Books have been consuming my time lately. Every morning in our homeschool routine, our family curls up in the warm front room of our house and settles in for a chapter or two of whatever book has us captured at the moment. Right now it happens to be The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. We chose this book because in my daughter’s history studies, we have been learning about colonial America, and the book is set in colonial Connecticut. Next, as we move on to study the American Revolution, we’ll pick up another classic, Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes.
Grounding History in Stories
I firmly believe that grounding our history studies in stories of the time is what reinforces our understanding of the time period we are studying. We learned a little about Puritan culture when we studied colonial New England, but without reading a story steeped in that culture, I’m sure my daughter would have left with a fleeting memory of it. She may have remembered how strict the people were from our discussions, but only from reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond does she now has a more vivid account from which to view the culture and time period. And not only that, but she has the joy of a good story and a good time reading it with her family to go along with it.
Bringing History to Life
If you have a child who is a reluctant student of history, they probably simply have not been exposed to a proper story set in the past – especially in the time period they are researching.
I think of what kindled my love for history. The Dear America books – fictional diaries of girls (my age at the time, early teens) set in different parts of the American past. I devoured those books. And then I think back further, about what got me interested in those books… I had a real interest in the Oregon Trail based on the classic computer game, and my mother found the Dear America Oregon Trail themed book! So, if you trace it back far enough, a computer game sparked my love for history!
So, really, books aren’t the only stories that can bring history to life. I think of my Junior year in high school in Mr. O’Hara’s U.S. History class. We learned about the French & Indian War and watched one of my favorite films, The Last of the Mohicans. The sweeping scenery of the Appalachian Mountains, the cries of the violin music, and the epic story brought that piece of history to life for me. A little while later, in the same class, we watched the movie The Patriot, about Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox”, set during the Revolutionary War. That movie is just another example of a fascinating story bringing history to life for audiences everywhere.
Family History Stories
Of course – we can do the same for family history. Brainstorm with me for a moment – what kinds of things can bring family history to life for kids?
Watch an old family video, for example. I know that I love to watch old family videos from when I’m little and can see my grandparents, and I like to share them with my kids, too. They point out people they know and laugh at me as a little girl.
What else? Cook a meal. Just as simple as that. Share a meal from your cultural heritage and talk about how it’s important to your family.
And of course – just tell a story. That’s the heart of it all. Sharing stories of our family history with our kids is what I’m all about here. Share a story aloud, share a story from their childhood, your childhood, or a story you’ve heard about a great-great grandparent way back.
But share those stories. Stories are what really bring history to life.