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Teaching History with the American Girls Series

Updated on February 13, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

There are many creative ways to teach American history to the homeschool student, from using movies to good historical fiction. Pleasant Company’s American Girls series is an excellent resource that can bring history to life for girls ages 8 to 12.

Because there are so many books in the series, and additional items like dolls and accessories, girls tend to enjoy “getting to know” each character and her time period in history. The characters are realistic and likeable and the books are short enough to be easily read by younger readers. The dolls and other accessories allow the characters to come to life for your daughter. There are even a few movies available based on the stories in this collection.

You can use this series to beef up a boring history textbook or create a complete study based on the books.

Addy book set via Amazon
Addy book set via Amazon | Source

Books in the American Girls Series

The American Girls books are about different female main characters throughout American history, starting in the 1700s. Each character has several short, easy to read books about an adventure she has or a lesson she learns. The books are historically accurate and include mentions and information about the different events and important people of the day.

The series and the time in which they take place are:

  • Felicity - Colonial America/Revolutionary War 1774
  • Addy - African American, Underground Railroad 1864
  • Kaya- Nez Perce Native Americans 1764
  • Josefina- Latina, New Mexico in 1824
  • Cécile and Marie-Grace – New Orleans 1850s
  • Kirsten – Pioneer life 1854
  • Samantha - Victorian times 1904
  • Rebecca – New York 1914
  • Kit - Great Depression 1930s
  • Molly - World War II 1940s
  • Julie - 1970s
  • Chrissa - 2009

Each book has a doll that is created to represent the main character. Some of the books have two dolls available; the main character and her best friend. Each doll is dressed in historically correct clothing and has accessories that would be a normal part of everyday life in her era. Many of the sets have included a cookbook with recipes for typical foods and a project book to allow your child to create projects that reflect the story.

Teaching History with American Girls

While Pleasant Company does not have a licensed history study, other people have created unit studies based on the American Girls dolls and books. The books are usually readily available at your local library but your daughter may enjoy them so much you’ll want to collect the whole series.

Portraits of American Girlhood

This seven part unit study will cover one year of American History at the elementary level (grades 2-5). While it is written primarily for girls the authors have included ideas for projects to get boys involved in a mixed group.

Contained in the 250 pages are:

  • Worksheets
  • Maps
  • Projects
  • Tips and helps

It is written from a Christian world view.

Free Kirstin Unit Study

Homeschool Helper has a free unit study that you can try to see if unit studies are something you are interested in doing. The Kirsten unit study includes a variety of activities based on each book in the Kirstin series.

Some of the suggestions are:

  • Trace Kirstin’s journey on a map
  • Learn about cholera
  • Make a rag doll
  • Learn about tornadoes
  • Learn a few words of Swedish
  • Visit a museum

Create Your Own Unit Study

If you are a somewhat experienced homeschooler you can use the books to create your own unit study specifically tailored to your child.

How to Create Your Own American Girls Unit Study

  1. Begin with the first series, Felicity.
  2. Read through the books yourself to get an idea of the main events
  3. Choose 10 to 20 vocabulary words based on each book
  4. Choose several events to concentrate on
  5. Create a timeline and put each character in her proper decade
  6. Using a large United States map mark where each character lived
  7. Study the type of home the main character lived in (Victorian, sod, tee pee, log cabin, etc.)
  8. Rent any movies that are available from Netflix or Blockbuster
  9. Use the project books and cook books available for each character to get ideas for projects
  10. Read other books that are set in the same time period. For example, read a biography of George Washington or Betsy Ross when studying Felicity
  11. Create lapbooks
  12. Have your daughter dress up as her favorite character

A Clip from the Samantha Movie

Creating Lasting Memories

One of the most important parts about homeschooling is the ability to create lasting memories with your child. American Girls books celebrate the lives and contributions of women throughout the history of the United States. Because your daughter will, in essence, get to know each character she will be able to better understand the feelings, actions, and social climate of the era in which the character lived. Since the books are fun to read the information is more likely to be committed to long term memory and best of all, your daughter may well develop a lifelong love of history.

Teaching history with the American Girls series is a creative way to get important information in your daughter’s mind and homeschool experience.

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    • Marye Audet profile image
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      Marye Audet 3 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Because I think when I wrote this there was no Kaya! :)

    • profile image

      Jennifer 3 years ago

      Great idea!! Question: why would we start with Felicity? Why wouldn't we start with Kaya since her time is first on timeline?

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Great information for parents and teachers. I read some of the books growing up and always enjoyed them. I can't believe how many girls are in the series now.

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 5 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I have a site on homeschooling and I am going to add a link to this hub right away.

    • rockdresses profile image

      rockdresses 5 years ago from Turkey

      Thanks a lot for your sharing! In fact, I haven't read this book. But I decide to pick it from my shelf right now....

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Marye, I have always loved the American Girl dolls and have seen a few of the movies -- but, have never really looked at the whole aspect of what the dolls, their books and stories give to young girls. Thank you for bringing out this insightful hub with a very informative message.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Wonderful hub for teachers of girls! I love the info on creating your own study--helpful for those without a teaching background.

    • LABrashear profile image

      LABrashear 5 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

      My family loves this series. I love the idea of using them as lessons. We don't homeschool, but I continue educating during breaks. I think this will be a great project for our next break. Thanks!

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Marye, this is a very interesting post. Teaching of history is something that I am especially interesting in doing. I would like to help in creating realistic historical curriculum for elementary school children up to high school; history that recognizes all our history, not just from the leaders point of view but history from below.

      Thanks for sharing such great ideas.

    • Painted Seahorse profile image

      Brittany Rowland 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      I was crazy about these books and dolls as a young girl. They brought history to life. Thanks for showing how they can help children learn.

    • thebookmom profile image

      thebookmom 5 years ago from Nebraska

      Really helpful. We are studying Kirstin's time period this year and will use this unit. I also love the guide for making your own unit. THANK YOU!

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