Saturday, September 29, 2012

Big Up the History!

Renaissance Fair

The school year is now in full swing and as many parents heave a sigh of relief now that they have a few hours to themselves or enjoy a real, hot cup of coffee, millions of children find themselves back in orderly classroom rows. The troops are in training and elementary and secondary school centurions are urging them on. The homework has begun, as well as the early morning battles for what to wear and how much to eat. Legions can’t go far on empty stomachs!

I am still traumatized by early September, the memories of the end of Summer still all too vivid in my mind. I remember detesting school. Yes, it’s true. Sadly, most of my teachers were just bitter and had been at it far too long to get any joy out of it. I used to feel chained to my desk during the day. The ultimate terror, of course, was the threat of being called to the front of the class to answer some math problem that was more confusing to my primary school mind than deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. And sadly, when it came to history lessons, everybody groaned.

History does not have to be boring!

I’m always trying to find ways to entertain and teach my own kids about history and, in truth, it is not very difficult because they love it. Of course, travelling to ancient or medieval sites and telling stories about those sites is one of the best and most fun ways to learn – turn it into an adventure! But, unless you live in the UK and Europe, this won’t exactly work as a weekend outing.

However, there are many fun things you can do. How about dressing up the kids (and yourself if you dare) and hitting the local Renaissance Fair where you can roam the marketplace looking for historical replicas, plush swords and of course the standard smoked turkey leg. Or you could head out to your local museum where, especially at the biggies, you can see suits of armour, swords and lots of gold. If your kids like to draw, bring along some paper and markers and have them sketch.

Kids love stories too and there are so many tales from mythology, ancient and medieval traditions, that you can tell a different one every day. Some are bloodier than others so you may have to tone it down for the wee ones but for older kids, that may just be the thing to grab their interest.

And that’s what it is all about, grabbing their interest.

Many people don’t like the idea of using films to teach history but I have always been a big fan of this. Kids are very visual and need visual aid. Movies, whether Robin Hood, Braveheart or Ben Hur, can ignite interest and spur a whole load of questions which can be encouraged thereafter. It doesn’t have to be academic, just interesting. Once they are into it they will read all on their own. Just be sure to highlight what things are real and what are made up at times. Listen to some period music (or ‘Castle Music’ as my kids call it) and look at a reference book with coloured pictures. Have a medieval meal at home with clay cups and all or, if you can handle it, take everyone down to Medieval Times to eat chicken with your hands and watch the staged combat. The kids will love it and, if you let loose and yell along with the crowd, so will you.

If you need some ideas there are many resources on-line that offer some great suggestions. The BBC History  has a lot of great information and even some colouring pages for different periods from Stonehenge to the Vikings and more.

The National Geographic Archive on-line also has some great teacher aids that could also be adapted to guide you at home. If you want something ancient, they even have lessons on practical topics such as Greek and Roman Land Use, handy if your kids are learning about history and the environment at school.

If ancient Rome is your thing, Kidipede has several links to info on the ancient world that you can check out. These are just a few examples of what you can find on-line. There are thousands more!

Basically, the idea is to be creative when approaching history and it will be fun for everyone. It does not have to be boring. In fact, it can, and should be, infinitely more exciting than most subjects. Then again, I am biased. 
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