Monday, May 14, 2012

Introducing 5 Days of Living History

I've often said that History is my favorite subject, and I do enjoy teaching it. While it may not always be a favorite subject for my kids - it is schoolwork, after all! - my goal is to teach it in such a way that my kids remember the principles and foundations, and so that they can see that it matters.  I believe that experiencing things makes them easier to learn, to understand, and to remember.  So how can we experience events that took place in the past, and in faraway places?  Sometimes it does take a little thinking, but I don't think it's difficult.  It doesn't always need to be messy or expensive either.  The library and the internet, as most homeschoolers know, are invaluable resources for information, instruction, and ideas for these kinds of activities.  This week I'm going to be sharing some of the things we've tried and a few of the resources I'm aware of, and I hope that you'll be encouraged and inspired, and that you'll share your great ideas with me!

We tried to do hands-on things in our homeschool from the start.  When my oldest son was in first (or was it second?) grade and we studied American history, I packed the three boys up and went to Gettysburg right after we learned about the Civil War.  Gettysburg isn't very far from us and we had been there several times since moving to the area, but up until that point we hadn't done much other than drive through the battlefield areas.  I wasn't entirely sure how much my little guys would grasp, so my thinking was that we would do some walking on the trails, look at a few of the historical markers, eat a picnic lunch, and call it a field trip.  When we arrived at Little Round Top, a group of young men in army uniform was there and were hearing a lecture about the strategies employed by both sides in that battle at Gettysburg.  We listened in for a short time before taking the gentle hike up Little Round Top itself.  We read the markers and discussed it and went back down and ate our lunch in our car because it was raining by then.  To my surprise, that evening, my six-year-old explained to his dad the military movements of the Union and Confederate armies and how the Union forces were able to gain the advantage and hold their position at Gettysburg and eventually win the battle.  We were stunned.  I won't pretend that he remembered those details for years afterwards, but he had a better level of understanding of what the War was about, what happened, and how the War was won than a large number of adults I know.  Because he'd been there and the diagrams and maps and words in the books had come to life for a brief but important time.

And that day drove home the idea that living history was more effective than just reading about it.

Then, a number of years ago, our family participated in an encampment near Historic St Mary's City in Maryland.  We spent a weekend living very much like the earliest colonial Americans would have (with some necessary adjustments, of course!).  It was a memorable experience, one of the best opportunities to live history that we've had.  We learned about a historical period using all our senses, and over the next four days, I'll share a little more about living history using the senses.

We cooked over an open fire -

which meant we also had to build and tend the fire without using lighter fluid or modern matches.  We also had to eat the kind of food that would have been available to the colonists.  We tasted history.  And the picky eaters survived too.  Actually, after the hard work, they were hungry.  We smelled history too - the woodfire and the open air cooking.

(My guys liked the blowers so much, we had our neighbor - who happens to be hobby blacksmith -  make us one to use at home!)

We needed to gather kindling and chop firewood every day.  Chopping wood was one of the favorite activities of all the boys there, and the guy running the camp eventually had to tell them to stop chopping wood because we had more than enough! 

Another big highlight was learning how to shoot a flintlock rifle.

We also learned how to throw a tomahawk, and we're pretty good too!  

We slept in tents, and although we brought our modern day sleeping bags, we were supposed to use the straw for bedding underneath that.  I heard later that a couple of the adults brought air mattresses.  City slickers.  8-P 

We touched history by wearing the clothes, sleeping in straw, and doing the work and play.  I don't have a picture, but we heard history - we had a Bible study and devotional time that included singing some colonial era hymns and psalms.  And we were awakened each morning by the bugle and drum.  We looked at history in a different way than just textbooks.

The rest of the week, I'll be sharing some ideas for experiencing history, based on the senses.  Please join me and add to the comments, and if you don't already follow my blog, I would love for you to do that too.  And head back to the TOS Homeschool Crew blog to check out the other 65+ bloggers who are participating in the 5 Days of... Blog Hop!



Stefanie said...

How totally awesome!! Can't wait to read the rest!

Lynn @ TDHGP said...

History is my favorite subject too! I have always wanted to do the "live-it" weekends. Thanks for sharing.

Beth B. said...

We do dutch oven cooking too. You'll have to tell me more about the blowers.

Kym said...

The blowers were really just long pokers in a tube shape, made of iron. Once we were certain that the kids understood that they must never inhale with their mouth on the blower, only exhale to blow on the embers, they were super easy to use!

Melissa said...

Very cool!!

Post a Comment

I love comments! It's like visiting over a virtual cup of coffee.