Sunday, February 23, 2014

Raising Your Kids in History

August 1888---er...19 88. This is my wife and I with our first born, who was only around 6 weeks old at the time this picture was taken, at one of those "old time" picture places at fairs where you can put on the velcro clothing to have an 'old-fashioned' photo taken. We used to show him this picture and tell him we were from the past and got transported into the future.

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 at Greenfield Village.
Hmmm...maybe he can even reenact with me at some point...
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.
And since it is not too far from where we live, Greenfield Village is nearly like "the old neighborhood" to our kids.
See the two boys playing 'hoops' near the sidewalk? Yep - that's my two oldest in (I believe) 1995 at Greenfield Village's Colonial Days event. 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 at Greenfield when she was still in her single digit age..
and while in her teens with a few friends at our house:
Sweet 16 and still dip[ping candles...
They absolutely loved going to Greenfield Village's 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!
Now, see my son on the left?
Here he is, taking aim, in 2016:

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.
(At Colonial Days at GFV)

Here is my son Miles. I've never been fond of Thomas the Train at Greenfield and Crossroads Villages, but Miles loved it. So we went. But it worked out: Miles got to see all of the very fun Thomas activities and we also were able to visit the historical portions as well.

My kids inside the Henry Ford Museum. That's the 1840's kitchen display directly behind them. Since they enjoyed cooking with their mother at home, they had fun seeing and comparing the 250, 175, 120, and 80 year old kitchen vignettes on display (see below). There is enough cool stuff inside the museum (besides the kitchens), such as classic cars, real trains they could climb on and in, and cool gigantic farm equipment that held their interest enough so we could also check out the more serious displays of furniture and historic Rev War documents.
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
So I have no doubt of my historical influence on my grandchild. I believe this passion will be passed down for generations to come.
As long as we can catch their interest.....
These two people are the greatest grandparents a kid could have. Yep - they're my grandpa and grandma Giorlando, both born in the 1890's. To me they were the epitome of what grandparents should be and I plan to base my own grandparent-hood upon their ways.

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?) 



An Historical Lady said...

I have a few tears in my eyes---Warmest congratulations to you and Patti and of course to the proud parents-to-be! What wonderful and happy news. A great post---What wonderful memories you have---Certainly our most valuable possessions.

Robin's Egg Bleu said...

Congratulations on your grandchild! I am happily awaiting such news myself. Probably not for a couple of years though. My grandchild/children will have 3 sets of grandparents to spoil them, the other 2 sets have much to offer in the ways of privilege and money, which I lack. But it's a good thing, because I will offer what they cannot as well and so it works out to the future child's advantage. I will be 'stagecoach' grandma when the time comes. I'll drag them to living history events, all dressed up and these memories will outshine any other gadgets and gizmos purchased. Your grandchildren will be most fortunate to have such a loving and unique family!

Historical Ken said...

Here are a few of the comments I received on Facebook about this posting:
Larissa - "This blog was beautiful. I loved it."

Vicki - "Wonderful blog post, Ken. Yup, you hit the nail on the head. It is all about "living history" (active verb) with your kids and grandkids - NOT lecturing about history. I have done the same as you with my three girls and my granddaughter. They have gone to historical villages and sites with me since they were in my womb, too. And they all dressed in period clothing and loved it! (well, there was that one time when my youngest daughter, at age 3, in the heat of the summer, asked if she could please take her little period dress off and run around in her chemise and drawers, but that's a whole other story) And like your kids, mine are also very up-to-speed with all the modern electronic gadgets and interests, which is fine. I don't expect - or want - them to be exact clones of me. They each need to be the special unique person God created them to be. But they each have a real love of history, and I am so blessed and thankful for that. They have all done reenacting, and two of them are still involved in reenacting various eras of American history. You and Patty will be AWESOME grandparents, and you will give them a lasting legacy of the love of history that is priceless."

Kare - "Lovely article. I grew up reenacting with my grandparents. I would trade those memories for anything! I hope you and your grandchild are able to make your own memories in this amazing hobby."

Susan - "l Terrific post, Ken. You did a good job with your children!!!"

Mickie said...

Heartwarming!! Congrats :)

The BUTT'RY and BOOK'RY said...

Thanks for posting this to FB
it is a very dear hearted story :-)
Many warm blessings, Linnie