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Enjoying History With Your Child

We have intentions of good fun as we plan any activity with our children. We also want them to learn something from most activities. They probably would say they want to have fun and learn something new too. But sometimes the difference in abilities between us and them, or the demands of time, end up leaving us disappointed. Keeping the following in mind can help keep your time together fun and productive:

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You don't have to know all the facts or fully understand history to help your children learn. Your willingness to learn with them--to read, to ask questions, to search, and to make mistakes--is the most important gift you can bring to the process. By viewing their mistakes as sources of information for future efforts, your children gain confidence to continue learning.

Conversation gets you past the difficult moments. Keeping open the communication between you and your children, and encouraging continued discussion no matter how off the mark your children may seem, tells them you take them seriously and value their efforts to learn. The ability to have a conversation with your children profoundly affects what and how they learn.

Children have their own ideas and interests. By letting them choose activities accordingly, you let them know their ideas and interests are valuable. Often they will want to teach you as a way to use what they know. Share their interests and encourage them to learn more.

Make the most of everyday opportunities to do history: visits from grandparents, reading books, telling stories, holidays, elections, symbols like the flag, the national anthem before sporting events, pictures in newspapers and magazines, visits to museums. If your child asks about a person in a painting, stop to find out who it is. Keep asking: "What does this mean? How do I know?"

Choose your activities well. The activities in this section of the site are for children ages 4-11. Each of the activities can be adapted to a child of any age and ability level. Even a preschooler can "read" a newspaper with your help, for a short period of time. While an activity that is too difficult will frustrate your child, an activity that is too easy will lose his interest. Challenges bring feelings of accomplishment.

Have a goal. When you choose or begin an activity you may not have a clear idea of where it's going. But keep in mind that the purpose of doing these activities is to learn something about history. As you complete each activity discuss with your child what you learned together. Making bread is one thing, knowing that bread has historical meaning is another. Achieving a goal for an activity also helps your child sense the pleasure of a completed project.

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