10 Unusual Ways to Explore History

by ChristinaPilkington on June 22, 2011 · 2 comments

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History. At first I couldn’t understand why so many people I  talk to say they dislike learning about history. How could you not like history? History is all about stories- stories about romance, mystery, adventure, pain and hardship, joy and laughter and a thousand other things. There should be something there for everyone, right?

But then I remembered my history classes in high school. Dry text books, fill-in-the-blank tests, and boring lectures.  It wasn’t until I left college that my love of history began. I think most people have had the same experience.

But you don’t have to approach history that way. Your kids don’t have to be introduced to history that way either. You can take whatever they’re into, whether it’s fashion design, car engines or even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and introduce them to all the fun stories from the past about
their “thing.”

Even more exciting is to learn about history in unusual ways. Historical fiction, creative nonfiction, documentaries and the usual history museums can all be fun, but I’d like to share ten unusual ways to look at history you might not have considered before. Enjoy!

1. Ancestry.com Six months ago I tried out the 14 day free trial of Ancestry.com. I was hooked from the first 10 minutes. I found out more about
my ancestors than I had dreamed possible. A distant relative I’ve never met posted an oral interview by my great, great, great grandfather where he
described the battles he fought in during the Civil War. There’s nothing that will bring history alive more than reading about it through the eyes of someone personally connected to you.

Here’s another fun idea. Look up a president or another famous person on Ancestory.com. It’s amazing to look at actual census and military records of real historical figures.

2. Liberty’s Kids Every June the kids and I have watched this award-winning children’s animation series about the American Revolution. Its 40 episodes (900 minutes long) gives plenty of time to dig into the details of the Revolutionary War and provides a fun way to learn about this
time in United States history. If you have Netflix, you can watch all 40 episodes on Watch Instantly!

3. Magic Treehouse books I’ve been reading this series with the kids during lunch for the past year. They love it! We’ve learned more about volcanoes, the Amazon rainforest, Shakespeare, the Vikings, Ancient China and so much more. Kids get to travel back in time with Jack and Annie and learn about different history and science topics. We approach the books similar to a unit study because we check out other DVDs, fiction and nonfiction books and games that go along with whatever book we’re reading at the time.

4. History Detectives This PBS show is a fun way to learn about history. Each week a “history detective” will explore an artifact from the past, usually found by a viewer from the show. Sometimes it may be an old rifle, a letter written by someone famous, or a poster used in a demonstration. They trace the history of the object and try to authenticate it. Part Antique Roadshow, part mystery, it’s an engaging way to learn about history.
The link here is to show’s website where you can watch full episodes. They also provide back ground material for each episode, details of how they went about their investigations, suggestions of related documentaries to watch and comments made by other viewers.

5. Beyond the Fire: Teen Experiences of War A engaging but sobering site featuring the stories of 15 teenagers who live in war zones. Through audio, video and pictures you hear from the teens themselves their stories of survival. You also explore the history behind their stories with pictures and written text.

6. BBC History for Kids This was truly an addicting site…for me! There’s so much here to explore- everything from ancient, world, and British history to hands on activities for the whole family. Kids can take part in online simulations where they help prepare a mummy for burial, design their own pyramid – from choosing the correct angle to the right building materials and site locations, and go on a mission to explore the ancient Indus Valley.

7. Visit an unusual museum. Our family loves going to our local history, science and children’s museums. But most states and countries also
contain unusual gems such as the barbed wire museum in Texas, Leila’s Hair Museum in Missouri, or the Mustard museum in Wisconsin. Google a list of unusual museums in your state and look at history from a very different perspective.

8. Horrible Histories Some kids love to read nonfiction. Set them up with a nonfiction book, especially those filled with real pictures, and they’re in heaven. Other kids are a bit harder to please.  For now at least, my son will sit and listen to anything as long as it’s a story- preferable a story packed with action or adventure. I have a feeling that in a few years the Horrible Histories books will be just the series of books to capture his attention and at the same time teach him tons about history from the Stone Age through WWII. Though the book emphasizes stories about odd or disgusting things that happened in history, it definitely holds appeal for many children and introduces them to history they might not have be interested in

9. Digging for the Truth My husband and I watch both seasons of Digging Up History; I wish there were more to watch! The series combines archeology and history in an exciting new way. Survival expert Josh Bernstein and his crew set out to explore such historical mysteries as the mythic El Dorado, the cliff dwelling of Mesa Verde and a quest to find the Ark of the Covenant.

10. A Book in Time A really great website that lists interactive online history websites. The sites cover everything from archeology, prehistory, ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient China, Ancient Japan, Ancient Israel, Inca and Aztec Empires, Middle Ages, Age of Discovery, Renaissance and 1700-Present.

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Photo Credit: Space & Light

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