School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home

Larry Holzwarth - April 29, 2020

Let’s face it. Teaching history isn’t easy.

Children schooling at home this spring, and the likelihood that similar situations loom for the fall, puts many strains on parents and schools. Besides keeping the family fed and safe, responsibility for teaching school lessons devolves on parents, in many cases also working from home. Many claim such a situation is unprecedented. In fact though, home schooling has a long tradition in the United States. The existence of internet services, such as Zoom, Facebook Video Messenger, and many others makes conducting classes online relatively easy. Assuming, that is, the home has sufficient bandwidth available to cover school, working at home, and other services upon which we have come to rely.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
An illustration from a 19th century guide to educating children at home. Wikimedia

In many cases, keeping the children abreast with their lessons falls upon the family. Teaching of what was once called geography and history – now lumped in with a variety of disciplines and called social sciences – is a problem. When and how historical events are presented can disturb young children. The tools to assist parents teaching and explaining history to children are many and varied. Not all rely on websites and phone apps. Some entertain as well as teach. Here are some examples of teaching history to children to help those suddenly tasked with the job. Bearing in mind that in the future, the events of the first half of 2020 will be taught as history as well.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Americans once read the fable’s of Aesop in their original Greek. Wikimedia

1. Where to begin?

America’s Founders studied the Ancient Greeks and Romans, often in Greek and Latin, learning their mythologies, languages, history, and governance. Some experts believe beginning with the Ancients overwhelms children, especially younger children (and most adults). Experts recommend avoiding teaching the ancient world and civilizations as the first step in history lessons. The subject does not need presentation in chronological order. When the history is presented is the child’s own, affecting them personally, part of their own story, they absorb it more readily.

The first steps should focus on local history, their own story, and that of their parents, grandparents and ancestors as far back as is known. The internet offers myriad tools to tell the story. For example, grandparents or great-grandparents may have been immigrants. The vast records of immigration, including the names of ships arriving and from whence they came, whom they carried and where those persons went are available on both pay internet sites and in Ellis Islands database, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and in local databases. Church marriage, baptism, and burial records offer similar research sources. A child learning his ancestors left their home to come to America will naturally wonder why, opening the door to learning of conditions of the time.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The American Revolution is considered by many experts as point at which to start teaching American history. Wikimedia

2. Focus on American History will generate interest in world history

America’s Founders began the seminal event in American history – the Revolution – as a struggle to protect their rights as Englishmen. Each colony had its own legislature, with elected representatives, to address the issues pertinent to their locale. All of them considered themselves English subjects. In order to understand the causes of the Revolution, the rights of Englishmen, that is, those the colonists deemed violated, require explanation. The Revolution also exposed the differences between the Southern colonies and those of the North, already exceeding the South in manufacturing and trade.

The Revolution and the Constitutional Convention created the form of government and the opening of opportunities in America which made it an attractive refuge for so much of Europe. Irish and people from the German provinces created the first waves of immigration into the new nation. Late in the following century the Italians, and Asians, joined the mass of immigrants who came to America. Presenting the promise of American government, and the opportunities afforded by cheap land, or growing industries, offers an explanation which can be pertinent to a child’s own family background, generating further interest. Older children may delve into the many failures of America to live up to its own stated ideals, and the convulsions in society they caused.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Liberty’s Kids offer an entertaining and educational depiction of the American Revolution for younger children. Wikipedia

3. Using cartoons to teach the Revolution to children

Liberty’s Kids is a series of cartoons which depicts the American Revolution to children. In the series, a pair of reporters, teenagers themselves, tell of the events as the Revolution transpired in articles for the Philadelphia Gazette, published by none other than Benjamin Franklin. The series also presents the truth that not all Americans supported the Revolution, with about one third actively opposing the separation from Great Britain. That point of view is presented through the letters of a young Englishwoman trapped in North America during the conflict. The series, which runs 40 episodes, presents both sides of the conflict, and the major events are presented both accurately and in an entertaining manner, with comic relief provided by other characters.

