Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Do you enjoy history movies, documentaries and books? There are so many ways to get your kids interested in history simply by “strewing” appropriate materials at the right times or selecting the right movie for a movie night. But in this post I will talk about more in-depth approach through a history mini unit study for elementary school children. This unit study was organized with the goal to fit into short stretches of time, and I will share tips on how busy parents or caregivers like myself can create these history units without overextending themselves or their busy elementary school children.
History Mini Unit Studies
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1. Follow Your Child Interests While Studying History

I believe in self-led learning, and I don’t want to tell my daughter what she has to study right now. She has enough of that in school already. Instead I showed her an online calendar of fun holidays and special days, and every week on Thursday she will pick a person or an event for the next week. Unfortunately, this particular calendar is very US-centric, but I don’t mind this flaw for this year, since I planned to learn more about US history as a family anyway.

2. Choose Your History Books Wisely

In the past I’d bring home at least 5 different books on the subject my daughter might be interested in. Now I am trying to find one book that we could read together in the evenings. I found two good series of biographies that work well for our advanced reader – Who Was… by various authors and Getting to Know… by Mike Venezia.

3. Experiment with “Screen Time”

We have limits on screen time at home, but they don’t apply if time is spent in research on a particular topic or if we are watching an educational program together. This is one of the reasons history mini units and additional privileges are so appealing to our daughter. However, again, we only have time for about 30-60 minutes of extra screen time per week. I research available educational videos in our local library, on Amazon Prime Free videos, and, of course, on YouTube.

4. Go Easy on History Writing Requirements

“Real” unit studies usually involve elaborate lapbooks, and a lot of good printables can be found online to do word searches and other activities, but I prefer to take it easy with writing. Smarty and I agreed to keep a notebook of “famous finds” for this project, where every person or event will get a page with main bullet points (useful for future note taking). This is what Smarty put together for President Kennedy. We also had a free form discussion about how she imagines life in the 1960s (life without computers and cell phones does seem like the last century now!)

5. Link Math or Science to History Studies

It’s easy to link history to language arts, but math or science connection require a bit of thinking. See example below in Kennedy mini unit.

6. Do Not Over Plan and Go With the Flow

It’s tempting to go overboard trying to cram too much in a limited time. I am very guilty of this myself and trying to improve and reduce number of “academic” things we do. I am also learning to go with the flow and drop things I planned if daughter would rather do something of her own choosing. I keep reminding myself that our after school activities are optional part of our lives, not a mandatory exercise.

Example of a History Mini Unit – John F Kennedy Unit

  • Book: Who Was John F. Kennedy? by Yona Zeldis McDonough
  • Video: The Life and Times of John F. Kennedy
  • Kennedy Live: Inaugural Address
  • Write: What we learned from Who Was John F. Kennedy book
  • Math (advanced second grade): George Washington was elected in 1789, and President Kennedy was elected in 1961. He was our 35th president? What was the average length in the office for the presidents before him?
  • Conversation topic: How you imagine life in 1960s when President Kennedy was in the office? What was the same and what was different?

More History for Kids

Follow my History Pinterest board
Follow Natalie's board History on Pinterest.

Your Turn and Help Needed

How are you studying history at home or in an afterschool program and what is the age of the kids involved? I would also love to grow my Pinterest history board, so please share your favorite resources in the comments! Finally, I am also looking for the better “this day in history” + “fun days” site that wouldn’t be so US-focused – any suggestions would be much appreciated!


maryanne @ mama smiles said...

This is a great post, Natalie! I added it to my "History for Kids" Pinterest board that I originally created to store all of Ticia's great history ideas!

My world culture for kids post tomorrow has some fun history tidbits about Ephesus, Turkey in it :)

RockerMom said...

I love this post! I had purchased some books to do exactly this for first grade, but our crazy move/displacement got in the way. I need to put one together for Robbie. Ours were going to be "famous Americans" that most young children learn about (since we're doing the chronological history thing and he's not getting exposed to those figures). Anyway.. I'm rambling. Again, great post!!

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

You could have pulled this page right out of my how-to-school-book, if I kept a book :) We catapulted from Dickens to Queen Victoria and I'm hoping we'll move from Victoria to WWI. It get's a little trickier with more can end up with several units going at once. Oh, and you forgot to add in a themed snack - don't forget the snack! For JFK you could have a Berliner Pfannkuchen (or at least a jelly donut), and discuss the truth or myth of Kennedy's German error.

Ticia said...

Hmmm...... Good this day in history places. There's a subscription homeschool site I know that does that, but that's not all that helpful for you.

I'll have to think about that, for good places for non-American centered.

Thanks for the mention :)

Linda Sears said...

Love this post, Natalie! We use KONOS Curriculum as the backbone of our unit studies, but I plan them out very much like you describe. It's great reading how other Mom's work through the planning, really helpful. Thanks!

Boy Mama Teacher Mama said...

Wow! What an idea! Sounds like so much great learning happening! Thanks for sharing at After School!

Stephanie Kay said...

As homeschoolers we've been very hands-on when learning history. Libraries have lots of great children's books about history. Thanks for sharing via Family Fun Friday.

Kara Carrero said...

There are so many ways to incorporate all subjects in history. What I always told my students was that regardless of what they were going to major in or do in life, history was a part of it! Science and technology is so fun to talk about from about 1750-1945 because there is just so much going on in those 200 years. Definitely defining moments in our civilization.