We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.” This phrase had special meaning during my childhood, since my dad was a history teacher for 35 years. Lessons about history, government, and politics were par for the course as I grew up, both at home and in the classroom. Needless to say, I excelled in those subjects in school, and I’ve maintained a strong interest in civic issues ever since.
I often think about my upbringing as I’ve followed my kids’ study of history and civics in school. The rise in standardized testing has, unfortunately, contributed to a downturn of social studies lessons taught in the classroom. Schools have needed to shift a bulk of their time and resources into math and reading instruction. Other curricular areas have been placed on the back burner, and social studies lessons have been no exception.
Decreasing social studies in school curriculum isn’t just a sad change in the way we educate our students. As we’ve seen from the recent news out of Great Britain, a lack of historical and general civics knowledge can lead to adverse economic, political, and social outcomes. A well-rounded study of history from multiple points of view can improve critical thinking abilities. It can teach students how to develop written and verbal communication skills as they form and articulate their opinions. Most importantly, it can help us understand where we are as a society and what progress is necessary to continue moving forward.
Here are some of my favorite resources for teaching kids about history and civics:
This series is a hands down favorite of our kids. They’re great books for elementary-aged students, and cover historical events, historical and cultural figures, and geographic locations. The details of our history can be complicated and disturbing at times, but this series does a great job of handling difficult topics in age-appropriate ways.
Historical fiction is a great way for kids to get a feel for what culture and society was like long ago. Though the details may not always be completely accurate, reading historical fiction can be a springboard for kids to research and learn more about an era or events from the past.
There are too many awesome picture books in this category to list here. Two of our favorites include John, Paul, George and Ben (a cute re-telling of the characters of the Revolutionary War) and Grace for President (a fun book that explains the electoral college and the work of political campaigning.) Feel free to name some of your favorite historical picture books in the comments below!
This is a great site for kids ages 4+ containing fun games, printable, and other information. One of my favorite features of this site is how the content is categorized by age and becomes more complex with each level.
Although this website covers other areas, the history section is very robust. Kids can choose from a variety of games, videos, and links. This is a great resource for school-aged kids, as it contains both transcripts and images of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and more.
I will look for any reason to gush about Hamilton these days, so I had to include the Broadway hit in this post. 😉 All kidding aside, I’m seriously obsessed with this musical. It’s the convergence of so many nerdy passions of mine: politics, history, and musical theatre. And our kids love it just as much as I do; my 3-year-old even knows some of the lyrics.
The songs are ridiculously fun and catchy (trust me, my family is so sick of me singing it!), but there are comprehensive history lessons woven within those complex rhymes and beats. An argument between Jefferson and Hamilton about creating a national bank and assuming state’s debts is hashed out through a rap battle. Have you ever wondered why Washington DC is our nation’s capital? Listen here. Best of all, my kids are now saying things like, “Layfette is my favorite! Tell me more about him.”
A word of warning, though: the show contains a few mildly explicit lyrics. You may want to listen first and determine which songs are appropriate for your kids. (Some of my kids’ favorites include “The Schulyer Sisters” and “Guns and Ships.”)
Places to Visit
Museums provide experiential learning opportunities, which are essential for kids of all ages. Sometimes historical concepts can be a bit abstract, and the interactive nature of museums can really help bring the stories to life.
We’re very lucky to have an active historical society right here in Johnson County. The main museum is housed in the Iowa River Landing and offers a fascinating glimpse into the early days of our communities. In addition to the main museum, the Historical Society operates other sites, such as the 1876 Coralville School House and the Plum Grove Historical Home.
Just a few short miles over in West Branch, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library is a treasure trove of national, state, and local history. Because the Presidential Libraries are a part of the National Park Service, the land surrounding the museum is beautifully well-kept. Our family loves to take a picnic lunch, enjoy the scenery, and tour the grounds for a nice afternoon outing. Need more details? Check out our Parents’ Guide to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, Museum, and National Historic Site!
What are some of your favorite resources that teach lessons about history and civics?