The 40 episodes, available on YouTube, both entertain and educate. Each is just over 20 minutes in duration, non-threatening to the attention span of younger children, and allows them to use their favorite devices to view them. Produced by the Canada-based Wild Brain, Liberty’s Kids offer a window into the American Revolution and the many personages within. The causes of the Revolution, and the campaigns of the war, as well as the diplomatic intrigues, in a manner which appeals to young children. Numerous other historical cartoons designed to appeal to children as they teach history are available online, from a variety of sources, with varying degrees of historical accuracy.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The right to vote has been expanded several times since the Consitutition was ratified. Wikimedia

4. The right to vote is the heart of the American dream

When the Constitution went into effect in 1789, with limited exceptions, only white men who owned property could vote. At the time they represented approximately 6% of the population of the country. Over the next five decades, several states abolished the requirement for property ownership, the first being Kentucky in 1792. In the 1840 Presidential election, 80% of eligible voters cast ballots, a number unattained since. The right to vote became the symbol of freedom in America. That and economic opportunity lured the citizens of less open countries in Europe to set their sights on moving to America. Even if they never obtained the right to vote in the United States, their children born in America were automatically US citizens.

America’s struggle with voting rights is long, complex, and laced with sexist and racist overtones. Yet it is the basis of American freedom. When the Constitution went into effect it was like no other document in the world. It guaranteed some Americans the right to a voice in their government, and the number of Americans allowed to participate in their democracy expanded ever since. The right to vote is no longer unique to Americans, and truly never was, since the British elected Members of Parliament before the Revolution. The rest of American history is not understandable without knowledge of the basic right, presented to young children easily and clearly.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Relating stories and anecdotes about historical personages and events helps to bring history to life. Wikimedia

5. Stories teach better than recitation of facts

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author David McCullough once told an interviewer regarding his approach to presenting history, “My love is to tell a story…history isn’t just what happened, but what happened to whom…” Children love stories. One reason the fable of George Washington and the cherry tree lasted for so many years was that parents used it to teach the necessity of telling the truth regardless of the consequences. In those days, portraits of George Washington still appeared in classrooms, post offices, and government offices across the country, his stern visage gazing down upon young and impressionable children.

Stories about Washington and his steadily growing reputation as America’s foremost soldier and leader during his lifetime abound, and explain how he became the man known as the Father of his Country. In his youth a buckskin-clad Washington explored the Ohio Country in the dead of winter, enduring foul weather and hostile Indians. Similar stories apply to other Americans whose personalities have faded from the historical record. They include Jefferson’s love of music, architecture, and ice cream. Abraham Lincoln worked on steamers on the internal rivers in America, before he became a lawyer. Stories about who people were explain how they reacted when things happened to them, making them icons of American history. They are easily found and related to young children as part of teaching them history.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Teaching children about slavery in American history is a difficult subject, and should be handled carefully. Wikimedia

6. Slavery and race relations

It is impossible to teach American history without covering slavery and subsequent race relations in the United States. When and how to introduce it to children presents difficulties. Always a divisive subject, the goal should be presenting it in as non-divisive manner as possible. Slavery in America occurred as an extension of thousands of years of one people enslaving another. It occurred in ancient times and is related in the Bible. In America, supporters of slavery cited instructions in the Bible regarding the treatment of slaves as justification for its existence. Younger children should be introduced to its existence gradually, with each succeeding grade looking more deeply into its horrors, and how the practice led to the most traumatizing event in American history, the Civil War.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center offers age-appropriate online lesson plans and activities for children on its website. They range from first-grade level activities to discussions and lessons for high school students and beyond. They also offer lesson plans ranging from kindergarten to grade 12. Together they supply a guideline to teach slavery in America from its inception, through the antebellum age, and the Civil War. The lesson plans are presented free, and offer parents tasked with teaching slavery to children a resource to guide their efforts. There are also materials covering Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement in its wake.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
America’s Indian Wars and the treatment of Indians is another topic which requires caution when dealing with younger children. Wikimedia

