American Civil War Project Ideas for Elementary Students

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand,” is an old Chinese quote that applies to the lives of educators. When children are learning about historical events, like the Civil War, hand’s on activities will help them make better connections with the material, enabling them to remember what they learn even after the test is over.

Studying the Civil War is enhanced by craft activities. It helps students gain an understanding of what life was like when soldiers and individuals could not run to the store and purchase the things people living in the time period needed to take care of their families.

Letters were exchanged during the war. Make berry juice ink and let the students use the ink to write letters. Mash 1/2 cup of any dark berry in a small strainer; catch the juice in a bowl. Crush them until they no longer have juice. Add 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and vinegar to the juice. Use it right away.

Make quill pens from feathers that can be found at your local arts supply store. Cut the end in the shape of a “V” and split the “V” up the middle. Use this to write a diary entry about the war or a letter home about the war.

Cooking is a craft that is useful in learning about the Civil War. This site include photographs from the war, showing students how the food was cooked. It also has a couple of handy recipes that students could make. While an open fire may be unobtainable, a camping stove could be used to give students a form of the experience.

Teach your students how to knit. During the war, women knitted socks, scarfs and other items for the fighting men. Teach them how to make a simple scarf. Free and easy patterns are available here. 

Sewing was important during Civil War times. Mothers and wives sent their loved ones to battle with the aid of a sewing kit; new uniforms were not readily available when shirts and trousers were torn in battle. Women made pillow cases, quilts, shirts for those in the hospital and other items that were needed, supporting the war effort with their needles and thread. 

Create a housewife’s sewing kit using felt. Use one piece of felt for the backing and sew on pockets to hold the necessary items. Housewives, allegedly called so because the soldier wished it were his wife doing the sewing, contained spare buttons, needles, thread, thimbles, small scissors and other items necessary to make repairs to their clothing.

Create a class quilt project. Give each child a square of plain white or cream material and water-resistant markers. Each square should be decorated with an item used during the Civil War or a scene from the war. Stitch them together with strips of colorful material between each block. You can either have it finished or use it for the background on a bulletin board in the classroom.

After researching the regimental flags of the Civil War, have students create their own flags. Great step-by-step directions are available at a site for the Civil War in Arkansas. 

Listen to songs from the Civil War. Have students draw illustrations for each song. Create a class Civil War songbook.

It is important that students not only learn history, but remember it. Tell them a story and they’ll remember it for a day. Give them an activity and the knowledge will last long after the last test question is answered.