Friday, July 24, 2009

Keeping History Simple

History is important to me, perhaps because I've always enjoyed it. Or rather, I've enjoyed learning about people and places in times before me and hearing their stories. I'm not so much into memorizing dates and places and facts and times, but rather the how and why of it all. That to me is what makes history interesting, and, to be honest, fun. I don't want my kids to think history is boring, and since I find it important enough to teach/share with them, I like to keep it interesting.

The thing about history is, that no matter how much you know, you can always learn something new! For instance, I may spend my time explaining many American historical events to my family.. like the fact that the Boston Tea Party wasn't a fun flowery festival, but rather a stealth operation in the middle of the night. The boys were disappointed and amazed, all three of them. However, as I find myself embarking on the need to teach my children about their Australian heritage, I find that I lack knowledge in this area.

Yet, Australian history isn't so different from what I know. It takes place in a different land, with different people, but to some degree there are many things that are the same. Explorers, pioneers, gold rushes, racial segregation, war & peace, colonies, and on and on. Sure the land was different, and their outcomes and starts were different, but the stories are just as unique and amazing.

We keep history simple by selecting good quality books. I'm not picky about whether the book is a chapter book or a picture book. I'm picky about it's content. Is it factual and fun and captivating or is it dry and boring? We like feeling like we're a part of the events that have happened hundreds of years ago, and when that happens we remember far more then we would if we sat around drilling ourselves on facts.

When we learned about Christopher Columbus earlier this year, we read a delightful book I'd picked up for a meager 20 cents called I sailed With Columbus. The book was written from the point of view of one of the young gromet's on the Santa Maria. It's like peeking into his journal entries and it's filled with so much information it's amazing. We learned how and why ships travel in knots, and how that speed was determined. We learned how they kept track of time on ships, and how they slept, what they ate, and even, yes I'll admit it, how they pottied on the boats. The book was so fascinating the kids spent weeks playing Explorers using some of the Islands Columbus and his crew found. They built their ships and had maps and candles on board and were most displeased when I asked that they clean it all up so I could vacuum one day. They were so captivated by this book they wanted to relive it over and over.

We listened to By The Great Horn Spoon, and this had the same amazing effect on all of us. Not only was the book well written about the California Gold Rush, it was well read for us too. You felt yourself pulled into this "fortunately unfortunately" type story. You see the daily struggles and fears and joys of living in a gold dig. We were enthralled by the Butler, captivated by young Jack's plight to save Aunt Arabella and his constant letters home. With every page we were on the look out for "the man in the hipper hopper hat."

The boys spent weeks wearing the biggest hats they could find. They rode stick horses, pretended to find gold in the sandbox, and had some amazing western stand-offs. No one in this house can resist carrying their umbrella on their arm as Praiseworthy did, even if we don't own a bowler hat.

From these simple books we learned so much about the time frame in history, what people did, how they dressed, acted, what they saw, what they ate, and more. These are the things the boys will remember, those are the stories they'll pass on and tell someone on a cold or rainy afternoon. After our story is over, or sometimes while we're enjoying it we'll add special dates, events, or people to our timeline which is currently hanging in our dinning room. That big thing has hung in many rooms of many homes, and always lands back in one of our more commonly used rooms.

The boys will often color a picture while a book is being read to them, usually they color a picture relevant to the story. For little ones (as in Jayden) this is all they do for their history notebook. All though sometimes I'll ask him if he'd like me to write anything down for him, sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. Morgan, on the other hand will color a picture, draw a picture, or ask me to find him specific ones on the computer that he can cut and paste into his notebook. Then he'll narrate back pivotal points of the story, or a saying he especially enjoyed. Then we punch holes in the paper, and stick it in their notebooks. We don't fuss over chronological order..

Here are a couple of living book lists for historical books; List One, List Two. I'm also in the process of making my own list of books we've read or will be reading, which I'll be adding to as I go along. Our home library is ever expanding, and my poor husband wasn't too horrified the day I said I wanted to buy one of those old fashioned homes with the library rooms that had a ladder in it that spun all the way around the room. (Yeah, I've watched Beauty & The Beast WAY too much...)

The point is, a good book can captivate it's audience and take them into a whole new world. That's the kind of books we like to read for history. We want to be transported back in time, and left there just long enough to want to come back and visit again and again.


SC said...

I've dreamed of having that kind of library, too:) I grew up in a house filled with books, that could be why.
Thanks for sharing those books, I have them on hold at the library.

SnoopyGirl said...

Thanks for sharing your list of books. I agree that rote memorization of history facts is a real drag. People remember so much more when they learn through great literature.