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History as Time

Activities for kids ages 4 to 11:

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While our children need the opportunity to study events in depth to get an understanding of them, they also need to know the sequence of historical events in time, and the names and places associated with them. Being able to place events in time, your child is better able to learn the relationships among them. What came first? What was cause, and what was effect? Without a sense of chronological order, events seem like a big jumble, and we can't understand what happened in the past. It matters, for example, that our children know that the American and French Revolutions are related.

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the place of another person and time. Since history is the reconstruction of the past, we must have an idea of what it was like "to be there" in order to reconstruct it with some accuracy. For example, in studying the westward expansion your children may ask why people didn't fly across the country to avoid the hazards of exposure on stagecoach trails. When you answer that the airplane hadn't yet been invented, they may ask why not. They need an understanding of how technology develops and its state at the time. Using original source documents, such as diaries, logs, and speeches, helps us guard against imposing the present on the past, and allows us to see events through the eyes of people who were there.

Context is related to empathy. Context means "weave together" and refers to the set of circumstances in several areas that framed an event. To understand any historical period or event our children should know how to weave together politics (how a society was ruled), sociology (what groups formed the society), economics (how people worked and what they produced), and religion, literature, the arts, and philosophy (what was valued and believed at the time). When they try to understand World War II, for example, they will uncover a complex set of events. And they will find that these events draw their meaning from their context.

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