When I found out that I was going to be a grandfather for the first time, I was informed in this modern manner by my daughter-in-law:
“Happy Valentine’s Day!!!...
Looks like Eva’s going to be a big sister-ish…(Eva is their dog)
This is not a drill!!!!
repeat, NOT A DRILL!!!!
No April fooling, here!....It’s not even April!”
Was I excited? Oh, you betcha!! My wife and I and our other three kids were beyond giddy!
In fact, after we got the news, I announced it on Facebook and wrote somewhere in the many comments I received that "I'm already getting excited about taking my grandchild to Greenfield Village!!!"
Yep, I'm that kind of grandpa. You know, giving my grandchild a historical upbringing. I love being able to show him the 'good old days'!
|Here I am with my tiny grandson inside of the 1750 Daggett House.|
You see, as far as kids and history, I've been very lucky - or maybe blessed is the correct word to use - because my four kids have always loved the subject. They were raised in history and grew up appreciating it. Because we visited the open-air museums so often they almost (in a sense) lived history and even have a sort of nostalgia for it at times.
An example of this is knowing that their autumn memories consists of heading to the Fall Harvest Festival and seeing, among other things, the threshing machine at work as well as witnessing the other harvest activities.
It also meant our annual visit to one of the many cider mills in our area and going apple picking. They loved this! Still do!
|One of the oldest mills still in operation in Michigan is the Yates Cider Mill, up and running since 1863! This is one of the places we get our cider from.|
Yep - doing traditional things is also a part of giving your children a sense of history.
I know a couple who have children and tried their best to raise them with the same passion for history as they themselves have. Like me, they had taken their kids to the local area historical villages like Greenfield and Crossroads and local area museums such as the Detroit Historical Museum, as well as to the great historical hotspots located outside of Michigan such as Gettysburg, Mt. Vernon, and Colonial Williamsburg.
It was unfortunate that even with going to all of these wonderful places, their kids just did not show a love for history. Virtually none.
We spoke about this at length one day and that's when I realized why their children were not history buffs: it was because at every step and stop there was a lecture; the kids had to listen to their parents speak to them as if they were students on a field trip.
No wonder they didn't like it very much - it was too much like a school history lesson!
Many times adults treat history with white-gloved hands, making it almost like visiting that grandma or aunt who has her furniture covered with plastic and has lots of 'don't touch' items lying about.
I believe one of the main reasons I got my kids to love this seemingly dreaded subject is that I've tried to make history fun for them - fun for them on their terms. And in this way I used a certain amount of psychology where I combined history with fun to give that positive association.
A simple answer, wouldn't you say? I mean, at the cider mill they could get cider and doughnuts, maybe a candy or caramel apple and play on the hay stacks or on the corn maze. By allowing fun they wanted to go back.
But there's more: I didn't lecture.
I spoke often of history, but I didn't lecture.
My four kids have been going to historic places such as Greenfield Village and Crossroads Village since they were in their mother's womb. And then as babies and toddlers I would take them there on beautiful spring, summer, and fall days and we would just walk around amidst all of those wonderful 18th and 19th century structures.
As they grew beyond the toddler stage we would go and take part in some of the activities they had, including playing the old time games on the village green such as hoops, walking on stilts, and the game of graces, all being favorites.
|See the two boys playing 'hoops' near the sidewalk? Yep - that's my two oldest in (I believe) 1995. They were only 7 and 4 at the time.|
Then there was candle dipping. Each of them would hand-dip their own beeswax candles and then I would hang them from the sconce in wait for Thanksgiving or Christmas to light them. How excited they would get when we would let them know it was their candles giving us the beautiful atmosphere! That's when they would get excited and couldn't wait for the following year to dip more.
|My seven year old daughter dipping candles.|
They loved going to the Colonial Days Festival and the Civil War Remembrance (before we began reenacting) and seeing the reenactors with their muskets, fifes, and drums. The surrounding atmosphere was very festive indeed and my kids felt as if it was a very special celebration. In a very real sense, it was a celebration - a celebration of history!
|The now defunct Colonial Days Festival was a fine way to celebrate our Nation's birth, with the pomp and circumstance of 1776! We loved it!|
|My three sons during the Colonial Days Festival back in 1997. They loved wearing period clothing even then!|
Of course, we can't forget riding the train, the carousel, the horse and carriage, and even the Model T's. And how about that steamboat!!
And while on these authentic period rides we did speak of travel in the old days so they would get a sense of history, but at their age level so they could associate these historic rides with their own lives. "Remember when Laura and Mary Ingalls rode the wagon with Pa and Ma?"
We didn't lecture. We instead gave them a connection to something they liked, in some cases by way of Little House on the Prairie.
And it worked!
|My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter on the steamboat at Greenfield Village. This was our favorite ride there and we rode it at each and every visit. Even before we became reenactors we dressed her in 'old time' clothes. She loved it.|
In between all of the fun rides we would also visit the historic houses to see up close and in person how life was lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. The presenters, many times, would engage our kids, supplementing the outdoor activities with the stories of life in the home.
All made for a well-rounded history lesson that our children enjoyed and remember fondly.
Now, do you see what we did here? There were no lectures, no straight mono-toned history lessons. Instead we interspersed things we knew they would find to be fun with history. So they, as I stated above, associated history with something enjoyable.
And because of that, they took my love of history as their own.
|Here's the father of the baby I am holding at the top of this post, a long time ago, when he was a still just a colonial kid in breeches and tennis shoes.|
|Kitchen - Late 1700's|
|Kitchen - 1840|
|Kitchen - 1890|
|Kitchen - 1930's|
History played such an important role in my kid's lives that they included it in their major accomplishments, such as high school graduation photos:
|Here's my son Tom in one of his 2006 high school graduation pictures. He just had to have a few grad pics in his Civil War uniform, and we went around to some of the older areas in town for him to pose.|
|And my son Robert had his 2009 high school graduation pictures taken at the Henry Ford Museum, and posed with numerous very cool mid-19th century artifacts to go with his clothing style. Would you like a Lucky Strike or Pall Mall?|
|My daughter loves trying on the fancy hats at the late 19th-century millinery shop.|
|Here is my family - my wife and our four children - at Devil's Den in Gettysburg back in 2005. Don't we look like we're posing for a folk rock music album cover?|
|Apple picking is a family affair.|
My kids, three of which are now full-fledged adults (with one married!), are very contemporary in every sense of the word with their ipods, smart phones, pinterest, and networking sites. But that doesn't take away their passion for the past. In fact, my daughter-in-law has asked me about taking her to Greenfield Village again. She and I have gone a few times now together and she really enjoys going.
She even joined us for a day at Civil War Remembrance!
Our love of history must be rubbing off on her!
|My family and I at Civil War Remembrance 2013|
As long as we can catch their interest.....
*Postscript: They recently built a playground at Greenfield Village. I know it has a period feel, with its Model T and the like that kids can climb on, but it's still a very modern playground. I would have rather seen a wooden swing set.
I also noticed that since it was built, games on the green, where children had the chance to play the period games of old, took a dive. When they do have it, hardly any kids are there - they're all at the playground. It sorta reminds me now of how teens and young twenties need to be connected via smart phones; one can't seem to get away from the 21st century, even for a little while.
You may disagree with me, but I dislike the play area - I'd have rather seen the cooper shop and cobbler shop brought back. But that's just me.
For more reading on the traditional and historical traditions of my family, check out some of these posts:
A Trip to the Cider Mill: Michigan Apples, Cider, and Raspberries
History in School Musings
How One Family Became Living Historians
My Passion for History Did Not Begin With Reenacting (or...And How Long Have YOU Been Into History?)