History, more than any other subject, has a tendency to feel distant and meaningless. Kids often ask why they should have to learn about people a long time ago, and what those people have to do with them. While we could launch into a discussion about how the past shapes the present and future, we could also just make history study a bit more interesting, and get kids to enjoy learning about the past without subjecting them to a philosophical diatribe.
Towards that end,theAmerican Kids in History series offers a break from names and dates with hands-on activities that illustrate how people in our nation used to live. Each book covers a particular period of American history (colonial days, the Revolution, Western expansion, etc.) by following the activities of one or more fictional families active during crucial events and eras. The books themselves are fairly bland, with some black and white line drawings and text, but the activities make up for this lack.
Every book is divided by seasons, with each section including Fall, Winter, Spring, or Summer specific crafts. Activities begin with some historical context, then describe in detail both the materials needed and directions for completion. Most of the materials can be found around the house; those that are less typical can be easily obtained. Occasional insets provide even more historical context and background in brief, engaging paragraphs.
Crafts range from making a quill pen, to growing a pineapple, to cooking, to fashioning old-style toys, to making papier-mache bowls, to making (and potentially eating) hardtack. Of course, these are kid-made reproductions, and won't identically represent the reality of historical periods, but they'll go a long way toward showing kids how much different life in the old days was to the way we experience it now. It is important to note that younger kids will need adult supervision; older ones can work mostly alone.
American Kids in History isn't a stand-alone program at all. Each book is supplementary and makes a fun addition to formal history study, whether you're doing a textbook, Charlotte Mason, or unit study approach. Some kids may not want to complete some of the crafts, so feel free to pick and choose; older kids especially may find some of the activities too young or beneath them. Overall, however, this is a fun and educational series that has the potential to get reluctant students interested in the study of history through learning a bit about the daily life of American kids through the centuries.
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