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Revolutionary War: Multimedia Resources for Kids
Making History Come Alive
We've all been kids; we remember that history read out of textbooks can be dry and hard to relate to, especially when you'd rather be kicking a ball around or playing games with your friends. Whether you homeschool or just want to supplement your child's traditional education, check out these resources that will help them learn about our country's struggle for independence in whole new ways. There's something out there for every type of learner.
Remember singing along to "I'm Just a Bill" on Saturday mornings? Well, the Schoolhouse Rock tunes are just as catchy today as they were 30 years ago. From the album America Rock come the historical tunes "No More Kings" and "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," as well as several others that pertain to the time period.
If you're interested in a contemporary take on the revolutionary period, download Steve Martin's song, "Me and Paul Revere," which tells the story of Paul Revere's midnight ride from the point of view of his horse.
On the other hand, if you want authentic music of the time, check out Keith and Rusty McNeil's double album, Colonial & Revolution Songs, which spans the time from the Pilgrims' crossing through the War of 1812. It includes historical narration between songs, and the songs themselves are a mix of patriotism, political satire, instrumental tunes, and traditional ballads.
Another great way for kids to become immersed in history is through reading historical novels. There are many great novels for kids set in the Revolutionary War period. Younger kids will enjoy books like Ben and Me, which tells Benjamin Franklin's story from the perspective of a mouse who rides in his hat, or the Felicity series of American Girl books. Older kids, who are ready for more graphic depictions of war, may enjoy Daniel at the Siege of Boston or Johnny Tremain. See Kids' Historical Fiction: Revolutionary War Period for synopses and more suggestions.
TV & Movies
Although the first family-friendly movie about the Revolutionary War that comes to mind for many is the musical 1776, there are better options out there for children. The best option is the DVD set of the now-defunct PBS show Liberty's Kids. The show follows the adventures of an American teenaged boy and an English teenaged girl who both report for Ben Franklin's newspaper. The all-star voice cast lends authenticity to the historical characters; Walter Cronkite, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, and many others provide voices for such important figures as John Adams, Patrick Henry, Benedict Arnold, et. al. The facts are impeccably researched, and the episodes delve deeply into political, social, and military issues in a way that is appropriate for elementary-aged children.
If you're not up for sitting through 40 animated episodes, try the classic Disney film version ofJohnny Tremain. After suffering an accident, Johnny is no longer able to work as an apprentice silversmith and becomes involved with the Sons of Liberty in Boston. He participates in the Boston Tea Party and several important battles. While this movie is not an entirely accurate representation of events leading up to the Revolutionary War, it can give kids a feeling for the time period, and it's a lively movie.
There aren't many online games for kids focusing on the revolutionary period, but there are some high-quality ones related to things I've previously mentioned. For trivia games, go to the Liberty Kids' website. On the American Girl website, there are a few games related to the character of Felicity, whose stories are set in the late colonial period. However, the clear winner is Colonial Williamsburg's kids' site. More than two dozen games and activities will keep your kids entertained and learning for hours (if you let them!)
Of course, the ne plus ultra of immersive education is travel. If you live on the east coast of the U.S., there are probably Revolutionary War sites within a few hours' drive. The biggest and best of the living history museums is Colonial Williamsburg, where your family can learn about the revolutionary period from costumed interpreters, in authentic buildings dating to the mid-18th century. You can rent period costumes for yourselves to appreciate how complicated and restrictive clothing was back then, or, if you're ambitious, pick up patterns at one of the shops and try sewing your own. Beside touring the buildings and learning about everyday life, you can drill with the militia (sure to please the young boys in your family!); appreciate colonial architecture and decorative arts; and watch performances of the Fifes & Drums.
But remember, the war wasn't only fought in the Virginia; there are Revolutionary War sites throughout the Northeast and even in the South. The other best-known sites are the Freedom Trail in Boston and the Independence Hall area in Philadelphia, both of which offer tours with costumed guides to multiple historic buildings. There are also smaller sites that may be closer to home that offer an hour or two of active engagement with history. The Old Barracks Museum on Trenton, NJ is housed in the actual Hessian barracks that George Washington's troops attacked on Christmas morning, 1776. If you live in the South, try the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site in Camden, SC (an outdoor museum complex with multiple historic buildings) or Moores Creek National Battlefield in Currie, NC, where battle reenactments take place every February. There's even a Revolutionary War site in Florida: the Castillo de San Marcos, in St. Augustine, FL, was held by the British (who temporarily renamed it Fort Marks) and used as a detention center for prisoners of war and a base of military operations throughout the South.