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History as Story

Activities for kids ages 4 to 11:

History is a permanent written record of the past. Because recording history is an essential part of doing history, a "history log" is indicated for each activity. More recently, history is also recorded on audio and video tape, and many of the activities lend themselves to this type of recording as well. Your children may be interested to know that the time of their favorite dinosaurs is called "prehistory" because it is unrecorded history. They should also know that some written languages have been invented because telling stories orally, without recording them in some form, is not by itself a sure enough way to preserve the identity of a people.

George Washington, in his Farewell Address in 1796, said: "Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors." This reflection is a good reminder that history, with its facts and evidence, is also an interpretation of the past. There is more than one cause for an event, more than one kind of outcome, and more than one way of looking at their relationship.

All good histories are written on the basis of evidence. Your children need to learn the importance of evidence, and to distinguish it from biases, propaganda, stereotypes, and opinion. They need to judge whether the many stories about John F. Kennedy or World War I, for example, are based on solid enough evidence to provide an accurate account of the life and times.

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