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Make History Come Alive for Children

Updated on September 9, 2017
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna is a former principal, teacher, and tutor. She writes curriculum for an international after school care program and summer camp.

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Let's Get Started

Based on you age group, pick a book that tells a historical story. The discovery of gold in California or the landing at Plymouth Rock is told in numerous children books.

Read the historical story to the children.

Make sure all the children understand the story. Ask them periodically about what is going on in the story.

Assign children characters in the story. Read the story again and have the children act out the roles as the story is being read. Encourage the children to act out the action. Validate them often.

Change character assignments, everyone gets a chance to play a role.

Create an audience if you have more children than characters with the understanding of rotation.


Making History Come Alive
Making History Come Alive

Play the Roles in History

Take it up a notch and have the children speak some of the lines in the story. This includes all the words between the quotation marks.

Keep the story exciting. Listen to what the children have to say about acting out history.

Dress up the children for each role. You can get hats, ties, jackets, vests or scarves.

Add props to the story.

Run the story one more time with dress up, props and children acting out the story with out you reading the book.

When you visit a historical park or fort, do you enjoy the reenactments?

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Visit Locations


Take a field trip to a location where history can be seen. Your children can become Indians at an Indian village. They can be gathers, corn grinders, or teepee builders. Let them decide what they want to be and have them act it out. Ask them questions like: What is the weather? How much food to you need to gather for your family? How long will it take you to grind the corn?

Create History in Your Home


Take a moment and figure out what can be reenacted in your home. If you have a lot of girls, reenacting doing the laundry in the early 1800s would be a fun project. Search the Internet, find what you need, and collect the items. List the different hats each woman wore when they did community laundry. Assign those hats to your children and let them shine. If you have some boys around, ask them: What were men doing while women were doing the laundry? Have them reenact what men did in the 1800s. Mend fences, hunted for food, check on the farm animals, and so forth.



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    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 2 months ago from Northern California

      I will give my daughter the tip. Thanks. I hear Will Durant books are pretty awesome. They would keep any researcher busy for years.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Get a general history book (one with an ambitious title such as "History of the World") and let it fall open. Start on the first full left-hand page entry where the page settled and work your way back to what you think you know. Might be an eye-opener.

      Tell your daughter to book a ticket at the Tower of London box office near the Tiger Public House, for the Ceremony of the Keys in the evening (about 9 pm start, about half an hour duration but it's better than fighting through crowds in the daytime)

    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 2 months ago from Northern California

      So much ponder? Perhaps, I have to do a bit of research instead of thinking about it.

      History is more than one can truly fathom. Where does one start to research?

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      It's only the European migrants to the Americas - including Leif Eiriksson in the 10th Century - that date back to their entry to the American mainland. As mentioned, Leif Eiriksson recorded the 'skraelings' who lived in the same area that later became part of Canada. 'Skraeling'' meant wretch in Old Norse. If you included their presence in American history you'd probably get back to BC, well before England became a single kingdom in Aethelstan's time. The ones that reached the Andes arrived in the Americas well before the Sioux, Cheyenne or Seminole tribes, who probably established their tribal areas at the time the Aengle [Anglian] King Ine of Northumbria pressed into Pictland north of Dinas Eidin (Edinburgh) and wedded the Pictish Baebba, naming his stronghold Baebbanburh after her. That was around the end of the 5th Century/early 6th.

      So it all fits into perspective. These 'Indians' left eastern Asia via the Bering Sea well before Christ was even born, possibly when the Romans first came here with Julius Caesar in 55BC. Some of the South American tribesmen look similar to their Chinese cousins, others like Indians (as Columbus thought they were when he landed in the West Indies).

      I'll leave you to mull it over (take a look at how Kamchatka might fit with Alaska before the northern ice sheet melted 10,000 years ago).

    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 2 months ago from Northern California

      My 16-year-old daughter is traveling in the UK, right now. Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England. I am sure she is learning and experiencing similar tales.

      Being in the States, our history only goes so far, unlike Europe and Asia.

      Wherever kids learn about History, reenactments are so much better because it balances the significance against the actual doing it and being it.

      Who cares about dates and what not. Let's find out how they actually lived. You mentioned travel and communications took so much longer. Or, what did they wear, eat, and take care when ill.

      There is so much to learn by visiting the places in history as well.

      This particular article doesn't get many views, so thank you for visiting and sharing.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Here's a positive way of doing things. Kenna you've started these kids on a long road of learning. With luck they'll take it beyond role-playing, start asking questions. There might be minefields ahead in some instances, but can all be dealt with tactfully.

      Over here a lot of re-enactment goes on that involves kids from nursery to juvenile. For instance the first time I went to Battle Abbey (the site of Harold's stand, 14th October, 1066) on the anniversary of the battle I saw a class of schoolkids re-enact the 'Battle of Hastings' (the town is six miles away to the south, on the coast) with lots of loud yelling. Next time I went I was there to sign my books and give short talks along with other authors, fact and fiction. The event - nearest weekend to 14th October - sees thousands of children who are initially mystified until it's explained to them that transport was by horse and cart or ship, and that it took a week for Harold to return south from York, and a further week to send out messengers for men before setting out on the road south from London.

      At York during the Jorvik Viking Festival in mid-February I saw children being addressed by enactors to wear helmets, hold swords and axes, even playfully 'attack' the jarl or his huscarls...

      Fast forward to the late 19th Century at Scruton Station on the Wensleydale Railway, children dress up in Victorian outfits and interact with railway volunteers to 'go to school' as their great grandparents might have done.

      If kids learn to understand what went on, they'll understand their own situation better, how much better off they are now to the days or yore. Most days the museums are full of kids taken by teachers. Incidentally, at Battle Abbey William still gets booed and Harold cheered...