With activities for children in preschool through grade 5
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History as Story Activities
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The essential elements of history as story are records, narration and evidence.
History is a permanent written record of the past. In more recent times, history is also recorded on film, video, audiotape and through digital technology. You might tell your child that the time before we had any way to record events is called prehistory. It was in prehistorical times that dinosaurs walked the Earth. She should also know that before written languages were invented, humans told stories as a way to preserve their identity and important events in their lives. Over time, however, the stories changed as details were forgotten or altered to fit a new situation. Written languages allowed people to keep more accurate records of who they were and what they did so this information could be passed down from generation to generation.
Narration is storytelling, a way that people interpret events. History, with its facts and evidence, is also an interpretation of the past. George Washington, in his Farewell Address in 1796, said: "Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors." Your child needs to be aware that events can have more than one cause and can produce more than one effect, or outcome, and that there is more than one way to look at the relationship between cause and effect.
All good histories are based on evidence. Your child needs to learn the importance of evidence, and she needs the critical thinking skills to evaluate historical accounts and to determine whether the they are based on solid evidence or rely too heavily on personal interpretation and opinion.
A great way for young children to develop an interest in history is for parents to make books with history themes a part of their reading-aloud routines.
What You Need
Picture and read-aloud books about historical people, places and events or with historical settings. For possible titles, see the list of books under the Books for Children heading of the Resources section at the end of this booklet.
What to Do
Talk with your child about the book you're going to read to her. Have her look at the pictures and notice costumes, types of transportation, houses and other things that show that the book isn't about modern times. Talk with her about historythe story of past times.
- As you read, stop occasionally and ask your child to talk about a character or what is happening in the book. Encourage her to ask you questions if she doesn't understand something. Explain words she may not know and point to objects that she may not recognize and tell her what they are.
- Show enthusiasm about reading. Read the book with expression. Make it more interesting by talking as the characters would talk, making sound effects and using facial expressions and gestures.
Help your child develop a "library habit." Begin making weekly trips to the library when she is very young. See that she gets her own library card as soon as possible. Many libraries issue cards to children as soon as they can print their names (you'll also have to sign for your child). Regularly choose books with history themes to check out and read at home with her. And, when she is old enough, encourage her to continue this habit.
After reading a book with a historical theme, encourage your child to make up a play for the family based on the book. If possible, allow her to wear a costume or use props that are mentioned in the story.
Good history is a story well told. Through storytelling, children are introduced to what's involved in writing the stories that make history. They begin to understand that different people may tell the same story in different ways.
What You Need
Family members and friends
A book of fairy tales or folk tales
What to Do
Gather your child and other family members in a circle and have a storytelling session. Choose a person that you all know wella relative, friend or neighbor. Begin a group story about that person, explaining that nobody can interrupt the story. Say, for example, "Remember the time that Uncle Jack decided to help us by fixing that leaky faucet in our kitchen?" Then go clockwise around and have each person add to the story. Set a time limit, say three times around the circle so that you must end the story somewhere. Talk about the story. Are there any disagreements about what really happened and what was just opinionor just added on for fun? If so, how can you settle any differences of opinion about what "really happened"?
Read aloud a fairy tale or folk tale. You might choose, for example, Little Red Riding Hood or The Story of Johnny Appleseed (for more titles, check the Resources section at the end of this booklet). Talk with your child about how the story begins and ends, who the characters are and what they feel and what happens in the story. Ask him how a "made-up" story is different from the story you told about the real person you know.
Pick a moment in history, for example the fall of the Berlin Wall, the storming of the Bastille in France, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln or a current event in the news. Take your child to your local library and ask the children's librarian to help you choose books and other materials about the event that are age-appropriate for your child. Read the book aloud with a young child; for an older child, have him read it aloud to you or read it on his own and then talk with him about the book.
At living history museums children can see people doing the work of blacksmiths, tin workers, shoemakers, weavers and others. They can see how things used to be made and learn how work and daily life have changed over time.
What You Need
Visitor brochures and museum maps
Sketch pad and pencils, or camera
What to Do
Plan a visit to a living history museum with your child. Write or call the museum ahead of time to obtain information brochures and a map. Well-known living history museums are located in Williamsburg, Va., and Old Sturbridge Village, Mass., but smaller museums can be found in many other places across the country. If you can't visit a museum, travel there by reading books or conducting "virtual" tours on the Internet.
