History. What’s so great about it? Isn’t it just about memorizing facts with no real-world application? Nope! History has so much to offer your kid outside of class. And when you unlock an appreciation for this exciting, dynamic, super-enriching subject, they’ll benefit in a number of ways.
History is filled with inspiring true stories that model courage, overcoming, standing up for what’s right, and so many other acts and qualities that kids and adults can emulate. Learning about events of the past also helps them understand the world around them, make better choices and avoid the mistakes of our predecessors.
So are you ready to get your kid to actually want to crack those books and nerd out on history? Let’s go!
Get ‘em thinking.
“Historians see history as a set of problems. Students see history as a set of answers.”
History is more about discovery than “getting the right answer” (and much more fun!). Help your kid approach history in a way that gets their brains working and makes their eyes wide with wonder. Ask questions that make them curious about what people experienced in the past versus what they experience now. Here’s how:
- Before diving into names, dates and other facts, introduce people from the past as characters with their own stories and roles to play. Who were the key players? What were their motivations? What did they believe and why? How did things turn out for them and what would life be like if it all happened differently? Let them guess or do their own research and come to their own conclusions.
- Pull up some images on Google Maps and look at how places looked “then” versus “now.” Chicago looked a lot differently before the fires of 1871, and the Industrial Revolution transformed British society. Have them guess at what could have happened to cause these changes.
- Don’t just settle for a secondhand account: Read the source material and talk about it together. Original documents, like the Declaration of Independence for instance, bring the language and nuances of the past to life in a way the Cliff’s Notes version never could.
Make it relevant.
“The history of the past interests us only insofar as it illuminates the history of the present.
So… that happened, but… so what? Make it feel relevant by drawing
connections between present and past events. Ask your kid questions, like:
- If you were alive then, how would you feel about this?
- What do you think you would have done in his or her situation?
- What similar power dynamics, societal trends and issues exist in our culture today?
- How does this event compare to something you’ve experienced?
- How would you apply your knowledge to events happening now?
“Knowing your generational story firms the ground upon which you stand. It makes your life, your struggles and triumphs, bigger than your lone existence.
History is not just about politics or big-picture events. Just like us, people of the past were affected by the trends, norms and events of the times. Help your kid connect to them with some personal family history. Dig into your old photos, heirlooms, letters and journals. Spend some time on ancestry.com or search for an ancestor’s name on newspapers.com to see what you can find!
Make it a live experience.
“[History is] about music, art, medicine, science, engineering—all of it.”
Why not take a page out of renowned historian David McCollough’s book and bring these themes to life in your history lessons?
- Play dress-up: Gather some period costumes or better yet, get creative and design your own! Want to simplify? Get out the paper and crayons and have your kid draw their version of historical fashions.
- Dine back in time: Let’s bake history together! Explore foods from another time by whipping up a themed recipe, a punny take on a favorite food or a former president’s childhood recipes.
- Past-time play: Spend the afternoon playing children’s games or learning music and rhymes from the 20s. Listen to music trending at the time or read popular poets from an interesting period in history.
- Visit a museum: Do you have an art or science museum, or other centers devoted to historic preservation? Taking a stroll and gazing at actual artifacts and replicas lets kids experience the past viscerally. You may even be able to find a drive-through or outdoor exhibit if you want to avoid indoor crowds.
Learn through stories.
“The pull, the attraction of history, is in our human nature. What makes us tick? Why do we do what we do?”
Who doesn’t love drama, intrigue, action and stranger-than-fiction narratives? History is filled with stories, anecdotes and tall tales about people (real or unreal) from the past. Experience the emotions, family dynamics, frustrations, and desires of real people through a good film or live play, or act out legends of mythical heroes together. Let the human connection shine through the timelines and dates and take center stage.
Go beyond the textbook.
“The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.”
Some kids like (maybe even love) text books. Others prefer to learn new things through a different lens. Let them experience historical time periods for themselves by reading a biography, a memoir or historical fiction. They can explore different points of view as they connect to the characters. Explore period literature like Huckleberry Finn or other books and magazines that were popular during the era. You may find a thing or two to laugh at together noticing how even things like humor have changed over time. You can also explore videos and podcasts together. Need ideas? Check these out:
- The Past and the Curious Podcast: Listen in as host Mick Sullivan shares little-known details about well-known people and events from history to help kids get excited about the past.
- Who When Wow Podcast: Check out this free podcast that takes kids on a journey into the lives of unsung heroes.
- Crash Course YouTube Channel: Get ‘em learning about history and biology in these fun, educational videos.
With some of these ideas added into your normal learning patterns, studying history can be so fun! As your kids learn from the past, you can watch them get inspired by the courageous, full, diverse life experiences of those who lived before. They might even find their favorite subject. For some great history books on Epic, check out our posts: “17 Best History Books for Kids of All Ages” or for little ones: “15 History Books for Kindergarten.”