity to read original source materials related to them. For example: on Presidents' Day, read one of the great presidential speeches such as President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or President Kennedy's "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You" inaugural address; on Martin Luther King's Day read his "I Have a Dream" speech. Talk with your child about the meaning of each speech.

  • Encourage your child to find out about national holidays that are celebrated in other nations. Classmates, neighbors and relatives from other countries are good sources of information.

  • Invite your child to think and talk about other important holidays that she thinks our nation should celebrate. Are their any people she thinks deserve to have a holiday of their own? Any group of people? Any event that needs to be celebrated that isn't?

  • Discuss with your child your family's personal celebrations, and have her write in her history log about these special days.

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It's in the Cards
Grades 4-5

Let's Talk About It

Ask your child:
Why is it important to know when things happened? Why could some things not have happened any earlier than they did? What would happen to the story of times past if our cards got all mixed up and out of order?

Many children don't like to study history in school because they are asked to memorize so many dates and names. Parents can help—and make learning more enjoyable—by using games to reinforce what their children are learning in history class.

What You Need

Your child's history book
Index cards or sheets of heavy paper cut into cards

What to Do

  • Find out what events your child is currently studying in school. Use information from her textbook to make a set of cards. On one card, write the name of a historical figure; on a second card, write the events for which that figure is known in history; and on a third card, write the date(s) for the event. Do this for four or five figures from the time being studied.

    • Use the cards to review with your child, helping her to name each figure and match it with the events and dates.
    • When your child is comfortable with the cards, shuffle them and deal an equal number to your child and to yourself. Choose one of your cards and read it aloud. Say, for example, "Harriet Tubman." If your child has the event ("Underground Railroad") or date ("1863"—the year she freed more than 700 slaves in a raid), she must give you the card. If she has the card, she must give it to you, and you continue asking for cards. If she doesn't have the card, the turn goes to her, and she asks you for a card. Continue until one of you has no cards left.

  • Ask your child to think of other ways to use card games to learn more about history.

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Last Modified: 02/11/2009