Helping Your Child Learn History - Activities: History as Time
The essential elements of history as time are chronology, empathy and context.
Although our children need the opportunity to study historical events in depth to get an understanding of them, they also need to know the time sequence of those events as well as the names of the people and places associated with them. When we are able to locate events in time, we are better able to learn the relationships among them. What came first? What was cause, and what was effect? Without a sense of chronological order, events seem like a big jumble, and we can't understand what happened in the past. It's important that children be able to identify causes of events such as economic depressions and to understand the effects of those events. These are skills that are crucial to critical thinking and to being productive and informed citizens.
Empathy is the ability to imagine ourselves in the place of other people and times. To accurately imagine ourselves in the place of people who lived long ago, we must have an idea of what it was like "to be there." This requires learning about both the world in which a person lived and that person's reactions to the world. For example, in studying the westward expansion across our country, children need to be aware of how very difficult travel was in that time. They may ask why people didn't just take airplanes to avoid the dangers they faced on the wagon trails. When parents explain that people then couldn't fly because airplanes hadn't yet been invented, children may ask why not. They need an understanding of how technology develops and of the technology that was available at the time of a historical event. Just knowing the physical surroundings of a person at a point in time, however, doesn't allow children to develop empathy. Stories and documents that tell us about people's feelings and reactions to events in their lives allow us to recognize the human feelings we share with people across space and time. Helping children find and use original source documents from the past, such as diaries, journals and speeches, gives them a way to learn to see events through the eyes of people who were there.
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
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