- Talk with your child about the information in the brochures and what he can expect to see at the museum. Make sure that he understands that what he will see is life the way it was once actually livednot make-believe.
- Help your child sketch something in the museum and put it in his history log. Tell him that drawings were the way events were visually recorded before there were cameras.
- Use your camera to make a modern record of history and create a scrapbook with the photographs of what you saw.
- When you get home, ask your child what his favorite object or activity is and why. Talk with your child about what it would have been like to live in that historical place in that period of time. Your family might pretend to be living in the historical place. Try spending an evening "long ago," without using electrical lights and other appliances such as TVs and microwave ovens. How is life without those luxuries different from your life today?
Every culture has its version of bread. Children enjoy making this Native American fry bread. (Check the Bibliography and Resources sections of this booklet for books that contain other recipes from history.)
What You Need
2 1/2 cups all-purpose or wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried skimmed milk powder
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Oil for frying
Mixing bowls and spoons, spatula
What to Do
Talk with your child about Native American peoplesthat they lived in what is now the United States for thousands of years before non-native peoples came here, and that many tribes still live throughout the United States.
Read a book with your child about Native American life, both long ago and today, either fiction or nonfiction. With an older child, search the Internet for Native tribes, such as Blackfeet, Chippewa and Navajo. Explore Web sites to learn about tribes' geographic locations, tribal activities and programs.
Have your child help you gather all of the ingredients listed above. For a younger child, talk about what you're doing as you complete each step in the recipe. Your older child can complete the steps as you read them aloud. Reminder: You'll need to supervise your child closely, regardless of his age, as you work around a hot stove!
Follow this recipe:
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the dried milk, water and vegetable oil. Pour this liquid over the dry ingredients and stir until the dough is smooth (1 or 2 minutes). Add 1 tablespoon of flour if the dough is too soft.
- Knead the dough in the bowl with your hands about 30 seconds. Cover it with a cloth and let it sit 10 minutes.
- Line the baking sheet with paper towels to receive the finished loaves.
- Divide the dough into eight sections. Take one section and keep the rest covered in the bowl. Roll the dough into a ball and flatten with your hand. Then roll it into a very thin circle 8 to 10 inches across. The thinner the dough, the puffier the bread will be. Cover this circle with a cloth. Continue with the other seven sections of dough in the same way.
- In the large frying pan or skillet, pour vegetable oil to about 1 inch deep. As you begin to roll the last piece of dough, turn on the heat under the skillet. When the oil is hot, slip in a circle of dough. Fry for about 1 minute or until the bottom is golden brown. Turn the dough over with tongs or a spatula. Fry the other side for 1 minute.
- Put the fry bread on the baking sheet and continue with the other rounds of dough.
- Eat your fry bread while it's hot and crisp. Put honey on it if you like.
Help your child to use the Internet or reference books to find out more about the role of bread in human history.
Younger children find making rubbings great fun. Cornerstones and plaques are interesting, and even coins will do.
What You Need
Tracing paper or other lightweight paper
Large crayons with the paper removed, fat lead pencil, colored pencils, or artists' charcoal
What to Do
Use the list above to help your child make a kit to do rubbings. Choose paper that does not tear easily, but also is light enough so that the details of the rubbing will be visible.
Begin by having your child make a rubbing of a quarter or half dollar (large coins from other countries or commemorative coins can be interesting to use, too). Tape the coin to a surface to make it stable. Double the tape so that it sticks on both sides and place it on the bottom of the coin. Attach the coin to a piece of wood or to some surface that can't be harmed by the tape. Lay the paper on top of the coin, and have your child rub across it with a pencil, crayon or charcoal. Tell him not to rub too hard and to keep rubbing until the coin's marks show up on the paper. Talk with him about what the rubbing shows.
Take your child on a walk around the neighborhood. Look for objects that he can use for rubbings, such as dates in the sidewalk, words on cornerstones and plaques on buildings or interesting designs on bricks or other materials used on buildings. Once home, ask family members to view the rubbings and guess what each represents. Ask your child to tell the story behind the rubbings and why he chose to make them.
