Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Traveling Back in Time & Teaching History to Kids

One of our most moving experiences on our trip to D.C. was a side trip to Manassas, or Bull Run. We first watched a film about these Civil War battles in the Center run by the National Park, then walked through some of the places - where Ricketts made the fatal mistake of not suspecting a sharpshooter at Henry House, where poor old Mrs. Henry made her fatal mistake of insisting on returning to th house, and where Jackson stood like a stone wall.

Brock has always been an avid reader of history, but it's really moved up to a whole new level for me as I've gotten older. I had to experience more of life and responsibility before truly appreciating remarkable actions done by remarkable people, real courage under stress, and decisiveness under difficult or uncertain circumstances.

Some children may have a hard time getting the idea of history because they haven't experience enough of life or they aren't yet having to make decisions for themselves or experience uncertain or significantly challenging experiences.

If you have having trouble interesting a child in history, then maybe what you should do is close the book and move to real life. Visit a historical place, and couple it with multimedia. If there's a vivid experience, then there's a powerful memory peg that will make it easier to hang other events and facts on later.

Reminiscences are whole brain experiences, compared to semantic or simple fact-based remembering (see below). Our kids found that watching the documentary - (included lots of primary sources, first-hand accounts, photographs, reenactments of key events), and visiting in-person on a very quiet day - made a powerful impact.

In the research paper below, it was also interesting to see that vivid reminiscences about remote events were just about as activating in the brain as more recent ones. If the episode is really memorable, it won't die away.

BTW, since we have gotten back, my daughter and I have also begun playing a free demo of the Civil War Game Bull Run (here). There's quite a lot of this demo, and apparently it first was created as a "garage game" by two history enthusiasts before it got sold.

We are only a little ways into the game, but already we're impressed by its detail and historical accuracy. She is learning about defending her flanks, troop morale, period weaponry, and strategic deployment (she is our gamer in the house - we didn't have to twist her arm). How much richer will her understanding of Civil War battles be if she has already served as a brigade commander?

Reminiscence and fMRI
First Battle Manassas & Teaching with Historical Places Lesson Plans
Mad Minute Games Civil War Demo Download

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