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5 Activities that will make your kids love history

Hilary Gan is a professional SAT tutor and a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona.

For many students, the subject of history summons visions of dense textbooks and long lectures. This can make it difficult for parents and teachers to pique a student's interest in the field. History is often distant, but providing hands-on experiences can better engage students. Here are several activities to try with your child.

Google Earth

Before studying a specific location, explore it on Google Earth. With satellite data in hand, you can identify major geographical features, political borders, weather, etc. Google Earth is especially useful when tracking battles, expeditions or important journeys. Follow the geography of the Trail of Tears or the Spanish missionaries, and view what they faced as they encountered nature.

Field trips

Whenever possible, it is best to utilize primary sources; plus, objects, persons and places can be just as intriguing as texts. Visit local historical museums and sites, and then explore primary artifacts like art from a particular era, everyday necessities for an average person at that time, or early examples of technology. For original documents such as letters and newspapers, inquire with your neighborhood library or travel to a nearby university library. Ask your student to describe the events of a major battle while visiting the site, or prompt him or her to hypothesize about the significance of the art for a given culture.

Heritage Minutes

Heritage Minutes is a series of one-minute films each detailing an event or an important person in Canadian history. Encourage your student to make one for any country, event or person he or she so chooses! For an excellent example, view Historica Canada's heritage minute on Agnes Macphail, Canada's first female MP (member of Parliament). If film equipment is not available, reenactments or tableaux (where individuals "act" out multiple scenes by posing without moving) can still be an engaging method to reduce an event to its essentials while also requiring full knowledge and plenty of research.

Historical fiction

Historical fiction is often well researched and pleasant to read. Mystery series, in particular, are entertaining books that provide a wonderful view into a past time and place, often including the politics and cultural issues of the day. If your child likes to read, pair his or her history curriculum with relevant historical novels, and if possible, discuss the content of the books in relation to his or her lessons.

Personal narratives

One of the best ways to engage a student's interest in history is to incorporate the human element as much as possible, either by connecting ideas to the student's life, or by using narrative to bring people of the past to life. Try activities such as tracking your family history and heirlooms (i.e. where was your family during the French Revolution?). Do you or other family members have any objects or photographs from a prior century? If your family emigrated from another country, when did they do so and under what circumstances? Alternatively, ask your child to create narratives embodying the culture and opinions of a time period or distant place using postcards, letters or journals.

It is essential to include free-choice, active or project-based learning methods in history lessons; and once your student is interested, it is likely that he or she will learn more than required, perhaps without even realizing it!

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

Photo credit: FDR Presidential Library & Museum/Flickr
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