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10 Ways to Bring History Alive for Kids

Are you tired of your children frequently and loudly exclaiming, “I hate history”? Here are 10 ways to help children develop a love of history.

Fort Niagara

When did we start liking history? These are words I never thought I would hear emanating from my daughter’s mouth. As so many children and their parents can attest, history can feel like one endless list of names and dates that one is forced to memorize and then promptly forget.

Why do we have to learn this? is a common complaint I have heard as both a parent and a teacher. Truth be told, I probably uttered the same words myself.

Although you can’t make your child like history, there are many activities your child (and you) can participate in that can help develop an interest in history. The few students I had -including my children- that loved history, usually developed that interest from activities outside of the classroom.

1. Provide a variety of history reading materials in addition to textbooks.

Schools typically use a textbook to teach history. Although full of information, textbooks don’t have a reputation for being interesting to students. A quick search online should yield a selection of reading materials available for most history topics.

  • Nonfiction and Picture books – appeal to all ages.
  • Historical fiction – excellent way to bring history to life. Characters from different time periods become relatable in a way that is difficult to achieve through nonfiction writing.
  • Biographies – give an in-depth peek into a person’s life where you discover not only what made that person famous, but all the struggles they overcame to become famous.

These options, often referred to as living books, help your child realize that people from history were real people, just like them.

2. Learn about history from various time periods and places.

American schools tend to focus most of their history studies on American history. This makes learning history feel repetitive and limits the opportunities to spark an interest in history. Exposing kids to other time periods and places increases the chances they will find history fascinating. There is so much more to history than modern history in the United States of America.

3. Research your own family history.

Every family has a history. Compared to the past, we are lucky to live in a time period where we have easier access to information about family history through computer research and DNA tests than generations before us. Along with conversations with older family members and looking through old photographs, search for more information through online searches or ancestry DNA testing.

4. Use timelines.

Many kids(and adults) don’t have an understanding of the flow of history. It all blends together. They may realize there are different historical periods, but do not know exactly where an event or person falls in relation to other events or people. Studying history is confusing and therefore not interesting.

Timelines, with their visual chronological sequence of events, allow kids to see the relationships between events and people in history and how the story of history unfolds. Although most history textbooks use timelines, they often contain just a small snapshot of time, and don’t provide the big picture of human history.

There are some excellent timeline books available for kids that provide this reference. In addition, encouraging kids to keep their own timeline book, can help kids develop this concept.

5. Gather costumes and props from historical time periods and famous people.

Kids love to play dress up, even big kids. Providing costumes and props from various historical periods can encourage kids to act out scenes from history. This helps kids process the information they have learned about history in school and through books. You may be amazed at the terminology you overhear them using in their play.

Historical park gift shops are great resources to find these types of costumes and props. Store them in an area that allows kids easy access to them for impromptu play.

6. Collect historical toys and figures.

Just like dress up clothes, historical toys and miniature figures allow kids to recreate scenes from history to process what they have learned. Some of my favorite sources for historical toys include American Girl Dolls, Playmobil and Safari Ltd. Toobs. My boys leave little battle scenes from ancient to modern history on every vertical surface they can find in our house.

Don’t rule this out if you have older kids. When I taught eighth grade students, one of their favorite activities was a demonstration of a watershed model that included miniature versions of people, buildings and other objects. They could not keep their hands off and were very engaged in the lesson. Even adults like to play with miniatures! Attend a model train show or visit a dollhouse museum to see this in action.

7. Play history themed games.

Games in general can be very motivating especially to competitive kids. History based games can help bring a subject they feel is boring to life. Professor Noggin’s Card Games are a trivia game that come in various history versions such as ancient history. Another good history game is Timeline, where you need to places events in order. There are also lots of history themed games that provide great discussion starters on various historical time periods or events.

8. Watch historical based movies.

Videos bring stories to life. From cartoons to documentaries, there is an abundance of historical video content available. Liberty Kids brings American history alive, while Kid’s Animated History with Pipo teaches about ancient cultures. As kids mature, there are many historical period dramas and documentaries available. Some of my kids favorite movies were from Curiosity Stream and other streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. Public television and your local library are other possible sources for historical video content.

9. Complete a craft or hands-on activity.

Hands-on activities have a way of sticking with you long after you have completed them. I don’t remember much from sixth grade, but I do remember many of the hands-on activities I did in my social studies class. In one activity we had to create something that represented a country we chose. I sewed a model of the flag of Japan. Another student constructed a model of the Taj Mahal! The activities really brought the material to life.

Mesa Verde National Park

10. Visit history museums and historical sites. Attend historical reenactments.

Of all the ways I tried to bring history alive for my kids, they all agree visiting historical sites was the most influential factor in their development of a love of history. We started visiting history museums and historical sites in our area and eventually planned entire road trips based on history.

Our first major road trip was planned after reading the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We visited sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota on that trip and my kids still bring up memories many years later. Now that we have done multiple road trips, they have a sense that every location we travel to has a story.

People lived there.

Events happened there.

History is alive.

Many history museums also have annual reenactments that are also excellent to spark an interest in history. There are many national and state historic parks as well as many museums across the country to explore, even in small towns. Historical battlefields, old forts, ghost towns and lighthouses are also fun to explore. My favorite historical places to visit are living history museums, which have costumed interpreters recreating historical scenes.

History doesn’t need to be boring!

History is a fascinating story. Help bring it to life for your child.

  • Living history books
  • Various time periods and places
  • Family histories
  • Timelines
  • Historical costumes and props
  • Historical toys and figures
  • History games
  • Historical based movies
  • History based hand-on activities and crafts
  • History museums, historical sites and reenactments

By incorporating some of these ideas in your home, you can turn “I hate history!” into “When did we start liking history?” Who knows, even you may develop a love of history alongside your child.

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One Comment

  1. History is fun! Thank you for your well-written article on how to make history come alive for your children!

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