Helping Your Child Learn History - Activities: History as Time (page 3)
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?
Put Time in a Bottle
Kindergarten - Grade 3
Collecting things from their lifetimes and putting them in a time capsule is a history lesson that children will never forget.
What You Need
Magazines or newspapers
Tape or other sealant
What to Do
Talk with your child about time capsules. Explain that when buildings such as schools, courthouses and churches are built, people often include a time capsule - a special container into which they place items that can tell about their lives and times to future generations who open the container.
- Tell your child that you want to help him make his own personal time capsule. Talk with him about what he might want to put in it. Ask, for example, what things he might include to give people of the distant future a good idea of what he was like and what the time he lives in was like.
- Have him use a simple camera to take pictures of a few important objects in his life - a favorite CD, poster or pair of shoes; a baseball bat, football jersey or basketball; his computer, music player or cell phone. Have him locate and add magazine pictures of games and toys; cars, airplanes and other types of transportation; different kinds of sporting events; and clothes. Next have him locate examples of slang, ads for movies and TV shows, and selections from important speeches, poetry and stories or novels. Also help him find stories about current heroes and local, national and world events; and accounts of current issues and crises. Finally have him write a letter to someone in the future that describes life today.
- Call the family together and have your child do a "show and tell" of the items he's collected.
- Once everyone is satisfied with the collection, help your child label the items with his name and with any other information that will help those who find them understand how they are significant to the history of our time.
- Have him place the items in a container, seal the container and find a place to store it.
- Have him write in his history log a short description of what he has done and record the date. Encourage him to draw a map that shows the location of the time capsule and to use the correct directional words to label it.
- Try to find news stories (your local newspaper, library or local historical society or museum can often direct you to such stories) about the opening of such a capsule in your area and what was in it. If possible, take your child to look at the contents of an opened time capsule- perhaps at your local historical society or museum. Also try to locate buildings in your area that contain unopened time capsules. Take your child to see the buildings and point out the cornerstones - the places in which most capsules are placed. Talk with him about the information on the cornerstone.
Let's Talk About It
Ask your child: What did the collection of items tell you about the period in which we live? Did the items tend to be of a certain type?
Quill Pens & Berry Ink
History depends on writing, and writing has changed over time from scratches on clay to digitalized codes and letters.
What You Need
For quill pen:
feather, scissors, a paper clip
For berry ink:
|1/2 cup of ripe berries (blueberries, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, or raspberries work well), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, food strainer, bowl, wooden spoon, small jar with tight-fitting lid|
What to Do
Place the berries in the strainer and hold it over the bowl. Have your child use the wooden spoon to crush the berries against the strainer so that the juice drips into the bowl. When all the juice is out of the berries, throw the pulp away. Tell your child to add the salt and vinegar to the berry juice and stir it well. If the ink is too thick, have him add a teaspoon or two of water (not too much or he'll lose the color). Help him to pour the juice into a small jar and close it with a tight-fitting lid. (Note: Make only as much ink as you will use at one time, because it will dry up quickly.)
Have your child watch as you form the pen point by cutting the fat end of the feather on an angle, curving the cut slightly. (Note: A good pair of scissors is safer than a knife. But play it safe, and always do the cutting yourself.) Clean out the inside of the quill so that the ink will flow to the point. Use the end of a paper clip if needed. You may want to cut a center slit in the point; however, if you press too hard on the pen when you write, it may split.
Give the quill pen to your child and tell him to dip just the tip in the ink. Keep a paper towel handy to use as an ink blotter. Allow him to experiment by drawing lines and curves and by making designs and single letters. Show him how to hold the pen at different angles to get different effects.
- Have him practice signing his name, John Hancock style, with the early American letters shown below. Then have him write his signature in his history log.
- Have him write his name again, using a pen or pencil. Talk with him about how the signatures are alike and different.
Let's Talk About It
Ask your child: Why do we write? When do people in our family use writing? What written things do you see every day? What are their different purposes? What effect do different writing tools have on writing, for example quill pens, ballpoint pens, typewriters and computers?
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
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