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Learning About History

May 28, 2012

As a homeschooling parent, the law tells me what subjects I need to teach my kids.  We cover the same subjects that the public schools are required to teach.  The thing that most attracted me to homeschooling for my kids, and which still keeps me plugging along with it (and sometimes feeling very grateful for the choice) is that we get to decide how to learn about history.

History isn’t something that I ever appreciated when I was a kid, and it’s not something that I really enjoyed or retained until I realized as an adult that history is more than just memorizing the dates of battles and political events.  History is full of interesting stories, and if there is one thing that I can appreciate, it’s a great story.

My kids feel the same way.  They are delighted to read stories, including nonfiction stories about history.  This year, we have been focusing on the history of our own state, which I am realizing is a wonderful way to make history come alive for my kids.  We can literally drive to a place where something important happened and put our hands on the artifacts or imagine ourselves in the historical time.

We had a couple of great visist to the Washington State History Museum, which I found most impressive.  One day was not enough, so we went back for a second.  I can imagine visiting it  at least annually because as the kids grow, they will get more and more out of it.  The museum offers a hands on history lab, where there are interactive opportunities to learn about history, as well as a lot of reproductions of sights and sounds from various times in history.

Then we immersed ourselves a bit more by traveling to our local living history museum, Fort Nisqually.  When you walk into the fort, which is comprised in many respects with actual buildings from the original fort from the 1850s, there are people playing the role of those who lived there during the 1850s.  We hunted around the fort for artifacts that told the story of real people who lived there, watched the blacksmith crafting with metal, played games from the 1850s, and ground coffee beans in an old grinder.  It made a much bigger impact for the kids to see up close and personal how people lived.  They noticed the hard beds with no mattresses, the candles on the walls as the only lights, the differences between the accommodations for the overseer’s family and the rest of the folks who lived on the fort.  One of the men who worked on the fort reminded us that living in the overseer’s house would mean that the children had to dress in fine clothes and not run or play outside.  They had to act properly because what they did reflected on their father and he may lose his job if they played with the other children.

Because we enjoyed this look at frontier life so very much, we then read a trilogy that takes place in the 1850s in Washington Territory.  And we highly recommend it.  It’s the Boston Jane trilogy by Jennifer Holm.  The stories are about a girl from Philadelphia who moves to the Washington coast in the 1850s.  The author gives a well-researched fictional story based on the notes and papers of people who lived on the frontier during this time.  It’s full of adventure and a wee bit of chaste romance, but also of politics and values and a compassionate look at relations between the white settlers and the original people who lived in the area.  There is a lot to discuss with your kid and a lot to learn.  You may want to preread it if you have a sensitive kid because there are some intense situations which include death, loss, and ghosts!  I do have a sensitive kid, and she handled it just fine.  But a few years ago, maybe it would have been too much.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2012 9:30 pm

    This sounds amazing! How do you adapt your teaching to age difference?

    • May 28, 2012 10:04 pm

      It depends on the situation. I sometimes just focus on the level of the oldest and the younger kids get what they can fro it (sometimes they surprise me and get it all, sometimes a portion). Sometimes she does the self study or she and I do the extra activities. For example, I did the field trip with all of the kids, but only the older and I read the books. We’ll save them for her sisters when they are ready, and they’ll already have the foundation of the field trip and maybe we’ll do it again when they are ready for it. At the museums, we find that the oldest reads a bunch of stuff herself and takes away a lot more than the youngers. Sometimes the youngers and I will look at things and read them together. Sometimes they find something engaging to play with while I spend time exploring something with the oldest. We don’t actually have to do 6 hours worth of work per kid every day because we don’t have issues like a classroom teacher would that amount to crowd control. We also can cover things more quickly because we have one-on-one opportunities that a classroom teacher can’t make happen. I have FAR less to juggle than a classroom teacher, and my job is frankly much easier.

      • May 29, 2012 7:21 am

        Thanks for your answer, it’s true you don’t have 30 kids and you can keep them interested by bringing them to different places to learn. It’s great when children can be free from the classroom. 🙂

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