Friday, 17 August 2012

How Do You Cover History?

Me and my family have just spent the last 6 months travelling around the country in a motorhome. I can't tell you what an incredible experience this has been for us all. If you have the chance to do it, I would absolutely say go for it. It's probably been the best learning experience we've had in all our years home educating.

The thing that shone through most of all has been history. We've visited all manner of places covering pretty much every time period in this country's history. We've seen so many different ways of telling the stories of this land, from dry information boards to organised reenactments to enthusiastic local history buffs happy to spend an evening sharing their knowledge.  Some ways of knowledge sharing have been more easily absorbed and more enjoyable than others, and this leads me to the questions I want to ask of anyone out there that still reads this blog!

What does history mean to you? Is it just an interesting way to pass a rainy afternoon, or does it serve a deeper purpose? How do you bring history into your lives? Do you use textbooks; living memory stories; DVDs, museums [insert any other ways I've momentarily forgotten]? What, if anything, would you like your children to learn from history?

I'm really looking forward to reading what you all have to say, as once we move back into a house we won't have such easy access to the wide variety of experiences we've had recently, so I'm interested to know what you all do and why.





20 comments:

  1. For me it is old photographs and old stories mostly, probably because of the way I learn. DH is more into books so tends to use them more. DD is a people watcher so tends to seek out people and relate 1:1, also using books, particularly biographies. Family for us is nowhere nearby so we have to travel far to connect with other generations, I think this has affected the way we communicate about history. We love seeking out places and people when we go away on journeys and learn lots this way, particularly through old craft/art/music. As DD has grown, the ways in which we absorb history has changed significantly. For us, spiritual journeys are probably the most significant historical journeys we travel - gleaning spiritual things from others' historical journeys. Not sure if that makes sense, but hey-ho xxx

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    1. I'm not quite sure what you mean, but it sounds really interesting, and would love to know more :)

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    2. For instance, considering persecution of a certain people groups for whatever reason... eg Nazi Germany, Anne Frank, concentration camps etc ... What were the things that empowered people to persevere through awful conditions, how did they maintain their inner resolve to not give up despite everything, did they give up or compromise, how did adults encourage their small children to not give up, etc? I remember this film being pretty powerful http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118799/ in communicating what an adult would go through to not let their child suffer the horrors... That type of thing. So, not only practical things like what people ate or wore, but a bit cerebral lol!

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    3. I'd not heard of that film before, it sounds very compelling, will have to look it out when we move into the house.

      Right, yes, I get you :D I think it's rather similar to what I was saying in comments further down about developing empathy for people's stories. It's a hugely important thing, I think, for our children to learn to do, particularly in today's world where other people with different agendas have such a potentially powerful influence over how we view a situation that more often than not isn't quite what it might at first seem. If you have the ability to question, look at different angles and employ empathy, then hopefully this will enable more and more people to truly learn from history. But maybe I'm just a crazy idealist...

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    4. Yes to the ability to think critically and question the world around us. Has to start with personal experience so, essentially, in the home. It is key for all families, but as HErs we do have an advantage with this if put to good use. Young people have the potential to think so deeply about things, especially relationships, and I find it so interesting to discuss these sorts of things. They also need time to think about an idea then come back later with Part 2, 3 etc in a non-pressured way. Noticing others' feelings and emotions and being able to reflect upon them is such a powerful way of learning about life and how to relate. I love it when questions about the past come up... 'Can you remember when...?' or 'What did you do when...?' Sometimes DD says, 'Did your REALLY do this or think that?' and has a laugh! Answering honestly is really important as it helps to shape and develop their own ideas. For me, it has definitely helped me be a more reflective parent and friend and accept a much greater range of people than I might have done in the past. I did not and do not relate to my parents in even a fraction of the way in which I have learned to as a parent myself. I still have many unanswered questions from my childhood.

