Getting Kids Hooked On History

            Van Wagner, December 2000

            How to get kids interested in history is seen by many people as one of the wonders of the
            world.  Just as a football enthusiast often wants his child to grow up to love and respect the
            game, likewise a history buff wants his or her child or grandchild to be enthusiastic about

            As far as I know there is no special candy that can chemically give a child the “history bug,” nor
            is there a frosted breakfast cereal that contains all the necessary vitamins to promote historical
            interests.  Rather, this magic takes personal effort.  A child is not a computer, you can not
            simply program him or her to be just what you want.  Instead, a child’s mind is a vast canvas,
            soaking up color and image through life experiences.  Life-long opinions will often be formed by
            their first impressions.  Youth, therefore, should not be seen as wasted intellectual time, but
            rather a perfect chance to give a child positive exposure to the excitement, mystery, adventure,
            and drama of history.

            I feel that part of the problem is how we first present history to our kids.  Kids are surrounded
            by text books and lectures for 8 hours each day in school.  The last thing most kids want to do
            when school is over is open another text book or hear another lecture.  Instead they want to be
            free, free to use their imaginations.  My very good friend Woody Wolfe, of Danville, mentioned
            a phrase to me regarding a Christian’s life-journey;  “become as a child.”  I think this frame of
            mind is invaluable.  Try and think as a child would.  Reach back into your own childhood, what
            were your interests?  Remember  how great it felt to pretend?  Pretending to fight the Germans
            as they invaded Danville from the banks of the Susquehanna, pretending to be a famous movie
            star performing in front of thousands of fans, pretending to hide out from Indians in the woods.
            This is what kids want, imagination.  History is perfect for this!  Our stories from the past allow
            a child to travel back in time.  In their own minds, they can travel to the Pacific with Lewis and
            Clark, run with Harriet Tubman on the underground railroad, or perhaps find their fortune in
            gold with the 49er’s in the hills of California.

            Whenever I hear people say that history is dry and boring I cringe, like hearing finger nails on a
            chalk board.  When I hear that, I truly feel bad for that person.  Chances are their negative
            impressions of history were formed at a young age and will probably remain for their entire life.
            “How is this possible?..How could history be so negative as to leave a life-long
            impression?”  This happens by bombarding a child with dates, facts, and figures.  I want to be
            clear that this is not meant to be a criticism of the Danville School District.  In fact, speaking
            from experience, Danville has some of the finest educators in the country.  Simply put, history is
            not a subject that can be entirely taught in the confines of a classroom.  Children learn the
            majority of their knowledge by doing.  Hands-on experiences sink in much deeper than simply
            being lectured to.  This responsibility falls on the people who spend the other 16 hours of each
            day with the child, the family.  It is the family’s duty to expose a child to as many positive things
            as possible.

            This, I feel is the magic recipe for hooking a child on history.  Expose them to historical sites,
            landmarks, and museums.  Instead of sitting home in front of the television, take a walk around
            your town with your child.   But just as importantly, you must leave room for their minds to
            explore.  Allow creative space for their imagination.   If you do not have the opportunity to
            travel to many places, I would recommend simply presenting history in the form of stories.
            There is no need to re-write history nor to embellish the truth.  Tales of the Alamo, coal mining,
            or a story of what it would have been like to immigrate to America in the late 1800’s are more
            interesting and entertaining than anything I’ve seen on television lately.

            In closing, I urge you not to become overly concerned with packing facts and dates into a
            child’s head.  Instead, just try and spark an interest, if you’re successful in that they’ll take care
            of the rest.