Consider taking your older child to cemeteries or memorial sites around town and make rubbings of old gravestones or markers. Talk with him about each rubbing. Tell him to look for designs and dates and ask him questions to make sure that he knows how old the objects are.
Encourage your child to cut out some of his rubbings and include them in his history log.
Heroes are everywhere. Sharing stories about them with children can help them understand that heroes come from many different walks of life and that their courageous acts occur in many different places and times.
What You Need
Family photographs; newspaper and pictures from books or the Internet of both local and national figures who have been recognized for community service, bravery or selfless acts
What to Do
Select a photo of someone in your family who has an admirable quality or who performed a courageous act. You might choose a grandparent who left everything behind to immigrate to the United States or your mother who sacrificed so that you could have a good education or your father who fought in a war or your brother who took a stand on a controversial issue. Sit with your child and tell him about the relative's life. Talk with him about the qualities of heroism that the relative showedcourage, self-discipline, responsibility, citizenship and so forth.
Show your child newspaper pictures of local people who have performed acts of courage or service to the community. Talk with him about what the people did and why they are considered heroes. In addition to individuals, choose groups of people who have been called heroes, such as firefighters and policemen.
Show your child pictures of historical figures who have been called heroes. Choose people whom you admire and feel comfortable talking about with your child. Choose groups as well, such as the abolitionists who opposed slavery before the Civil War or the people who participated in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Local newspapers, phone books and other handy resources can serve as guides to local history. Teaching children how to use them gives them a great tool for finding many sources of information.
What You Need
Phone books, both yellow and white pages
What to Do
Help your child make a list of her interests. Include the sports, hobbies, history topics, animals and music she likes.
With your child, look through your local newspapers for lists of things to do in the community. Look for parades, museum and art exhibits, music events, children's theater, history talks, guided walks through historical districts or tours of historical homes. Choose an event in which you can both participate.
Sit with your child and show her how to use the phone book to find information. For example, in the yellow pages, look for the heading "Museums." Talk with your child about the places that you find listed thereWhat different kinds of museums are listed? Are they nearby? Look especially for history museums.
- Brainstorm with your child about what other headings you might look under to find information about local history. Try, for example, "Historical Societies." (If your phone book has a special section of information about community services and points of interest, look there as well.)
- Call the historical museums and societies that you find. Ask about their programs for children, their hours and upcoming special events. Also ask where else you should go to learn about your town's history.
- Have your child listen to your phone conversation and model for her how to ask for information.
Have your child begin a list in her history log of local historical sites. Tell her to include phone numbers, addresses, hours of operation and other useful information for future visits.
A good place for children to begin to develop an interest in history is to find out the history of where they live.
What You Need
Guides and histories of your town or city
What to Do
With your child, research the history of the town, city or area in which you live. Begin by asking your child what he already knows, then ask him to make some predictions about what you will find out regarding when your area was first settled, who the first settlers were, where they came from, and why they chose to settle in the area. Help him to record these predictions in his history log.
- Go with your child to the local library, or sit with him at a computer, and look for historical reference materialslocal histories and guidebooks, articles in regional historical magazines, and so forth (your librarian can direct you to good sources of information). As you work, talk with your child about what you're finding.
- Afterwards, talk with your child about what you found out.
As part of this activity, focus your child's attention on your area's geography as it played a part in its history. Was it settled because it's on a waterway? Did it grow into a large town because of its location? its climate? Did industry develop there because coal, oil or copper deposits were nearby?
In order to talk and learn about places, and to locate themselves and others in terms of place, children need to understand and be able to name geographic directions.
What You Need
Maps of your state, a globe or atlas
Blank paper and crayons or colored pencils
What to Do
Sit with your younger child at a table or on the floor so that you can both see a map of your state. Point out where you live, explain the directional signs on the map: north, south, east and west. Mention several nearby towns or cities that your child has visited or knows about. Point to one of these and say, for example, "Granddad lives here, in Memphis. That's north of our town." Have your child use her finger to trace the line from your location to that place. Continue by pointing out places that are south, east and west of your location. When your child catches on to directions, ask her to point to places that are north, south, east and west of where she lives.
For your older child, make the map activity into a game. When you have made sure that she understands directions, pick a place on the map and give clues about its location, for example, "I'm looking at a city that is west of St. Louis and east of Kansas City." (You can also name rivers, lakes, mountains or other geographic features that can be seen on the map.) When your child gets the right answer, have her choose a place and give directional clues for you to use to find it.