7. Relations with Native American Indian Tribes

Young children learn the story, much of it mythologized, of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving, a peaceful beginning which rapidly descended into nearly three centuries of warfare between Indians and Americans. As with slavery, the history of American Indians is complex. Indian tribes warred with each other prior to the arrival of whites. They formed alliances and confederations, some of which chose to ally with the Europeans. This made the new arrivals the enemies of the tribe’s ancient enemies. Both sides enacted treaties, both violated them, and incidents of false dealing occurred with both Indians and whites. Teaching young children about the complexities of Indian relations poses problems similar to those of slavery.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the resulting forced relocation which lead to the Trail of Tears remains a black mark on the American character, though both the American south and northeast supported its enforcement. So does the deliberate slaughter of American bison on the plains following the Civil War, an effort to starve the Indians who relied on them for food, tools, and shelter. America’s history with the Indian tribes is best left to older children, though younger children can be told stories of Squanto, the Indians encountered by frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone and Kit Carson, and their relationships with whites. Subjects such as the enslavement of American Indians, especially in the American south, are best left to students above the eighth grade.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The Louisiana Purchase expanded the size of the nation and the powers of the Presidency. Wikimedia

8. The Louisiana Purchase and the expansion to the west

The political complexities of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 present enough discussion and debate to last throughout elementary and high school educations, and well beyond. Jefferson did not have specific legal authority to make the purchase. Nor did Napoleon have a clear right to sell it. It’s importance to the growth of the United States makes its study mandatory, as it created the circumstances which led to expansion, first to the Rocky Mountains, later to the Pacific Ocean. Younger children should be taught of the purchase by Jefferson, the acquisition of the lands on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and the journey of the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Older children revisit the Louisiana Purchase and the expansion by Americans into the western lands, led by fur trappers and long hunters. The political machinations of the Purchase, including protests from Congress that Jefferson exceeded his Constitutional authority, are best left to more advanced students. Jefferson’s actions expanded the powers of his office, using the argument that nothing in the Constitution specifically prohibited his exercise of the Purchase. The subject remains in debate among Constitutional scholars and historians. The Louisiana Purchase offers areas of study through all levels of education in the United States, and there are numerous sites offering guidance and information on the subject.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The Alamo Chapel as it appeared circa 1854. Wikimedia

9. Texas, the Alamo, and the Mexican-American War

For young students the story of the Texas Revolution is that of the Alamo and San Jacinto; Davy Crockett and Sam Houston; and the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. For older students, the truth about the Texas Revolution reveals more information, beyond the ken of young minds. Texas was a state of Mexico, sparsely populated with Mexicans, and controlled by the Indian tribes, primarily the Cheyenne. To populate the region the Mexican government invited Americans and Europeans to settle there, offering vast tracts of lands. Americans, for the most part from the slave holding Southern states, flocked to the newly opened lands in numbers which forced the Mexican government to issue restrictions on further immigration.

When the new Mexican constitution banned slavery, the Americans, then called Texians, rebelled. The rebellion led to the siege of the Alamo and the subsequent defeat of the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto. The creation of the Republic of Texas left the border with Mexico ill-defined. Texas later accepted annexation and statehood with the United States, and American troops were stationed in the disputed border areas, leading to war with Mexico and American seizure of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California, as well as parts of other states. As with the Louisiana Purchase, detailed study of the American conquest of the Southwest should be increased over time, as students grow older, throughout their study of American history.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The National Park Service is just one of hundreds of sources on historical sites throughout the United States. Wikimedia

10. Using educational sites, both physical and online

During lockdowns such as in the spring of 2020, visiting America’s historical sites, all of which possess learning aids for students of all ages, is impossible. Yet nearly all offer learning aids online, for students of all ages. The same is true for organizations dedicated to America’s history, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Relying on the National Park Service and the Smithsonian for lessons and activities opens many little known nuances of American history to the public. In addition to the National Park Service sites, all states maintain historical sites and parks, most of which include an online presence for at least some services and displays.

