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Using American History to Teach Children Life Lessons

Posted by Lisa LaGrou February 18, 2013 Solutions

altA great way to talk about school with kids is to talk about American History. You can discuss historical events with children like you are telling a story and get some great responses from them. Discussing History is a great way to teach lessons and gauge their responses as to how or why they feel an event in history happened. 

While many parents (like me) may feel reluctant to talk about math or science with their kids, talking about History with children can be fascinating. I spoke with Kate Kelly of the America Comes Alive website for some tips on how to teach children life lessons through teaching History.

Oakland County Moms: I think teaching kids History can be very easy because parents can discuss various points in time and tell them to kids almost like they are telling a story. Do you find this teaching approach effective?

Kate Kelly of America Comes Alive: I think what you suggest–sharing history via storytelling–is indeed the best way. Kids tend to remember the stories better, and they will ask for a re-telling of their favorites.
For parents the “when I was little…” types of stories are easy and wonderful to be able to tell, but if a parent or a child has a particular interest like the Pony Express or old cars, stories about those things are very effective as well.

Oakland County Moms: What are some ways parents can talk to kids about historical events and keep the events factual and interesting?

Kate Kelly of America Comes Alive: Here are three ways to share history with your children:

    1.  Create a family time capsule. (No burying required!)

The purpose of a time capsule is to put away something from “now” to look at later. Some families may want to write letters about their lives today; other families may want to have each person select an object and write a note about why this item was chosen. Was the item a popular fad of the day? Was it a souvenir from a trip taken this summer? The process of deciding what to write about or what object to choose is an education in itself.

If you’re collecting letters, the pages can be stored in an envelope or a file. If you’re collecting objects, select an appropriately-sized box, label it well, and place it in the basement or garage where it can be stored for a time.

After deciding on the type of item to be collected, discuss with family members when you want to look at the time capsule again. (You probably need to let at least one year go by, or the project will lose its impact.) Opening the box or envelope on a holiday when everyone is together and has time to relax will give you an opportunity to look at your own family history; the process also shows kids the pleasure of looking back over time.

    2.  There is nothing more compelling than when kids can identify with children of another era.

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) documented the plight of children at labor. His work with a camera was so persuasive that it eventually led to changes in child labor laws.

If you visit this page on History Place dot com with your children, you can give them a good idea of what their fate might have been if they had lived seventy-five or one hundred years ago.

    3. Help your child follow his or her passion.

Most kids become fascinated with something from the past. For some it is dinosaurs, for others it may be fire trucks or the Titanic. In addition to web resources, there are many ways to advance his or her love of the subject.

A natural history museum usually offers incredible displays and information about dinosaurs (not to mention the great books for all ages they will have in the gift shop). There are many fire history museums throughout the country, and the guides tend to be retired firemen who offer wonderful stories. If there isn’t near you, check with your fire department. In all likelihood, they will have a family day where kids can see the equipment and hear stories.

Oakland County Moms: Do you have age recommendations for what age it would be most interesting for a child to learn about various facets of American History?

Kate Kelly of America Comes Alive: Children can learn about the past at almost any age; they just need to have the story be told in a way that they can understand it.  If you’re re-attaching a button to one of their shirts and your child is watching, you might note that in your grandmother’s day, her mother had to make ALL the family’s clothes—store-bought clothes were too expensive. 
If your child is complaining about having to do a certain chore, have him or her guess what chores might have been given to children who grew up on a farm. If your daughter is on a sports team, you might tell her of how it used to be that girls were not permitted to play sports…
 
Oakland County Moms: What is a good resource for parents to brush up on their own American History in a way to best explain it to a child?

Kate Kelly of America Comes Alive: If your child has a specific interest in something like pioneer life, there is no better resource than the children’s room in your public library. The two of you can visit and explore what materials are available, and your child will be able to point out what is of most interest. Remember to check with the librarian. A librarian’s person is an eager child who wants to learn more!

You should also check the America Comes Alive website. The stories are interesting and accessible. There is an entire section about American dogs, another one on the accomplishments of American women, and under Resources, you’ll find other items to share with your child.

About Kate Kelly
Kate Kelly, a renowned author, historian and mom, knows how hard it can be to get that conversation started. With a focus on encouraging her readers to “remember when,” Kate challenges Americans young and old to look back on classic and little-known stories of America, the political landscape and pastimes in order to fully understand today’s America.

Kate, who speaks frequently on topics about American history, elections and women’s suffrage, is available for interviews to discuss tips for sharing history with our children. She is also available to discuss her website America Comes Alive, which provides readers with insights into the personal triumphs of Americans.

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