As part of your child's study of national and world history, help her to use an atlas or globe to locate places mentioned in her textbook.
Help to make directional words a part of your child's vocabulary by using them yourself in daily conversation. Rather than saying, "We're turning right at the next corner," say, "We're turning east at the next corner." Encourage her to use the words as well.
Give your child blank paper and crayons or colored pencils and ask her to draw a map of your neighborhood showing important buildings and landmarks (churches, schools, malls, statues, rivers, hills and so on). Remind her to include an indicator of direction on the map. After she's finished, talk with her about what the map shows and have her give specific descriptions about the locations of various places on it.
What's new today really began in the past. Discussing the news is a way to help children gain a historical perspective on the events of the present.
What You Need
Weekly news magazine
A daily national TV news program
Atlas or globe
What to Do
This activity can be most useful to younger children if it's done from time to time to get them used to the idea of "news." Older children benefit from doing it more often, at least once a week if possible.
Look through the daily newspaper or a recent news magazine with your child. Ask her to decide what pictures or headlines have some connection to history. For example, a news story about the signing of a peace treaty might also show pictures of similar events, such as the signing of the Yalta treaty, from the past. A story about the current Russian leader might give a historical overview and show pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev. A story on a Supreme Court ruling that affects school integration might have a headline that mentions the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Use a highlighter to mark these references.
- With your child, read the articles you've chosen. Make a list (or have her do it) of any references to events that did not happen today or yesterday, or to people who died some time ago.
- Talk with your child about what these past events and people have to do with events happening today. Help her record these connections in her history log.
Watch the evening news or a morning news program with your child. Help her to write as many references as possible to past history. Discuss the links she finds between these references and the news story you heard. In an atlas or on a globe, help her point out where the stories she watched took place.
During another session of TV viewing, help your child focus on how the information was communicated: did the newscaster use interviews, books, historical records, written historical accounts, literature, paintings, photographs? Did the newscaster report "facts"? Did she express opinions?
Help your child compare several accounts of a major news story from different news shows, newspapers and news magazines.
Visiting the historical places that children read about in their history books reinforces for them that history is about real people, places and events.
What You Need
Your child's history book
What to Do
Find out what historical events your child is studying in school. Then check to see if a place related to those events is nearby and arrange to visit it with your child. If such a place isn't nearby, arrange for a "virtual" visit by looking for age-appropriate Web sites. See the list of helpful Web sites in the Resources section at the end of this booklet. Many of them contain links that provide "tours" of battlegrounds, homes, museums and other places of historical interest.
- Whether your visit is real or virtual, work with your child to prepare for it together. You might, for example, ask your local librarian to help you and your child find books, DVDs and videotapes about the history of the place you plan to visit or about the historical figures who lived there.
- Call the visitor information centers for the area and ask to be sent maps and specially prepared guidebooks (you can usually find such centers through Internet searches or by consulting travel books in your local library).
- Study maps or the area with your child. Talk with her about the best way to get from your home to the site. As you travel, have her follow the route on the map.
- Help your child make a list of questions to ask on your trip.
- Talk with her about the place you're visiting.
- After the visit, have your child make up a quiz for you, or a game, that is based on what she learned during the trip.
- Encourage your child to read more about the place you visited and the people who were part of its history. Especially encourage your older child to find historical documents that are associated with the site. For example, if you visit the site of the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1851, which is in Akron, Ohio, you might have him reador read to himSojourner Truth's address, known also as "And ain't I a Woman?"
Ask your child to identify any geographical features of the site you visited that played a part in the historical event she studied. If, for example, you visit a Civil War battlefield, you might point out its name and tell your child that the two sides in the war often gave battles different names. The Union side usually chose names that referred to a nearby body of water, such as a river, while the Confederate side named the battle by the nearest town. So, the battle called "Antietam" by the Union side (referring to a creek of that name) was called "Sharpsburg" by the Confederate side (referring to the Maryland town that was nearby).
Ask your child:
What was historical about the place you visited? What kinds of things communicated the history of the place? Did the visit make you see our town in a new way? Even though the place we visited was not in our town, did it make you think of something historical from where we live?