9 Ways a First-Grade Child Can Teach You History
Adults bring massive piles of baggage to learning the history of humans. We could make faster progress if we come to it as a child. So, let’s listen to a child in first grade.
1. “You always start reading a story at the beginning.”
History is one continuous story. Yet, our educational system chops it into chapters and assigns them out of order to various age groups. How ridiculous!
A story told in order does not have to be memorized because it naturally makes sense. Cause and effect learning is absorbed painlessly.
2. “People of long ago are just like us! This guy is like my Uncle Frank.”
People, as a whole, have not changed over the ages in anything but technology. And that is an important thing to remember.
If Hammurabi or Cleopatra or Alexander the Great was a human just as we are, we can better understand them.
And in understanding them, we better understand ourselves and those around us.
We learn not to make their mistakes. But we also learn from their triumphs!
3. “I like to ask questions about the stories. I like to ask who and what and when and where and how. But I especially like to ask why.”
Now, there is a future journalist!
Children love to ask questions and they like their questions to be respected. History is a place where all questions are welcome and taken seriously. No question is off limits. What’s not to like?
Kids are aware of an adult who is trying to change the subject. They don’t like limits put on questioning. And they especially don’t like people who refuse to answer a question.
What is so hard about saying, “We don’t know that yet.”
However, adults will often go to great lengths to avoid admitting an honest lack of knowledge.
4. “Learning dates is stupid.”
That’s somewhat true. It is a rare case when knowing the precise date has any importance to anyone’s life as a whole.
However, it is interesting to know what else was happening in the world at the same time. What was happening in the United States and Russia when Victoria became queen of Britain?
Did a woman on the throne affect these other events?
5. “I like learning the history of people my way. But I like to find out what other kids learned, too.”
When I homeschooled my girls, it quickly became clear what parts of history they liked best.
Rachel loved fashion. By assembling and wearing outfits of the time, she connected people and events in her mind and did not have to memorize related information.
Bethany liked to cook, so she concentrated on the kinds of foods the people ate and recipes they developed. We would partake in authentic food of the culture and era.
Rachel and Bethany enthusiastically declared that history was fun! No other child in the neighborhood agreed.
One day, my kids invited all of the neighborhood children to play broom hockey in the street. We were studying the invention of the sport of hockey, but unfortunately it was summer.
“We need your help. It’s our history assignment, and we only have two players.”
Dubiously, everyone showed up with brooms. At the end of the game, I proclaimed that Rachel and Bethany had each received an A for their assignments.
“This is history?” one of the kids asked, shaking his head. “I guess if my class was like this, I’d like history, too.”
So, find your own way to study history, a way to hang the whole culture on the one thing you love to do.
6. “There’s always new things to learn!”
And because they are young, it’s true.
But adults have a lifetime of accumulated knowledge. Baggage can weigh you down. There is a time to use this knowledge, but it is after you have learned all you can about this place or person.
If you are learning about Hammurabi’s law code and your brain jumps to Cousin Anita always “laying down the law,” you will make other connections that aren’t there.
The oldest culture that has been discovered was promptly named Göbekli Tepe. It has been popularized as the World’s First Temple. It reminded the archeologist of later structures that are known to be temples.
This is a terrible mistake!
Because this is the oldest structure of this type, and the excavation is not complete, we don’t know if it is a temple! Indeed, unless we find and interpret writing that refers to cult practices, we will never prove it’s a temple.
But because of the popularized description, the connection between the location and the word “temple” is pounded deeper into my brain. Now, I have to fight to consider other options.
Your knowledge of other ancient temples could prove valuable, but only after it is established that this location is undoubtedly a temple also.
7. “That’s not fair!”
Children are very perceptive about fairness. They will accept a D in music, only one cupcake, or extra homework if they think you are being fair.
That’s not to say they won’t complain!
In a class that is learning about cowboys, someone is sure to ask about “the Indians.”
In a high school class learning about the initiation of school bussing and the police protection of the first black students in all-white schools, someone will ask if white students bussed to black schools also had police protection.
Because that’s fair.
8. “That’s the answer. Everybody knows that.”
Just by living life for a few years, kids know some simple logic such as these:
“If a lot of people say something happened, it probably did.”
“The simplest answer is usually the right one.”
Adults get into complex logical or philosophical discussions and forget that the simplest rules are most often correct.
9. “Why do you think the cave man was stupid?”
We adults reek of bias.
The younger a child, the less bias she has, which makes her a better historian.
If you want to look at history fairly, like a child, you must get your biases under control. Which of these do you have?
“A person/group is superior if that person/group is the same _____ as me.”
- Race: negroid, occidental, oriental
- Ethnicity/Culture: This is often confused with race.
- Politically: system, party, philosophy
- Age: This bias is usually against the very young or the very old or teenagers.
- Philosophy and/or Religion or lack thereof
- Technological level: Cultures with the highest level of technology and knowledge are believed to be comprised of superior people.
Exploring History like a Child
If you have unloaded your adult baggage, and have become mentally and attitudinally like a child again, you are ready to explore history fairly.
We’ll begin in the next blog.
Of course, we will begin at the beginning!