The busy city street where our family lives was once, a mere 120 years ago, a grassy stretch of farmland. Covered as it is now with pavement, town houses, playgrounds and apartment buildings, this is truly an amazing transformation. My young children were shocked when I showed them the pictures: how could that be here?
That’s history, kids: change over time.
How do we introduce young children to the concept of history? They have such a tenuous grasp on the present world that introducing them to times past seems like a tall order. The “great moments” of history that they will someday study in school seem impossibly abstract to most children who have lived less than a decade themselves. Where, then, to begin? The answer is both obvious and obscure: right outside your very own front door.
Local is a good place to start your history lessons. Do you know what your street looked like fifty years ago? A hundred years ago? A little trip to your town library or historical society (or perhaps just a quick internet search) will hopefully yield pictures that will fascinate the street’s youngest denizens. (Also be sure to take a look at Arcadia Publishing’s amazing list of 7,500 books on local history in the U.S., each one full of great old photographs and lively narrative.)
And what about your own house? Do you know when it was built and by whom? Did any other families live there before you? Who were they and what are their stories? You might be able to search the archives of your city's newspaper to find out.
A history of local commerce is another topic that tends to interest the little ones. Perhaps a visit to the oldest store in your town is in order. Or you could look for a photo from the archives of Main Street back in the days of yore. How have times have changed? Is the candy store still in the same place as fifty years ago?
The history of a favorite park is one more place to investigate with your newly minted history scholars. How long has it been here? Who built it? Who were the children who first played here, and how old are they now?
As you dig into some these historical mysteries with your kids, they’ll get to experience the fun and fascination of learning about the past and a new way of connecting to the place they call home.
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