Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Musings on the Creator in Me

Teaching History . . . Creatively

The theme at HSB Front Porch this week is teaching history. While my official teaching qualifications are in English and history, I confess that history was never really one of my favourite subjects, although I enjoyed a history of ideas course in my first year of university. But I think that's because of the great professor I had, still a long-distance friend so many years later. (Don't ask how many!) However, since I've been homeschooling my own children, I have a new-found interest in history -- and for the most part, my children share that interest. I'm pretty sure God wants us to enjoy and appreciate every aspect of His creation, past and present, learning from those that have gone on before us. So I'm sharing here some of the creative ways we've been blessed to have history come alive for us  -- not because we've figured out "how to do it" -- but in hopes that it will inspire some of you:

History as story:
Who doesn't love a good story? There have been times when we've all been at odds, with bickering and complaining abounding -- but when we've sat down to read a good story, even the toddlers have become engaged, though the content was above their heads. Here are some of the specific books that have helped us enjoy learning about the past -- to the point that my children often ask to "do history":
  • Susan Wise Bauer's four-volume Story of the World series introduced us to history in simple narrative form. Supplementing with other books on the topics addressed in the series, we gained a general overview of world history, and learned to see relationships in the histories of different countries and cultures. The activity guides also gave us map work to enable us to see the significance of geography in relation to history, as well as offering ideas for extension activities that made learning hands-on and fun. The CDs were also awesome for listening to in the car, or having as background while playing quietly -- in addition to assisting with the individual lessons.
  • Historical fiction, such as the writings of H. G. Henty. While the story lines aren't always based on fact, much about the particular time periods can be gleaned from the settings of such books.  The bonus was that our vocabularies had a boost from the rich writing style.
  • The History Lives series by Mindy and Brandon Withrow introduced us to a number of key individuals throughout church history. Because information was presented with captivating narrative and believable dialogue, we all remained engaged throughout each of the books.
  • Adventure stories about Christian hymns in the Mr. Pipes series by Douglas Bond always had us hankering for more. We became very attached to all of the characters that were threaded through the whole series -- even the animals -- as we learned about individual hymn writers, as well as the periods of history in which they lived. We also enjoyed learning some of the good, old-fashioned hymns that are too often forgotten in worship repertoires today.
Field trips:
I can't say that we've purposely taken a lot of trips in order to specifically study history, but the most memorable ones have been places where we've been "taken back in time" by dressing in period clothes and engaging in era activities. For example, we went to a local pioneer village dressed according to the time period. We went to a one-room school house for lessons, visited the local blacksmith, and helped one of the village farmers. Because we got to be actively involved in the historical lifestyle, we acquired a better understanding of what life was like in that era than if we'd simply read a book about it.

Of course, museums are another great place to learn about history. When our family travels, we usually spend some time visiting local museums. A trip to Newfoundland enabled us to visit an actual archaeological dig, giving deeper significance to what we were learning about settlers in the area.

Cultural activities:
In our early homeschooling days, when I had more time and energy to consciously plan fun things, we joined forces with another homeschooling family who was studying the same history books we were and had an African feast. We prepared a variety of dishes at home, then came together to eat them. It does take a lot of time and effort -- but the memories are worth it.

Historical movies seem to be getting more and more popular, even in Holywood. While we need to be careful about our selections, movies can be a great way to get a flavour of a time period, and gain some insights into the people and places of long ago. This past holiday season, DD13 and I have been on a bit of a British royalty binge, watching multiple movies about Queen Victoria and Elizabeth I. It's fun seeing the different perspectives that directors take in the creation of their films about the same topic, and it's a good challenge to sift through the fact and fiction by comparing the dramas to more reliable sources of information. As an added bonus, it provides fodder for family jokes that stem from one-liners in the movies that capture our attention and stick in our brains. (Our current favourite from Elizabeth I starring Kate Blanchett: "I don't see with one eye or hobble around on one foot, so why would you think I would rely on only one source of information?" Our favourite from a TV drama about Elizabeth I was: "I don't want to hear any more about it  . . . but I expect a full report when it is done." :)

Veterans Affairs:
An important part of history, I think, is remembering the lives that have been lost fighting for the freedoms we enjoy today. So, we make a concerted effort to do something special for Remembrance Day. One year we attended the typical outdoor ceremony -- but afterwards we joined the veterans at a lunch that they provided. It was a lovely opportunity to interact with people who had lived an important part of our country's history. Sometimes we go to a local school to be involved in their ceremony; sometimes we watch the media coverage of our capital's Remembrance Day activities and read books about things like Flanders Field.

About three years ago I discovered that the Veterans Association is a tremendous resource. At that time, I was able to order teaching videos about the various wars our nation has fought in -- for free. I can't determine if those videos are still available (they were the old VHS style), but Veterans Affairs Canada offers a wealth of online resources. This screen shot (highlighted with my wobbly mouse) gives just a glimpse of some of them:

When our oldest daughters were about 10, a friend told me about an idea she'd heard from another friend -- the idea of having children create history scrapbooks instead of notebooks. My oldest daughter quite enjoyed integrating art and writing with the reading we did for history, and even DS9 (at the time) enjoyed it more than just using a notebook. Here are a couple of sample pages -- simple, but perhaps a little more visually appealing than notes in a book:

From DS's book:

 From DD's book:
 I know there are myriad ways to make history come alive for students, so I hope that some of you will leave some comments and links to share your ideas! Do you have any great ones to offer?

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