Exciting Children about History

Many students especially teenagers do not understand why they should study history. They cannot understand the value of learning about people that have been dead for hundreds of years. It was ever thus, and for too many children learning history is a boring litany of dates of battles, kings, queens, and rich dead men.

Boring history lessons turn students off. It is difficult for youngsters to think about history. Technology has moved so fast in recent years. Their lives are so different from their forbears, changed from children’s lives even fifty years ago, let alone further back in time. Enthusing students about history is difficult, but not impossible, one just has to think creatively and laterally.

Teachers, home schooling parents, and those wishing to give children an interest in history can use many approaches. For example, Studying history, in some ways, is like playing detective. A historian must find clues, piece them together, sift the evidence, and make a conclusion, just like a detective. Technology can help with this. History students can discover history, on the internet, once the teacher gives them a few starting points.

One way into any subject is to make it personal to the student. One history teacher helped his students research their surnames. Families, schools, towns and cities all have a history, discovering it centres history far closer to home than some battle in a far away country. Family history is so absorbing because it tells the historian much about his or her identity.

Researching your area or your school helps you to have a sense of belonging. Sutton seems a boring town, until you realize that it and the settlements all around have Saxon names and that what is now suburbia was, until the railway came in 1847, tiny country villages in a rural landscape, so remote from one another that people died in snowdrifts and not found until spring. When you realize that farmers drove geese along Gander Green Lane to market and that Thomas Wall, member of the Walls Ice cream and sausages dynasty financed the Nursery school bearing his name, Sutton suddenly seems a more interesting place. Children could discover many more historical facts about Sutton, or the area where they live, by scratching the surface of its modern facade.

Taking student to living and working museums can awaken a historical curiosity. Seeing how people lived and worked in the past is much better than reading a book. Some living or working museums are so comprehensive that there is something there to interest and inspire any child, for example, Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre, near Arundel, Sussex, England, has 36 acres covering historic transport, industry, wireless telecommunications and crafts. It exhibitions include hands on activities and craftspeople such as blacksmiths, potters, stained glass makers, wood turners,  broom makers making things in traditional ways. Whether a child has scientific or arts interests, there is something at Amberley to interest him. 

One can virtually visit many museums and most major museums have online educational resources, some of which give some good ideas for enthusing students about history. There are also some excellent online resources for teachers. These have lesson plans and guidance for teachers. Some resources include forums, which help teachers to share ideas.

Many parents now prefer to educate their children in the home. This means that there are home schooling resources on line and these include excellent ideas and suggestions on how to excite children’s interest in history as well as lesson plans, standards, worksheets, and other things, which could help those wanting to inspire an enthusiasm for history.

The internet is playing, and will continue to play, a huge part in children’s lives.  Children love computer games and interactive web sites. There are history games and activities, which will help children to realize that history is interesting and fun.

Making children and young people realize that history is not black and white, and that their evidence based conclusions, are as valid as any historian’s are is half the battle. Making history personal helps pupils realize that history is everyone’s story and tells us how we came to be the people that we are, and that most things that happen have echoes from the past. For example, studying The South Sea Bubble or The Wall Street Crash and the Hungry Thirties is much more interesting when you set it in terms of the recent financial crash and the current economic problems. There are more resources available to help to excite students about History than ever before. Thinking laterally and creatively about history will help you inspire your history students, helping them to see that history is relevant, personal, exciting and interesting, and far more than dates, battles, kings, and rich dead men. History is everyone’s story.