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  2. Wow, sounds fantastic, what a journey!
    I love history, I have just written a short biography on one of my great grandfathers. Sadly, despite my enthusiasm, my sons don't seem particularly interested. We have visited museums, the castles have seemed the most interesting to the boys especially ones where they can buy replicas of weapons; bows, arrows, bullets. My eldest became interested in William Marshal, we took him and his younger brother to Nottingham Castle, which was not necessarily the best place to study this particular knight, he showed interest in the artefacts, whilst the youngest son, drew pictures of the security system? What's that about?
    We live on the southern tip of Sherwood Forest, a place steeped in history. I hope one day that my love of history will rub off.

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    1. Ah yes, boys and bows and arrows! Mind you, my girls were like that just as much. Lol at security system pictures, although i suppose you could say that maybe he was comparing modern day security systems with historical ones to see where the differences lay....?

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  3. Hi Tech! So jealous you got to do this! What a fantastic thing!

    History to me is one of the easiest things to home ed because our country has so damn much of it and it's so accessible. Where we live now we can get mediaeval at Old Sarum castle or prehistoric at Stonehenge. Back in Essex we'd go Tudor at Kentwell or drop down to London for the whole gamut of history from Roman to WWII and beyond. So yes, we learn history by going out and experiencing it in places where it happened.

    We are really into the idea of joining a re-enactment group, partly because it is so good for the kids - their learning of a historical period in depth and detail; the learning of practical skills from a wide pool of adults; experiencing another way of life; learning self-reliance and confidence... and getting to use pointy weapons safely too!

    We also have some great resources down here like the Ancient Technology Centre, a place that does research into ancient ways of doing stuff (e.g. we did bronze smelting on bronze age day!) and makes a point of getting the kids practically and actively involved, and Old Sarum has regular historical events targeted at kids.

    Experiential things like this give us a huge interest and energy which we take home and pile into digging through YouTube and BBC video resources, websites, etc. We don't really get into textbooks (we have some Horrible Histories which are obviously the standard 'intro' history book... but a bit inaccurate and sometimes get so obsessed with the 'horrible' that the 'history' gets lost). We get the odd DVD but really most of the stuff we get into is on the Net. And of course the best modern history resource is talking to people who have lived it! There's a guy at our village hall who will talk to the kids for hours about life in the country when he was their age, when there were no cars in our village and everyone went around by horse and cart!

    Hope you're all healthy, happy and hearty. Much love to y'all! xxx

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    1. Hiya :) It has been pretty fantastic, still not finished - have Scotland to do in the next 3 weeks or so, so very much looking forward to that.

      I love the sound of the Ancient Technology Centre! May have to add that to a list of places to visit next year, what a great place to have locally to you (bit envious I have to admit).

      What value do you think there is in learning about history?

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  4. We are not at all structured in our approach to learning, but history is a natural part of what we do. It permeates everything tbh. Invariably the children ask WHY something is the case, often many times a day ;-) The most obvious way to begin answering such a question is trace the subject at hand back to its origins and work forwards from there, examining as many influencing factors and relavant points as possible along the way. We can also compare different subjects or events to see whether there are common patterns that could serve as likely predictors for the future.

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    1. Yes! I think this is the thing that excites me most about history - the tracing back and looking forward.

      I think it's important to be able to equate things from antiquity and onwards to modern day experiences in order that we can really learn the lessons of the past, otherwise we are surely destined to repeat them, generation after generation? Dry text books don't have that ability I don't think, it's possibly more about empathy, which is much easier when you can look at human stories rather than facts, figures and dates.

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  5. What enthuses me about history, is that you and I make it. History is the bond of the land, time and people. It also connects to the future. Something happens today, because history has already shaped (it in a very loose way).

    Access to history? Well look at an artifact, picture, castle and just imagine....Not vouching for historical accuracy, but for that you have books and documentaries.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in approving your comment, Astrid, life in a van makes things a little difficult at times, and internet access is one of those difficult areas!

      I love what you say here: "History is the bond of the land, time and people. It also connects to the future. Something happens today, because history has already shaped (it in a very loose way)."

      That captures the importance of history to me to an absolute T, thank you!