America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) offered a program designed to deliver lessons on character from historical figures in 2019. Entitled Xavier Riddle and the Mystery Museum, the cartoon children serving as the main characters meet with the child versions of historical figures, and learn life lessons from them. Amelia Earhart, George Washington Carver, and Helen Keller are among the characters they meet. From them even pre-school children can learn small aspects of history, in a manner designed to appeal to them, since the characters are themselves small children with limited attention spans and a desire to have fun.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
A cadle dipping factory in 1927. For decades, most American frontier families their candles at home. National Archives

11. Teaching children about daily life in the past

There are many activities in which children can take part which allow them to experience life as lived in early America. For example, in the colonial and post-revolutionary eras, and throughout the days of the early western frontier, American homes were lit at night mostly by candles. Only the wealthiest Americans used candles made from expensive beeswax. Less affluent families made their own through candle dipping. Candle dipping, a tedious, messy, and smelly task, used tallow from melted animal fat, though occasionally beehives were harvested in the forests, the honey eaten, and the wax used for light. Americans also churned their own butter, dyed their homespun fabrics, and made cloth on looms. In varying degrees, school children can participate in similar activities at home for a hands-on learning experience.

Those children who did go to school in early America encountered an environment far different from today. The one-room schoolhouse, dunce cap, personal slates for writing and doing arithmetic, and even McGuffey’s Readers can be simulated to demonstrate how Americans once learned their reading, writing, and arithmetic. Starting with the youngest children, the activity is the start of presenting how education in America itself evolved over time, an important part of America’s history, as well as its present. By the way, McGuffey’s Readers remained in widespread use through World War II, and still sell some 30,000 copies each year They are favored by home-schoolers and in some private schools in the 21st century.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Historical documents provide sources for lessons and discussion of the events which produced them. National Archives


12. Using historical documents as teaching tools

For high schoolers, American history can be taught using the documents of the past, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the grievances it addressed, and the principles it proclaimed. The Constitutional Convention, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as the subsequent amendments, gives a picture of the changes to America over more than two centuries. These include the adoption of direct election of senators by the people, the adoption of an income tax, Prohibition and repeal, suffrage rights, and the equal rights amendment. Presenting the Constitution as the basis for historical curricula offers the means to discuss and study the reasons for each mandated change.

Speeches such as Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Eisenhower’s warning of a military-industrial complex, Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King‘s I Have A Dream, all offer windows into their time. American orators of the past were often long-winded. Daniel Webster once delivered a speech on the Senate floor which ran over 3 and a half hours. Another time he delivered after dinner remarks for more than five hours. The texts of most of America’s most famous orations are easily found online, usable for creating an idea of the issues facing the country at the corresponding period of history, though for the most part they offer only one side of the argument.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum warns against teaching children about the event at younger ages. Wikimedia

13. Teaching the Holocaust to children

When American (and British and Russian) troops first uncovered the extent of the death camps in Nazi Germany, the battle-hardened veterans were stunned and sickened by what they found. Men who had fought across Europe couldn’t fathom the evidence before their eyes. Later, films of the camps and the vile scenes within stunned audiences around the world. Clearly, the extent of the Holocaust in Europe during World War II is not for young children. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) does not recommend teaching about the Nazi death camps prior to the sixth grade. Even at that level, the museum notes on its website children may empathize with some individual accounts, such as Anne Frank’s, but “they often have difficulty placing them in a larger historical context”.

The USHMM warns teaching the Holocaust at any level “requires a high level of sensitivity and keen awareness of the complexity of the subject matter”. Though the event took place in Nazi occupied Europe, its ramifications on American history are profound. German defendants at the Nuremberg Trials cited American eugenics programs of the 1920s and 1930s as justification for some of their own. They also cited American laws restricting the citizenship rights of American blacks in the Jim Crow south, as well as the doctrine of “separate but equal” as similar to the antisemitic laws prevalent throughout the Nazi era. The complexity of the Holocaust and its impact on American history are best left to the junior and senior years of high school, presented with expert guidance and authoritative sources.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Christmas celebration at Washington’s Virginia estate, Mt. Vernon. Wikimedia

14. How educators in the present are teaching history

This interview we conducted with an Elementary School teacher in North Carolina sheds some light on how educators are tackling history these days.

