Mini History Lessons

Ana Picazo - San Francisco Bay Area
February 11, 2018

Learning about history is important because it gives us an understanding (and appreciation) of how the past has shaped our present. All too often, kids associate history with the words "dry" and "boring"; fortunately, there are individuals and organizations who have stepped up and made history come alive for children in an engaging, fun way.  Here are some ways to give your child a history lesson that won't send him (or you) to sleep:

Ride a San Francisco carousel

A carousel can be more than just a fun ride—when you're in San Francisco, your little one could be riding on a work of art and a piece of history.  No less than three historic carousels are located in San Francisco. The San Francisco Zoo's Dentzel carousel was built in 1921 and is only one of seven Dentzel Carousels remaining in the United States, and one of only 13 in the world. The 1914 Herschell-Spillman carousel at Golden Gate Park has traveled quite a bit, appearing as one of the main sights at the 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island, and also decorating several public arenas about the West Coast. The granddaddy of them all, the Loof carousel at the Yerba Buena Gardens, was built in 1906! As you're riding that beautiful wooden horse or lion with your little one, be sure to point out the intricately carved details and wonder aloud how long it took to carve them by hand. Tell them they started out as steam-powered engines, and ask them what makes the carousels run today. A ride on these historic carousels will make their little minds and bodies go round and round, and teach them a valuable lesson: that the things they enjoy today aren't so different from what kids enjoyed a hundred years ago.

Play pinball at the Pacific Pinball Museum

The Pacific Pinball Museum is more than just an exhibit of dusty old machines; it's a place where the whole family can challenge each other to a good, old-fashioned game of pinball. They have rows upon rows of historic pinball machines from old wooden rail machines to mid-20th century electro-mechanical (EM) machines to everything in between—all just waiting to be played with. Your little one will love the flashing lights, the beeps and zings; watch their eyes light up as they release their pinball and work the flippers to keep their game alive! They'll be enjoying themselves so much, they won't realize they're being exposed to the basics of physics and mechanics, not to mention some cool vintage artwork. Who says history can't be fun?

Count the mission bells along Historic El Camino Real

What could be more boring than waiting at a traffic light on El Camino Real or driving down Highway 101? When your little one starts clamoring for a smartphone or video game console, tell him that El Camino Real means "The Royal Highway," and they're actually traveling over part of the historic route that Spanish missionaries rode their donkeys on as they established the 21 missions of California between 1683 and 1834. Today there are over 500 mission bells marking the original Historic El Camino Real. Around the Bay Area, you'll find bells on State Route 82 (which is El Camino Real Ave. through most of the Peninsula), various city streets in San Jose, and parts of Highway 101 (north of San Francisco and south of San Jose). They're spaced about 2 miles apart, on both sides of the highway or road, and they make a great I Spy road game. The next time you find yourself on El Camino Real, challenge your little one to find the mission bells and turn a history lesson into a treasure hunt!

Pack sardines at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Aquarium occupies the former site of the Hovden Cannery, one of the biggest canneries in Monterey and the last on the Row to close. Visitors to the aquarium will find some of the Hovden Cannery's old boilers near the main entrance, along with an informative exhibit about the sardine industry. It's not just a bunch of photos, videos and equipment, though; a guide dressed as a cannery worker challenges kids to pack plastic sardines into plastic tins at the grueling pace of the cannery ladies in the 1920s. It's fast, it's fun, and the amount of skill required to pack a simple can of sardines is a real eye-opener!


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