A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

History Education Begins at Home

Children and History

As parents we are in the best position to encourage our children's natural interest in history. It is to us they address their first historical questions: "Where did I come from?" and "Was I always here?" These two questions contain the two main meanings of "history": it is the story of people and events, and it is the record of times past.

Now is the time to bring out the historical evidence and to share family stories with your child. Birth and adoption certificates, immunization records, first pieces of your child's writing and art, as well as photographs all count as historical sources that tell the story of your child.

The stories you tell and read to your children, or make up with them, are part of their cultural heritage and reinforce the two basic parts of history: "Once upon a time, and long ago."

Parents Make a Difference

Your child is born into history. She has no memory of it, yet she finds herself in the middle of a story that began before she became one of its characters. She also wants to have a place in it.

As parents we can prepare our children to achieve the lifelong task of finding their place in history by helping them to learn what shaped the world into which they were born. Without information about their history, children don't "get" a lot of what they hear and see around them.

Your attitude about history can also make a difference for your child. Showing your interest in history--your belief that knowing history makes a difference for your life--encourages your child's own interest.

Many parents say they love history. If you are one of them you can share your particular interests in history with your children as well as help them develop their own.

Many other parents say they find history boring. If you are among these, try one of the following: start writing your own life story; read the diary of Anne Frank, or the autobiography of Frederick Douglass; read the Declaration of Independence, or rent a video about the Civil War. As you rediscover history your children may be inspired your interest.

History Is a Habit

The activities in this book can help you start doing history with your child. You will probably get more ideas of your own. In addition, you can develop some of the following "history habits" that make history important not only during an activity but every day.

History Habits for Parents

Habits are activities we do on a regular basis. We acquire habits by choosing to make them a part of our life. It is worth the time and effort to develop good habits because they enhance our well-being. We suggest the following history habits to enrich your life experience and your children's.

Share family history with your children, particularly your memories. Help your own parents and other relatives know your children and talk with them about family stories.

Participate in your community by voting and helping to make changes in areas that interest you. Encourage your children to vote in school elections, to present themselves as candidates, and gain knowledge of history and the values and behaviors that are the basis of their citizenship.

Read newspapers and news magazines, and watch television news programs to maintain an informed judgment about the world. Talk about current events and your ideas about them with your children and other adults, and explore different points of view. Check the encyclopedia or your local library for additional historical information.

Watch television programs about important historical topics with your family, and encourage conversation about the program as you watch. Get library books on the same topic and learn more about it. Check to see if the books and television programs agree on significant issues, and discuss their differences.

Read with your children about people and events that have made a difference in the world, and discuss the readings together. The list of publications at the end of this book serves as a support to you for choosing materials.

Help children know that the makers of history are real people like themselves, who have ideas, work hard, and experience failure and success. Introduce them to local community leaders in person if possible, and national and world leaders via the media and biographies.

Make globes, maps, and encyclopedias available, and use every opportunity to refer to them. A reference to Africa in a child's favorite story, or the red, white, and green stripes on a box of spaghetti can be opportunities to learn more about the world.

Have a collection of great speeches and written documents to read from time to time with your child.

Your own involvement in history, in any of the forms referred to in this book, is a good habit you can pass on to your children.

Enjoying Your Child and History

We have intentions of good fun as we plan any activity with our children. We also want them to learn something from most activities. They probably would say they want to have fun and learn something new too. But sometimes the difference in abilities between us and them, or the demands of time, end up leaving us disappointed. Keeping the following in mind can help keep your time together fun and productive:

You don't have to know all the facts or fully understand history to help your children learn. Your willingness to learn with them--to read, to ask questions, to search, and to make mistakes--is the most important gift you can bring to the process. By viewing their mistakes as sources of information for future efforts, your children gain confidence to continue learning.

Conversation gets you past the difficult moments. Keeping open the communication between you and your children, and encouraging continued discussion no matter how off the mark your children may seem, tells them you take them seriously and value their efforts to learn. The ability to have a conversation with your children profoundly affects what and how they learn.

Children have their own ideas and interests. By letting them choose activities accordingly, you let them know their ideas and interests are valuable. Often they will want to teach you as a way to use what they know. Share their interests and encourage them to learn more.

Make the most of everyday opportunities to do history: visits from grandparents, reading books, telling stories, holidays, elections, symbols like the flag, the national anthem before sporting events, pictures in newspapers and magazines, visits to museums. If your child asks about a person in a painting, stop to find out who it is. Keep asking: "What does this mean? How do I know?"

Choose your activities well. The activities in this booklet are for children aged 4-11. Each of the activities can be adapted to a child of any age and ability level. Even a preschooler can "read" a newspaper with your help, for a short period of time. While an activity that is too difficult will frustrate your child, an activity that is too easy will lose his interest. Challenges bring feelings of accomplishment.

Have a goal. When you choose or begin an activity you may not have a clear idea of where it's going. But keep in mind that the purpose of doing the activities in this book is to learn something about history. The first section of this book, the introduction to each activity, and the question boxes can help you. As you complete each activity discuss with your child what you learned together. Making bread is one thing, knowing that bread has historical meaning is another. Achieving a goal for an activity also helps your child sense the pleasure of a completed project.

Introduction Table of Contents The Basics of History