“I remember being taught history. We would have competitions about who could remember the American Presidents’ names. But I couldn’t tell you a single thing about those presidents and now because I have no context, I don’t remember most of their names either. It didn’t leave a long impression with me, because as a child, I was taught a name. Not a person.

I had a professor in college that taught us about Abraham Lincoln. He told us that he wrote so much on the Emancipation Proclamation that by the end of it, his signature was terrible! He had written so much that day, that by the end, his hand was cramped up and could not properly write his own signature. Teaching children about history can be complicated, so teaching them that George Washington had wooden teeth is going to create a folklore myth instead of an actual person. When you teach kids, it doesn’t have to be small enough to understand, it needs to be inspiring, interesting and engaging. Memorization will not teach children. Telling them that Abraham Lincoln cared so much about creating the Emancipation Proclamation that his hand was unable to properly sign gives them a visual they won’t soon forget. It teaches them that this was such an important document that he couldn’t stop until it was done.

Dressing up as a character from history could even be a good tool! I know a history teacher that would dress up as an historical figure and wouldn’t respond to his own name all day. And I know he made a lasting impression with his students. Engaging and having conversations with them as the figure taught them more than memorizing a name and date.”


School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Separating fact from fiction and politically inspired myths is crucial when teaching the American Civil War. Wikimedia

15. Teaching the American Civil War

The Civil War, America’s most devastating in terms of loss of life, remains the most traumatic and divisive event in the history of the United States. Its causes were many, though they centered on the issue of slavery, known in the antebellum South as the peculiar institution. Supporters of the southern cause still claim otherwise; that state’s rights prevailed over the federal government, and the war was fought for that cause above all else. They argue the war was started by Northern aggression, rather than Southern attacks on federal installations in Charleston, South Carolina, including the state’s occupation of Fort Moultrie and bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Numerous educators and websites support teaching the causes and effects of the American Civil War beginning at the third grade level, and continuing in later elementary grades and high school. By the third grade, children should understand that most Americans in the South, particularly in the rural areas, considered themselves Virginians, or South Carolinians, or Georgians, more than Americans. Their “country” was the state in which they were born and raised. New Yorkers were as foreign to them as Englishmen. Later grades explore how this sectionalism contributed to the belief the Constitution was a contract between states, dismissible when it no longer served. By high school, the Constitutional issues involved should be studied, with both positions presented as they existed in historical fact.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Theodore Roosevelt operating a steam shovel in the Canal Zone. Wikimedia

16. American expansionism in the 19th century

Concentrating on the settling of the continent and the growth of American society is very important throughout education. American international expansion began in the decades prior to and following the Civil War, reaching a peak in the first two decades of the 20th century. American expansion should be presented as well. It includes the Spanish-American War, the often forgotten Philippine-American Wars, interventions in Mexico and Latin America, the building of the Panama Canal, and the Great White Fleet. The United States solidified its position as a world power following World War I. Teaching America’s rise in international status raises issues beyond the intellectual capacity of younger children.

Using issues which exist today as well as in the past are tools which helps generate curiosity and maintain interest. America once used tariffs as its main source of federal income. Tariffs were and are divisive issues regarding their effect on the price of goods and international trade. Older students, at the high school level, should learn of the impact of tariffs in American history, including the Nullification Crisis of 1832. During the crisis South Carolina declared a federal law null and void within the state, an early threat to the sovereignty of the federal government. Similar arguments, over healthcare, highway funding, and several other issues exist in the present, another example of history repeating itself.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
A whimsical depiction of Paul Revere’s Ride by artist Grant Wood. Wikimedia

17. Using historical myths to debunk them

Most of the myths surrounding Paul Revere’s ride on the night of April 18-19, 1775 arose from the poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, itself written for children in 1861. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow raised the all but forgotten ride in public consciousness with the poem, though he created inaccuracies still taught in school. The poem created the image of Revere riding, alone, to Lexington and Concord, raising the alarm against the British raid the following day. Having the student read the poem aloud allows for insertion of corrections to the mythical elements, and relating the historical facts. For example, Revere did not order the signals hung in North Church’s steeple to tell him of the route chosen by the British (one if by land, two if by sea). He already knew the British had chosen the latter. He ordered the signal to alert other riders in the likely event of his capture while attempting to cross the Charles River.

