History textbooks in school can only go so far in explaining what happened at a particular time or place. Sometimes just being there in the moment can give you a better perspective as to what a historical event must have been like. When a book just doesn’t cut it, here are some suggestions for giving your kids some extra history lessons beyond the classroom.
Visiting local history sites or museums is a good way to get started to activate your child’s interest in history. When he or she sees an arrowhead, spear point, cave painting, or ancient piece of pottery that could have been dug up in a nearby yard the imagination can take off from there.
When you talk about bigger events in history such as a battlefield site, ancient city, or burial ground a bit of traveling may be in order. National Park Service parks as well as many State Parks throughout our nation contain many historical sites that are set aside as public lands. Admission can be free or low-cost for an entire day’s worth of activities.
Large museums in metropolitan areas are also viable options when traveling to Gettysburg, Washington D.C., or other historical monument is out of place. Even a day trip to your nearest large urban center can produce some hands-on history lessons.
Another way to travel to another place and time without leaving the friendly confines of your living room is via the Internet. One of the best history resources in America is the National Archives and Records Administration.
With many original documents such as the Declaration and Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and even Civil War records and letters the National Archives have a lot of stuff. A good start would be the online exhibits or searching for online documents.
Researching your family tree is a way to make history personal. Several websites are good places to start when your own photographs or records are incomplete. If you want to see some authentic records of immigration there are the official records of Ellis Island that are searchable. You can find names, ships, and immigrant countries of origins.
For more basic records without much fuss, Family Search is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and has official records of birth, death, and census rolls. There are no original records but the data is complete if you know a name and either a date of birth, death, or place of residence for the person.
Hands-on history can take many forms. Whether you travel halfway across the country to see an historical site or halfway across your den to look up the original Magna Carta, history can come alive at any moment. Being prepared with a spontaneous history lesson can enliven young minds that can lead to a lifetime of learning.
National Park Service, “Experience Your America”, NPS.gov.
National Archives and Records Administration, archives.gov.
National Archives, “Featured Exhibits”, archives.gov.
Ellis Island, “Free Port of New York Passenger Records Search”, EllisIsland.org.
Family Search, “Family History and Genealogy Records”, FamilySearch.org.