History for kids? As they often say, "Yeah right."
Kids and history can seem to go together like, well, peanut butter and aged cheese. History sometimes comes across as the most boring subject imaginable, full of long lists of names, dates, what significant impact the Magna Carta made on the shoe leather industry, blah, blah, blah. But if our kids sleep through history class, how will they ever grow up to be well-informed citizens who can take charge of our future? Don't give in to the history blahs. Instead, try a few of these tips to make history fun for kids.
Dress yourself in history
Kids love dressing up, and this is a great way to explore the everyday lives of historical figures. How better to spark an interest in how our forefathers and foremothers (not to mention forekids!) lived than to recreate what they wore? If you are handy with a needle, you can find all kinds of period patterns marketed by companies such as Simplicity, Folkwear and Past Patterns. You can also alter items scrounged from thrift stores or eBay. Once the costume is ready, dress up your little guy and see how he feels playing a peasant or pirate. Perhaps you can get a group of kids together and put on a play or have a history fashion show.
Cook a historical recipe
Food is always a big hit with kids. You can start by having your reluctant scholar look up the types of foods people ate during the time he's studying. Did they have dessert? Was chocolate invented back then? What did they eat for holidays? After he's studied up a bit on food in general, have your budding chef hunt for a recipe from this time period, and you can both cook up the recipe in your kitchen. Hint: look for a recipe that's been modernized. Otherwise you may wind up wondering just what on earth is a "gill of lively emptings." (It came from an 1833 recipe for "dough-nuts.")
Take a family field trip
Battlefields are usually a big hit with young boys, and with quite a few girls, too. The larger ones often have visitor's centers with movies, interactive displays and even games that help kids learn about the battle. If you want a more immersive historical experience, you can't beat living museums like Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Settlement in Virginia, Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, Pioneer Village in Nebraska, Little Norway in Wisconsin, and Camlann Medieval Village in Washington state. At each of these sites, you and your kid can watch costumed museum staff demonstrate old-time crafts such as baking in brick ovens, blacksmithing, weaving and glassblowing.
Read a historical novel together
Young girls enjoy the "American Girl" series, which tells the stories of several young women living in different time periods ranging from colonial America up through the 1970s. These are tied in with the popular, yet pricey, dolls, so bear this in mind when budgeting for Christmas and birthdays! If you've got a daughter who's a little older, try the "Dear America" series, or if you want to branch out into non-U.S. history, the "Royal Diaries" tell the stories of queens and princesses including Cleopatra, Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine the Great. There's even a companion series aimed at boys called "My Name is America." Even if your son's not much of a reader, he may thrill to the tale of Biddy Owens, teenage equipment manager for a Negro League baseball team, or Patrick Seamus Flaherty, a Marine serving in Vietnam.
Attend a historical reenactment
There are two types of historical reenactments: battles and living history events. Battles can be very exciting, as costumed reenactors stage mock warfare. These range in size from tiny local events with just a few participants on each side to full-scale reenactments on or near the sites where actual battles were fought, involving thousands of foot soldiers, cannon crews and horse-mounted cavalry. They can, however, be somewhat frightening for young or sensitive children. Living history events, on the other hand, focus more on the peaceful side of history. At these events you'll get to tour camps where reenactors spend the whole weekend cooking, eating, working, playing and even sleeping as our ancestors would have done. If you want to get a real feel for history, look for a "timeline" event, where reenactors portray anything from Roman gladiators or Viking warriors to soldiers from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War.
Once you've exposed your young one to the fun side of history, don't be surprised if he develops a taste for more! He may not request hardtack for breakfast or a suit of chain mail for Christmas, but he's sure to have a new appreciation for history once he learns it's not so boring after all.