Nor did he arrive at Concord. He was captured on the road shortly after warning Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington. The British took his boots and horse when they released him, and he walked back to Lexington in time to help Adams load his trunk in a carriage. Other riders alerted Concord, as church bells rang out across the countryside warning other villages and towns. The poem which created the myths thus used debunks them, and allows the true story of the memorable night to be told to even the youngest students. By the way, when Revere died in 1818, his many achievements listed in his obituary did not mention his midnight ride, one of many rides he made as a courier for Boston’s Sons of Liberty before the Revolutionary War.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The challenges faced by returning veterans and their families is the theme of the film The Best Years of Our Lives. Wikimedia

18. Using films and discussing the inaccuracies within

Historical films, even some documentaries, often present the American past inaccurately. Film is an enjoyable way of presenting history to students at home, with a discussion of the inaccuracies following the viewing providing an excellent means of teaching. Films have long been a source of myths infesting America’s view of its past, starting with the early westerns. Viewing westerns gives the impression that the Old West was a largely lawless place, with bank robberies common in all western towns. According to a University of Dayton estimate, about a dozen bank robberies occurred in the Old West from 1859 to 1900, less than occurs in many American cities annually. The west was a largely law-abiding place, with most towns establishing laws limiting the carrying of firearms.

Films such as The Best Years of Our Lives belie the commonly held belief that American veterans of World War II had little difficulty assimilating into civilian life following their service. Used to teach older children, the film addresses the difficulties encountered by many veterans disabled due to wounds, suffering from what later became known as post-traumatic stress disorder, finding work, and re-establishing personal relationships. Made contemporaneously (1946), it offers an opportunity to present history with ramifications in the present. Using age-appropriate film as a teaching tool introduces students to specific events in American history, when supplemented by accurate information and background materials.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Rins on banks and bank closures were two features of the Great Depression faced by the public and governments. Wikimedia

19. Teaching the Great Depression to children

The Great Depression is referenced almost innumerably in dialogue today, on newscasts, news sites, in magazines, and on radio broadcasts. Questions about it from children are inevitable. Younger children, before the fifth grade especially, lack the broad knowledge necessary to understand its causes, the efforts to fight it, the political bickering which accompanied it, and the permanent changes it wrought upon American society. Older children should be taught what occurred and why, though the parent teaching them may lack sufficient knowledge of economics to discuss the causes, and the effects of the steps to alleviate the downturn. The Great Depression, and the government’s response and actions, are divisive between conservatives and liberals. A myriad of books, articles, websites, documentaries, blogs, and other sources of information add to the divide.

The Great Depression was a series of downturns to the economy, followed by upturns, followed by another downturn. The 1930s saw growth in several markets, and near collapse of several others. Teaching it to older children brings in economic theory, political theory, the role of the federal government, social safety nets, stimulus packages, and many other subjects currently dominating American news and society. It followed an economic boom in the United States which lasted seven years (1922-29) that benefited the more affluent members of American society, but offered little to the less affluent and the poor. Teaching it to high school level students offers the opportunity to compare it to current events, and provide them with another insight into why knowing history is important.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The home front during the Second World War is a suitable topic for children, often ignored in schools. Wikimedia

20. Teaching World War II

During the baby boom of the 1950s and 1960s American history classes taught the United States won the Second World War and introduced the atomic age. Americans saved a heroic Britain, freed France, and destroyed Japan, after which they rebuilt it as an ally. The Soviet contributions to the defeat of Nazism were largely ignored in American textbooks, chiefly because of the hostilities of the Cold War. When teaching the war and its causes, age-appropriate materials, widely available online, should be applied. Much of the photographic record of the war is inappropriate for children below the upper elementary school grades. Atrocities committed by all sides, similarly inappropriate for younger children, should be presented and discussed at the high school level, including the Holocaust and its horrors.

