Thursday, June 11, 2015

History for Kids: Let's Make It Interesting For Them!

Do you think it's silly for us, as adults, to play dress up and pretend?
The following is a true conversation that actually occurred only a few months ago:
Person: "Why do you do that, get all dressed in those old clothes and pretend like you live in the past? Why don't you act like an adult instead of a little kid?"
Me: "And how does my reenacting affect you in any way?"
Person: "It doesn't. But do you know how ridiculous you look?"
Me: "And what does it matter to you what I do?"
Person: What does your wife think of you doing this?"
Me: "You mean, the one who dresses up in a hoop skirt and brings her spinning wheel to the reenactments? She thinks it's fine,"
Person: "You're impossible!"
Yeah...this person actually got angry because I could not be convinced that what I was doing was childish.
Yeah...heh heh...I gotta laugh...
Anyhow, one of the points during this discussion I did not tell you is how well we can teach history to kids by role-playing...through living history, and how we can bring the past to life and make what could be an otherwise boring subject into something interesting. 
Well, in the space of just one week a few of us had two opportunities to do just that.
The first one took place at a local Middle School for the 8th graders who were studying the Civil War.
We've been doing presentations for East Detroit Public Schools for about a decade now and consider it one of our many annual highlights.
And the weather has been with us for all but one year!
For these school presentations we divide ourselves into multiple groups, or stations. The kids, usually in groups of anywhere from 10 to 20 or so, will visit the military station first, where they will learn of the life of a Civil War soldier, including their uniforms, their guns, and of camp and battle life. And because the school will work with us (as well as the police and neighbors), the guys get to fire their muskets for the kids, which usually result in screams, laughs, startled jumps, giggles, and one or two of the young teens falling down, acting as if they've been shot dead.
Tell you what, here are a number of pictures taken at the Kelly Middle School presentation (followed by another kids history lesson).
I think you'll see how we can entice these 8th graders into loving what could be just another plain old school lesson:
Here is the 21st Michigan soldier's camp - right next to Kelly Middle School.
The kids, especially the boys, loved the military demonstration.

Kids loved to be dressed up in uniform, plus it takes that extra step to engulf the student into the past. (Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

Of course, firing the muskets is always the favorite part for the school kids.

Over in the civilian area we had a telegraph operator who brought along a period telegraph machine.

Mrs. Robeck allowed the children to tap out a message on the ancient communication device.
(Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

Joining us in this presentation was our resident tintype photographer, Robert Beech.
(Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

Yes, he actually took tintypes of the children - one lucky kid from each group got to stand in front of this device that is so far removed from their smart phone cameras that they almost could not comprehend the idea of this type of photography.

The kids were utterly were the teachers. The looks upon their faces when they saw the image of one of their friends "magically" appear on the piece of tin while it was placed in the solution was priceless. Mr. Beech, who looks uncannily like John Brown (who's body was mouldering in the grave), did a super job in his explanation for the kids.
And here I am with my wife and daughter. We showed the kids a bit about farm life.
(Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

The kids - girls especially - were very interested to see my wife spin on her spinning wheel.

Hands-on activities always help to bring the past to life and to help them understand their lives as compared to their 1860s counterparts. Here a young lady tries the monotonous and slightly strenuous (to them) task of carding raw wool by way of carding paddles.
(Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

My daughter spoke of teen life - her daily chores and activities of the 1860s. I am very proud of my daughter's ability to present to kids her own age. In fact, many of these kids are her classmates!
(Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

I spoke to the kids about farm chores.
(Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

This young man tried his hand at using a haying scythe. No, there was no hay, but he certainly got the idea of what it was like to do such a back-breaking job. Again, hands-on really captures their interest.
(Picture courtesy of East Detroit Public Schools)

Next up, me and a few other living historians traveled to the Plymouth Historical Museum to help with their "A Night at the Museum," event, based on the movies of the same name. This is where a group of children will go into the meeting room and eat dinner and watch one of the "Night at the Museum" movies. When the movie is over, the museum director will go downstairs with the Museum's "Tablet of Akmenrah" and invite the kids to come upstairs and see what happens with the tablet. Those that have seen the movie know that the tablet makes the mannequins in the movie come to life. So, when the tablet comes upstairs, the living historians (as mannequins) will come to life and interact with the kids.
On this Wednesday evening, a group of around a dozen Girl Scouts chose to have a history party, and here are the results:
Meet Amelia Earhart, the infamous female aviator from the 1930s. This was this young lady's first experience in the world of living history presentation, and she did a fine job

Next meet a WWI nurse. Sue is a nurse in her 21st century life and has studied historical nurses as well, and Edwardian-era nursing (and a bit beyond) is of great interest to her. She fascinated the girls with her tales of what it was like to do this sort of occupation a hundred years ago.

Here is another woman named Amelia - Amelia Bloomer, a women's rights activist who promoted a change in dress standards for women that would be less restrictive in regular activities. In the 1850s she came up with what became known as the Bloomer dress that, unfortunately for Mrs. Bloomer, was subject to ceaseless ridicule in the press and harassment on the street. Bloomer herself dropped the fashion in 1859, citing the crinoline as sufficient reform enough for her to return to a more traditional style of women's dress.

And now we have Paul Revere. I love portraying this 1770s patriot and have done so a number of times for this event. I love teaching kids about our great Nation's beginnings.  However, this time, I believe, just may be my favorite for one reason:
as the group of young ladies came up to me one of them said, "I think that's George Washington!"
Another girl kept staring at me - really eyeing me up and down - then she whispered, "No, that's not George Washington...that's Paul Revere! I know it's Paul Revere because we were just studying him in school!"
How cool is that? She knew exactly who I was without being told by anyone! She also knew about two lanterns shining in the Old North Church steeple, and that Revere did not yell out "The British are coming!" because, as she said, they were all British citizens at the time and, instead, told people that the Regulars were on the march.
I shoulda just let her give my presentation!

A group picture of the living historian presenters and the Girl Scouts we gave our history lessons to. The young lady to my right, wearing the pink flowery dress, was the one who knew so much about Paul Revere and was very excited to hold my lantern for this group photo. My (tricorn) hat is off to the young lady's teacher for having them learn about one of our important Patriot forefathers. I was beaming proudly as if she were my own daughter!

Teaching youngsters about history is so very important, and having them learn about the past in such a unique way is just about as good as it gets! They will remember this - it will stick with them. And it may just entice them to further their interest in what just may become a very fascinating subject for them.
And to my friend who thinks I am an immature nut, I just smile and nod. I mean, why should kids have all the fun, right?
By the way, if you are interested in how I taught my own children about history, check out this post:
Raising Your Kids In History

Until next time, see you in time.


1 comment:

Alena said...

Those kids will remember the experience you gave them long after they have forgotten all the answers to all of the tests.