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How to Teach History

Sometimes Kids Think History is Boring

HistoryThere are many reasons why September 11, 2001 stands out in people’s minds. What are the reasons for you? The atrocity of it all? The magnitude of the buildings that came down in New York City? The number of people who died in the attacks? The fact that it actually happened on American soil? How sudden and quickly it all seemed to happen? All of the above could be factors in why such a thing would stay with us in our memories. Another reason is that we saw it take place in real time, and it is part of our history.

The phrase, Reading is Fundamental (RIF) became popular in the mid to late sixties, and it stuck in our minds for decades because it’s true. Not only that, but the RIF group is the largest non-profit literacy group in the United States who are known for putting millions of books into the hands of young readers. Reading truly is foundational to everything a child learns, especially history. A student not only needs to be able to read about history, but also to be able to experience, remember, and appreciate it.


Author’s note:

One thing about history: it’s not as cut and dry as we might like it to be sometimes. When it comes to history there are many quotes that go something like this: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”. (Winston Churchill) “History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?” (Dan Brown, author of “The Da Vinci Code”) What’s the point of showing these quotes? History seems to have a slant to it, especially when it comes to the “how or why” of the matter. Depending on who tells it, the truth will be somewhere in the midst of two or more sides. Choose curricula wisely. Teach your children to be critical thinkers and to delve deeper into topics that interest them as they get older, so that they eventually see there may be differing viewpoints.

“The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present.” @yesphonics Click to Tweet

History Should Never be Boring

history Often children and older students think history is boring, so they have a hard time remembering it. I found history difficult in college. My general education history professor sat on the edge of his desk and talked for 1 ½ hours twice a week. His continual knowledge for that amount of time was impressive, but his voice was his only mode of transmitting information. The hardest part for me was staying awake to take notes. I hope his tactics changed over time.

Modern historian David Thelen says that, “The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present.” This is a challenge to you today; decide how to introduce history to your young students who are usually very eager to learn. “History does matter. It has been said that he who controls the past controls the future. Our view of history shapes the way we view the present, and therefore it dictates what answers we offer for existing problems. History is a story about the past that is significant and true.”

Significance and Truth Will be Defined in Different Ways

What is true and significant is defined differently by people. You will have to decide for yourself as a teacher from which truths you teach, but please teach history in a compelling and interesting way so that your child will be intrigued enough to continue learning history as he grows. We are all part of history eventually.

Knowing how things work and come to be are important in knowing how to move forward. This may be a silly example, but I just watched a clip of something from the mid to late 90s called, “3rd Rock from the Sun”. The alien person living on earth has no previous knowledge of “tipping” a waitress. When his friend puts down a tip, he takes it and puts it in his pocket. The friend chastises him, and tells him to put it back. When the waitress takes the tip he tells his friend that the waitress stole their tip. He didn’t have any background history of the concept of tipping so it made no sense to him. Present day will make much more sense to a child as she gets older if she knows the past.history

How to Present History to Young Minds

The methods of imparting knowledge to young students are important. The younger years should be filled with fascinating facts, stories, songs, and activities about explorers, inventors, political leaders, and artists. The brave and courageous people, who dared to do what couldn’t be done in most people’s minds and then set out to do it, should be presented in such a way that young students would be inspired by what they accomplished, whether for good or for ill.

You can start today by showing your child or student a clip of why we celebrate Memorial Day. It’s not just a Monday federal holiday for no reason. Here’s a 4 minute clip to get you started:

Here are some tips on making history come alive and interesting to your students:

photo credit: Re-Enactment of New South Wales Marine Corps at Wollongong Medieval Fair via photopin (license)

photo credit: boys soccer practice via photopin (license)

photo credit: kindergarten-4299 via photopin (license)

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About Pam Fink

Far from the rolling hills of PA where Pam grew up and went to college, she now resides in sunny southern Arizona with her husband. Pam used her Bachelor’s in Elementary and Special Education as a starting point to teach her children at home until they went off to pursue careers and families, and then she taught in other capacities. For over 25 years this diversely talented woman has tutored students and mentored teachers and parents in the areas of reading, spelling, writing, teaching with a classical bent, and home schooling in general.

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