The massive war in eastern Europe, which contributed more casualties to the total death count than any other theater of the war, likewise needs to wait until high school, or at least late middle school, for presentation. Once again many films, including documentaries, present the Eastern Front, many in graphic detail. Thousands of websites focus on the combat on the front, as well as the atrocities committed by the Germans and the Soviets against each other’s troops and civilians. So should the presentation of the decades of mutual suspicion between the United States and its allies, and the Soviets, which remains in place today. Younger students today are often astounded to learn the United States and the Russians once fought together as powerful, albeit suspicious allies.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
The space age began when the Soviets launched Sputnik, terrifying Americans in the 1950s. Wikimedia

21. The post-war era to 1980

America’s libraries offer resources for teaching about the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, and America’s global presence during the post-war era. Among them students find newspaper archives, many digitized, and sites such as Open Library and Project Gutenberg offer many scanned or digitized books and magazines as well. While often the materials offer a politically charged point of view, they also give insights into the concerns of average citizens during the era, and the changes to America. It was a period which saw a rapid rise in the number of college-educated Americans, the emergence of the middle class, and the urban flight to the suburbs. How Americans traveled changed with federal support of commercial aviation and the creation of the interstate highway system.

Students also find vast archives documenting the turbulence in America over the Civil Rights Movement, protests over the Vietnam War, and the scandals which caused the only American President to date to resign his office. Teaching the post-war era is best left to high school students, other than the Civil Rights Movement, which education sites for the most part introduce in third and fourth grade, expanding on it throughout the remainder of elementary and high school. Teaching the Civil Rights Movement necessitates an understanding of the Jim Crow laws which emerged following Reconstruction, and dominated American society and politics in the Southern states through the early 1960s.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Teaching the history of immigration in America reveals some unsavory events. Wikimedia

22. Teaching American immigration laws throughout history

American immigration laws, at the federal level, did not exist prior to 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Since then, American immigration laws have been passed and overturned, in response to numerous changes in population. Immigration remains a major topic of discussion and debate in the United States, and the study of immigration laws is best left to more mature students. They find a frequently dark chapter in American history, including the Mexican Repatriation in 1932, the “Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan in 1907, and other laws passed which discriminated against certain ethnic groups.

Numerous websites exist which offer the history of American Immigration Laws, many of them maintained by law firms specializing in the practice. The history of immigration laws is also well represented in newspaper and magazine archives. Younger students should learn of immigration from as it reflects their own ancestors, as part of learning their own history, but the study of generalized immigration and the federal government’s (and some states) responses to restrict certain ethnicities is beyond their understanding. The study raises racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices which have been a focus in American law for a century and a half, and continue full force today.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Author John Dos Passos (left) is just one of many eminent writers whose works for American Heritage Magazine are available online. Wikimedia

23. The American Heritage Magazine Archives

Originally launched in 1949, American Heritage Magazine maintains an online archive of every issue. A searchable archive of authors which includes David McCullough, John dos Passos, the eminent Civil War historians Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote, and many others. For older students, including middle school and high school, the archive is an invaluable resource in studying American History at home. The archive is also searchable by subject matter. Articles cover virtually every aspect of American history, from the early colonial days to recent events. Many of the articles focus on the personalities of men and women involved in major events, others reveal lesser known events in detail. The history of industries, including the demise of many, are covered in detail.

