Helping Your Child Learn History
With activities for children in preschool through grade 5
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Working With Teachers and Schools

Research has shown that children at all grade levels do better in school, feel more confident about themselves as learners and have higher expectations for themselves when their parents are supportive of and involved with their education[  2  ]  . Here are some ways that you can stay involved in your child's school life and support his learning of history:

Become familiar with your child's school. During your visit, look for clues as to whether the school values history. For example, ask yourself:

  • What do I see in my child's school and classroom to show that history is valued? For example, are maps, globes, atlases, and history-related student work visible?
  • Are newspapers, news magazines and other current events publications part of the history curriculum? Are videos, computer programs and collections of original source materials included in the study of history? Are textbooks and other resources up to date and accurate?
  • Does the school library contain a range of history-related materials, including biographies and historical fiction as well as information about local, state, national and world history, culture, societies and geography? If so, are they recent publications?

Find out about the school's history curriculum. Ask for a school handbook. If none is available, meet with the school's principal and ask questions such as the following:

  • What methods and materials does the school use for history instruction? Are these methods based on sound research evidence about what works best? Are the materials up to date? Can students do hands-on projects? Is the curriculum well coordinated across grades, from elementary school through middle school? Does the curriculum include both world history and American history?
  • Are the history teachers highly qualified? Do they meet state certification and subject-area knowledge requirements?
  • How much instructional time is spent on history?
  • How does the school measure student progress in history? What tests does it use? Do the tests assess what students are actually taught in their classes?
  • How do the students at the school score on state assessments of history?
  • Are activities available that parents can use at home to supplement and support instruction?
  • If you feel dissatisfied with the history curriculum, talk to your child's teacher first, and then to the principal, the head of the history curriculum division, the school superintendent and, finally, members of the school board. Also ask other parents for their opinions and suggestions.
  • If you have not seen it, ask to look at the No Child Left Behind report card for your school. These report cards show how your school compares to others in the district and indicate how well it is succeeding.

Meet with your child's teacher. Schedule an appointment and ask how your child approaches history. Does she enjoy it? Does she participate actively? Does she understand assignments and do them accurately? If the teacher indicates that your child has problems, ask for specific things that you can do to help her. In addition, you can do the following:

  • Attend parent-teacher conferences early in the school year. Listen to what the teacher says during these conferences and take notes.
  • Let the teacher know that you expect your child to gain a knowledge of history, and that you appreciate his efforts toward this goal.
  • Ask the teacher what his expectations are for the class and your child.
  • Agree on a system of communication with the teacher for the year, either by phone, e-mail or through letters.
  • Keep an open mind in discussing your child's education with the teacher; ask questions about anything you don't understand; and be frank with him about your concerns.
  • Compliment the teacher's efforts with your child. Let her know how much you appreciate her commitment to all the children she teaches.

Visit your child's classroom. In the classroom, look for the following:

  • Do teachers display a thorough knowledge of their subjects? Do they relay this knowledge to students in ways that students can understand?
  • Do students discuss their ideas and offer explanations? Do they have opportunities to talk and work with each other as well as with the teacher? Are they encouraged to ask questions in class? Are they learning how to identify reliable sources of information and how to use them to find answers?
  • Does the instruction show students how to connect historical information they're learning to their personal experiences and to explore how past events affect their lives?
  • Are students regularly assigned history homework? Do assignments involve history projects, including posters or displays, debates, mock trials and role playing?
  • Does the class go on field trips that relate to history? For example, does the class visit historical sites, history museums, local historians or local elected officials?
  • Does the teacher expect—and help—all students to succeed? Does she encourage them to set high goals for themselves? Does she listen to their explanations and ideas?
  • Do classroom tests and assessments match national, state and local history standards? The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requires annual assessments of students in grades 3-8 according to state-defined standards and the dissemination of the results to parents, teachers, principals and others. Curricula based on state standards should be taught in the classroom; thus assessment would be aligned with instruction. In addition to assessments required by NCLB, are teachers using many different ways to determine if children know and understand history, including asking open-ended questions that require thought and analysis? Do assessments match what has been taught? Are they used appropriately to plan instruction and evaluate student understanding?

Find out if the school has a Web site. School Web sites can provide you with ready access to all kinds of information, including homework assignments, class schedules, lesson plans and dates for school district and state tests.

Get actively involved. Attend meetings of parent-teacher organizations. If you're unable to attend, ask that the minutes of the meetings be sent to you, or that they be made available on the school's Web site. If your schedule permits, volunteer to help with the history program. Teachers often send home lists of ways in which parents can get involved, including the following:

  • Assisting with classroom projects;
  • Chaperoning field trips;
  • Offering to set up a history display in the school's front hallway or in your child's classroom;
  • Leading hands-on lessons (if you have a good history background yourself);
  • Helping in a computer laboratory or other area requiring adult supervision; and
  • Starting a drive to raise money for computers, books or field trips.

Even if you can't volunteer for work at the school, you can help your child learn when you're at home. The key question is, "What can I do at home, easily and every day, to reinforce and extend what the school is teaching?" This is the involvement that every parent can and must provide.

  1. Ballen, J. and Oliver Moles, O. (1994). Strong Families, Strong Schools. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Education; Henderson, A. T. and Berla, N. (eds.) (1994). A New Generation of Evidence: The Family Is Critical to Student Achievement. Washington, D.C.: Center for Law and Education.

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Last Modified: 02/11/2009