Helping Your Child Learn History - Activities: History as Time (page 2)
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.
Context is related to empathy. Context means "weave together," and refers to the set of circumstances in several areas that surround an event. To understand any historical period or event children should know how to weave together politics (how a society was governed), sociology (what groups of people formed the society), economics (how people worked and what they produced), place (where the events happened) and religion, literature, the arts and philosophy (what people valued and believed at the time). When children try to understand the American Civil Rights movement, for example, they will uncover a complex set of events. And they will find that these events draw their meaning from their context.
History means having a grand old time with new stories. So, as you and your child do the following activities, help him to think about the relationship between history and time.
A good way to introduce children to history is to let them know how school—a main focus of their lives—has changed over the years.
What You Need
Map of the United States
Crayons or colored pencils
What to Do
Talk with your child about what school was like when you were a child. Include how schools looked physically; the equipment teachers used; what subjects you studied; what choices you faced; and your favorite teachers and activities. If possible, show family photographs of yourself or other family members participating in school activities—playing a sport, cheerleading, giving a speech, winning an award, talking with classmates, working in a science lab and so forth. Have your child notice such things as clothing and hair styles, the way the school building or classroom looked, the equipment being used. Have her compare the school's characteristics with that of her own.
Join your child in exploring what school was like 50 or 100 years ago. Ask your librarian for help in looking this up, talk to older relatives and neighbors and use the Internet. Again, include photographs when possible.
- With your older child talk about some of the history of work in America and explain how it affects schooling. Tell her, for example, that many years ago, when America was a largely agricultural society, children were needed at home to help plant and harvest crops. Because of this, children often didn't go to school every day, or at all in the summer. In addition, the school year was more or less matched to the time of year that was less busy on farms—the late fall and winter months.
- Next explain that when America was switching from an agricultural to a manufacturing society, some children worked long days in factories, doing hard, dangerous jobs. Eventually, laws were passed to keep factories from using children to do dangerous work. Along with these child labor laws, other laws were passed that officially required children to go to school until a certain age.
- Ask your child to imagine what school will be like in the future. Your younger child may want to use blocks to build a future schoolhouse, and your older child may want to draw or write about theirs.
Let's Talk About It
Ask your child: What has remained the same about school from the past to the present? What has changed? If you could be the head of a school 20 years from now, what would you keep and what would you change based on your current school? How would you go about making these changes?
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
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