So are major events. World War II submarine warfare articles, written by men who fought in submarines including Edward L. Beach, the author of Run Silent, Run Deep, can be found and read. Numerous articles by Stephen Ambrose, writer of Band of Brothers and several other notable books on American history, permeate the archives. As a source of information outside of textbooks, the archive provides information often difficult to find anywhere else, as well as additional sources for serious students. Articles covering the private lives of American Presidents and other important personages, are readily found. The archive is useful in virtually every aspect of the study of American history.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Magazine archives provide vivis records of the time they were printed, regradless of the subject matter. Wikimedia

24. Other magazine archives online

Not all study of history needs to focus on war, racism, divisiveness, and other often sobering subjects. Sports have a large role in American history, particularly from the second half of the 20th century to the present. The Sports Illustrated Vault contains issues from August 16, 1954, its first issue, through October 7, 2019. It is browsable by decades, or searched for specific persons, articles, or subjects. Some issues contain only galleries of art within the magazine, including advertising from which American tastes and passions can be easily detected. Several magazine archives found online support students studying history, as well as other subjects, from home, while also offering fun reading.

Popular Mechanics Magazine, with issues prior and during World War II, offers new insights into the Great Depression, the war effort, and life at home. Issues from the beginning of the 20th century are easily found, most of them on the Internet Archive – another invaluable tool for studying history at home. The first issue of Scientific American, published in 1845, is readable online, as are subsequent issues to 1909, covering emerging technologies of their day, in all aspects of American life. Military developments, including predictions of how airplanes and submarines would change modern warfare, written well before they did, can be read online.

School Is Out: Learn How to Keep History Alive at Home
Project Gutenberg is a trove of historical sources and information, accessible to all. Wikimedia

25. Project Gutenberg and other resources

Project Gutenberg is a resource for students of far more than just history, though it supports them as well. It offers ebooks in several formats, including EPUB, Kindle (with and without images), and HTML. The digitized works of history scholars as well as historical fiction are free to download or read online. One finds journals of historical personages, as well as books written about them by contemporaneous authors. Students of history studying from home can use Project Gutenberg, as well as the somewhat similar Open Library, to supplement research on other sites.

For students studying America’s history in warfare, the US Army, Navy, and Air Force maintain Offices of History, with articles, research papers, and other information online. The US Naval Institute’s official magazine, Proceedings, maintains an archive containing articles about the Navy’s history as well as an extensive database of photographs. Proceedings’ archive contains readable articles on America’s Navy going back to 1874, written by those serving at the time or recently retired. Reading the archives of the magazine reveals how the Navy evolved from burning coal to diesel fuel to gas turbines and nuclear power. For high school level students of history the military resources available online offer alternative glimpses of America’s history throughout the 20th century and into the present.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Teaching Young Children with Personal Histories and Primary Sources”. Kelly Perry. Online

“Let’s teach America’s story…online”.

“Liberty’s Kids: American Revolution”. Full Series.

“Voting and voices classroom resources”. Learning for Justice. Online

“How to teach through storytelling”. Jenny Fulton, February 27, 2017

“Online Learning Resources”. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Online

“Lesson Plans”. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Online

“National Museum of the American Indian”. Smithsonian Institution. Online

“The Louisiana Purchase”. Article, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Online

“The Alamo is a rupture”. Raul Ramos, Guernica Magazine. Online

“Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum”.

“Hand-dipped candles”. Activities, Online

“Teaching With Documents”. Educator Resources, National Archives. Online

“Fundamentals of Teaching the Holocaust”. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Online

“The Building Blocks of History”. Steve Davis, Nicole Martin, University of Kentucky. April 27, 2017. Online

“Primary Source Sets: The Civil War”. Teachers, Library of Congress. Online

“Helping Your Child Learn History”. United States Department of Education. Online

“The Real Story of Revere’s Ride”. Article, The Paul Revere House. Online

“Using feature films in teaching historical understanding: Research and practice”. Debra Donnelly, Academia. Online

“The Great Depression Lesson Plan”. Catherine Means, History Teaching Institute, Ohio State University. Online

“World War 2 Facts for Kinds”. Article, National Geographic Kids. Online

“The postwar era 1945-80”. Lesson Plans, Khan Academy. Online

“Explore Immigration Data”. Teacher’s Activity Guide, Online

“Archive (1949-Present)”. American Heritage Magazine. Online

“Popular Mechanics”. Internet Archive. Online

“About the US Army Center of Military History”. United States Army. Online