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A New Look at History

History is now understood to be more than memorizing names and dates. While being able to recall the details of great people and events is important, the enjoyment of history is enhanced by engaging in activities and experiencing history as a "story well told."

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Original sources and literature are real experiences. Reading the actual words that changed the course of history, and stories that focus on the details of time and place help children know that history is about real people in real places who made real choices that had some real consequences, and that they could have made different choices.

Less can mean more. "A well-formed mind is better than a well-stuffed mind," says an old proverb. Trying to learn the entire history of the world is not only impossible, it feels too hard and reduces our enthusiasm for history. In-depth study of a few important events gives us a chance to understand the many sides of a story. We can always add new facts.

History is hands-on work. Learning history is best done in the same way we learn to use a new language, or to play basketball: we do it as well as read about it.

Doing history means asking questions about events and characters; searching our towns for signs of its history; talking with others about current events and issues; writing our own stories about the past.

There is no final word on history. There are good storytellers and less good storytellers. And there are many stories. But very rarely does any one storyteller "get it right," or one story say it all. A good student of history will always look for other points of view, knowing that our understanding of history changes over time.

Your children do well to ask "So What?" Much that we take for granted is not so obvious to our children. We should invite them to clear up doubts they have about the reasons for remembering certain things, getting the facts right, getting facts right, and collecting and judging evidence. At each step, asking "so what?" helps to explain what is important and worth knowing, and to take the next step with confidence.

Questions help children develop the critical thinking skills they need to participate well in society, learn history, and learn from history. Questions help them know the difference between what is real, fantasy, and ideal, and make the activity more fun.

Critical thinking is judging the value of historical evidence; judging claims about what is true or good; deciding what information is important to have; looking at a topic from different points of view; being curious enough to look further into an event or topic; being skeptical enough to look for more than one account of an event or life; and being aware that our vision and thinking are often limited by our biases and opinions.

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