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  6. We start with stories, told from memory, not books (lots of staying one step ahead needed!) This usually seems to ignite an interest which develops into role play - each of us being a character from history telling the other about something from our lives or their lives. I guess this might seem really weird, but for a 5 year old it's fantastic pretend play.

    For example, we visited Boscobel House and played at being Henry VIII and Charles I. I know pretty well neither of these have much to do with the property, but it meant we could start with chopping off heads (which is fascinating, apparently) but eventually introduce new information like the Civil War and Charles II hiding up the Royal Oak.

    We fell into this 'method' one day in the park and I was amazed how well she retained the information (probably something to do with moving her body at the same time). She all of a sudden was able to list Henry VIII's children, remember a couple of wives, know there were two interesting Marys in Tudor times (Bloody and Queen Of Scots) and that QEI had no children. She did all this at the age of 4 :o

    I don't expect this to last long or always work but I think finding the fun was the answer. Perhaps historical re-enactment would be something to think of for the future!

    I have to add that this wasn't at all how I wanted to 'teach' history - I was keen on the idea of a chronological style à la http://www.welltrainedmind.com/store/history-and-geography/story-of-the-world.html but there's still plenty of time for that ;-)

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    1. Apologies to you too Liz for the delay in comment approval, thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I love this idea, I think it must really enable a child to get into the heads (as it were) of the person they are acting out. I have sometimes wondered about what people get out of being historical reenactors, but I think you've just answered that for me, thanks!

      I think that a chronological overview of history can be very valid - we had timelines on our stairwell for a couple of years - but I think that what you are doing is possibly more important in terms of the empathic understanding of why things happened and how they turned out the way they did, if that makes sense?

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    2. Yes, it makes plenty of sense - the way we've developed definite encourages questions because we're able to work in the 'here-and-now' instead of, for example, reading a book which requires concentration to understand the structure of the sentences and then extrapolate meaning (especially for one as young as mine, some books go completely over her head or she gets so lost in listening that there's no chance for questions as she's too absorbed in the story). A conversation does so much more and she gets chance to put herself in the place of the people we're talking about, as you say, developing empathy and understanding.

      I also get your timelines - I know for a fact that constant exposure is a significant element in learning - we've already got a decent grasp of continents purely based on the huge world map in our lounge. So it boils down to embracing many learning styles and running with them, would you agree?

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  7. We come across history via other things. They'll see a film, or a video, that triggers questions about things from the past, which will lead to looking things up, talking to people, visiting relevant places, making things. Or they'll visit somewhere, which triggers questions about its history, which leads to talking to people there, looking things up, making things, watching relevant videos or films :)
    One of their favourite places recently has been an old pot bank, which has led to discussions and discoveries of local buildings/industries, local geology and how that affected these, the history of sewers and toilets, and the history of disease and medicine. In contrast to that, my six year old's interest in gaming has led to looking into the history of computers, programming, internet and games.
    I love that in our lives it intertwines with everything else, rather than being a discrete entity, this subject where they learn just about things that happened in the past. Seeing the connections in real life, it's easier for them to see it as something relevant, to be questioned, and to be learnt from.

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    1. Again, freedomiseverything, apologies for the delay in comment approval.

      I love how you've captured the importance of history here. It really is completely enmeshed in our everyday lives isn't it? And a hearty YES to questioning and learning from it.

      I often think we don't really learn much from history, certainly when you look at the mistakes we keep on making, but I do wonder how much this will change in the coming years as more and more people delve into discovering history in the way you and others in this fascinating thread describe. I have heard people with children in school say that their child had shown an interest in a particular historical time, and asked if they could study it only to be told that *oh, we don't cover that until next year* I can understand it's difficult not to have a structure in a school setting, but it seems to me that letting a child follow their interests when they show that interest is paramount to proper education!

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    2. Those connections are so important, aren't they? I think HE can allow children to create connections in everything for themselves quite early on, because they are facilitated and allowed to explore their natural curiosity, which doesn't need limits set on the boundaries of subjects!

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