A PhD-prepared scientist by day, Jennifer is also the mom and afterschooler of two young, gifted children.
Why History Isn't Boring at My House
If you have young children, you know that the grossest topics are the most interesting. Bodily fluids are always a topic of conversation at my house. Good guys vs. bad guys are also developmentally appropriate for the 2 to 7 age range. As a parent, this leaves you with a few options when teaching history:
- You can try to tell them about history in the dry, normal, boring way that will make them hate history forever.
- You can embrace poop.
In this article, I will share two books that I used after The Ox-Cart Man to introduce more complex topics in history to my young, gifted learners. We have the privilege of being close to Colonial Williamsburg, but look for living history exhibits and museums in your area so you can have similar experiences.
I wouldn't consider either of the books I recommend here to be living books, so the Charlotte Mason philosophy gets tossed out the window for the recommendation. Instead, for these books I pull more from the Reggio Emilia approach as this is really more project-based learning and a multi-sensory approach to history.
First Recommendation: If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days
The most important question is how to use this book with your young, gifted learners. There are 78 information-packed pages in If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days. I would not suggest that you read this book from start to finish unless you want your children's eyes to glaze over.
This book does a great job of breaking down many topics into small sections that are typically 1, sometimes 2, pages long. I know in every article I mention child-led learning, but I'm going to mention it here again: Let your children decide what topics are the most interesting to them and start there. Below I have provided photos of the Table of Contents.
Embrace the Poop
While you can, in fact, begin anywhere your child wants to begin, I suggest starting on page 33: Where was the bathroom? I have yet to meet a preschooler or young child who doesn't find poop funny. What better way to engage a preschooler in learning about history that by bringing poop into it!
Another topic in this same section is how people brushed their teeth and stayed clean in colonial Williamsburg, both topics even the youngest learner knows something about. Here are some of the ways I used this section of the book to get my children engaged:
1. I Spy a Chamber Pot
Because we have Colonial Williamsburg nearby, we visit often and go inside the colonial homes. Our favorite game to play (and we've been playing this for two years) is I spy the chamber pot. With this game comes exclamations of "EEEWWWWW POOOOOOP!" and random declarations of "Poop! Poop! Poop!" But I guarantee you that my young children know more about the lack of plumbing and bathroom practices than other children their age.
If you do not live near Colonial Williamsburg, search for museums in your area with displays of early American culture so you, too, can play I spy the chamber pot. If that's not possible, sneak bowls near all the beds in your house and have your own personal version of the game. I'm the kind of mom who would even have my kids pretend to poop on the bowl because they would find that completely hilarious. (Your mom views may differ, and we embrace all types of momming—and dadding—around here!)
2. Colonial Bath
The book section with chamber pots also mentions how people had to carry in their water from an outside well for a bath. While I don't send my kids outside to tote in water, we have some pails we use on the beach for sand play, and we fill them up in the sink. Then my children carry them to their very own colonial bath. We do not fill up the entire bath this way; I let them do a few buckets while the regular water is running, and they have a great time!
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While they take a bath, we continue the conversation about how far they might have to walk if they lived in colonial times and how many baths they would want to take if they had to bring in all the water.
3. Follow Your Child's Interest to Other Parts of the Book
You will probably be amazed at what other topics your children become interested in based on this book. Once my sons got into chamber pots, that led to millions of other questions, all of which could be answered in the book.
My 3-year-old loves to dress up, and he became very interested in the sections of the book on clothing. At a recent visit to Williamsburg, he and I spent an hour looking at nothing but clothing examples in the museum. That's certainly not what I expected, but through child-led learning, that is where he took us on his journey of discovery.
Second Recommendation: You Wouldn't Want to Be an American Colonist!
Similar to the previous book, You Wouldn't Want to Be an American Colonist is divided into many smaller sections of information. I always enjoy books that divide information this way so I don't feel like I have read it from start to finish. This book is stuffed with illustrations and has many pages that are full-color illustrations.
Before you start with this book, I recommend teaching children about timelines. Timelines are part of the Charlotte Mason philosophy. First, you would want to help young children create a timeline about their own life to help them understand the concept. Timelines are a critical skill needed for this book because it begins with a timeline, as shown below.
The Relationship Between Colonists and Native Americans
Although I have used all parts of this book, I primarily used this book to introduce the relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans. Unlike many parents, I do not tell my children about the more conventional views of Thanksgiving. We do not read books about pilgrims, make pilgrim hats, and depict colonists and Native Americans sharing a turkey.
This is why I brought up Good Guys vs. Bad Guys earlier. Much of the way history is presented is "us" vs. "them:" the white colonists vs. the Native Americans. Because of the developmental phase my children are in, they ask me who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. While you may not think your young child can grasp the grey areas of history, I assure you that they can. Gifted children have an amazing capacity to understand complex and multifaceted topics at an early age.
Here is one of the full-color illustrations from the section of this book titled: The Algonquians—Friends or Foes:
This book was only a starting place for me to begin to explain the long, complicated history of colonists and Native Americans. Although the theme of the relationship is woven throughout the book, the section specifically dedicated to the relationship is only two pages. In later articles, I will provide more resources that I used to discuss this—and other heavy topics, such as slavery—with my sons.
A note of caution: This book covers even the negative parts of the first settlements. It discusses the lost colony, famine, and starvation. Pre-screening is required for sensitive children. I choose to present even the gruesome parts of history to my own children, accompanied by lots of discussion and plenty of space for feelings.
On a sensitivity scale of 1 to 10, my older child is about a 7. I introduced parts of this book to him beginning at age 4, and he has not had any problems. My youngest son is not sensitive, and he has been hearing parts of this book since age 2. I continue to censor him from the parts about famine and starvation, and he is now almost 4. I will likely introduce those aspects of the book to him around age 4 1/2.
Final Recommendation: A Map and a Globe
Once you reach this level of history with your children, you should begin teaching them the physical location of the events. Explaining to young children that "colonists came from England" has absolutely no context because a young child does not know where England is located, how far away it is, or how a person would get from there to here.
I find that used book sales are great places to pick up maps for extremely cheap prices (think: 25 cents!). Sometimes I find maps of only the colonies. I use a combination of maps and a globe for my children. We will use paperclips (or little ships the kids draw) to sail across the globe and show the path the colonists took to get here.
I dug through three years' worth of my Amazon history to let you all know exactly which globe I purchased. I bought this 8-inch globe that has an LED light so it glows from within. I bought it in November 2017, and it's still going strong! It often goes on sale around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Prime Days, and you can get a great deal on it. (I got mine on a Lightning Deal.) Above is a photo so you can see how big it is.
OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on March 05, 2020:
Good one. Children love maps, for they would probe you more and more about many things on the map. History shouldn't be boring for it prepares us for the future while showing us things about the present and letting us know what and what not about the past.