📜How to Talk to Kids About History📜
Hello, lovely people 👋
In a serendipitous twist, my 9-year-old daughter, Lexi, started studying the 'Industrial Revolution' just a few weeks after we started integrating it. Every Thursday when she comes home, I ask her what she's learned.
Broadly speaking, the findings fall into three categories:
📜 Working life in a mill and in a mine.
📜 Victorian buildings in our town.
📜 Coal pit disasters from the late 19th century.
Key point: Those are the things she has studied.
But here is what she has learned:
📜 Life was very hard for people.
📜 Lots of people died in accidents.
📜 The pews in the church are a terrible place to have your lunch on. (They visited the church as part of their lesson about Victorian buildings in our town).
📜 The 2005 film version of Oliver Twist is rubbish because it doesn't have any singing in it.
Now, points 3 and 4 are less important for our purposes but I couldn't withhold those little gems, could I? 😂
Also, this is not a criticism of my daughter’s teacher or her school. You don’t know what you don’t know, right?
I planned on calling this newsletter “how to talk to kids about industrialisation,” but I think we need to go further back than that. As always, it's a case of starting at the beginning. (Which seems really obvious but I can’t tell you how often it doesn’t happen).
By "beginning," what I mean is an (age-appropriate) understanding of what history is and what history isn't.
The brilliant thing about the small humans in your life is that they haven’t yet had the historical conditioning of their older peers (and us adults). They haven’t been told really unhelpful things like “bias is bad.” They might not have been exposed to the full (and oppressive) force of the single, male-dominated narrative.
And let’s not forget that children are natural historians. They’re curious and they love stories. That’s all you need. Like anything else, you pick up the rest as you go.
So where to start, then?
First and foremost, you don’t need to tie this into any topic or knowledge. Think of it as standalone stuff. We’re talking about the foundations on which the discipline of history sits. Sadly, you won’t find this stuff in the National Curriculum for History (at any key stage), so it really is up to us all, as adults, to have conversations that support a critical understanding of history and, more importantly, promote a long-range view between past, present and future.
No pressure or anything 😂
Experience teaches me that there are some foundational points about history that cannot be ignored. We can call them the Commandments, and the most important ones are these:
Thou* shalt know the difference between History and history. Remember that History (with a capital H) is what we call recorded history. It’s about 5000 years old. It’s not the same as ‘history’ (with a lowercase h), which is a fancy way of saying the sum of human experience.
Thou* shalt know who made History and who didn’t. While all humans have made history (and continue to make history everyday, just by living and breathing), not everyone made it into History. There are lots of reasons for these inequities.
(“Thou” is optional but encouraged 😂)
You can introduce these foundations to kids (or adults) in any way that works best. Go with your gut, always. Once these foundations are established, it’s easy to apply them to any given time, place or event. Immediately, it changes the dynamic because children are no longer the passive recipient of a story. They are empowered to be analytical from the get-go because they’re already thinking about who is represented and who isn’t.
Helping to build a critical understanding of History/history is crucial. People will always do what they’ve always done if we don’t break the cycle.
Come on, if there was ever a time to save our kids from dry, boring, single-narrative history, it’s NOW.
Until next time,
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