Friday, February 10, 2017
February 10, 2017: History for Kids: School Projects
[February 7th marks the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of America’s most famous writers and a cultural voice who provided entry points into American history for many many young readers (and then TV viewers). So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of texts and contexts of histories for kids, leading up to a crowd-sourced post on where and how you got your childhood history (or where your kids are getting it)!]
Thanks to their wonderful Massachusetts public school, my sons have had the chance to work on numerous unique and exciting projects, including many focused on historical figures and themes. Here are brief descriptions for and historical lessons from three of them:
1) The Negro Leagues: As part of their 4th grade Social Studies curriculum, both boys have had the chance to read about and study the Negro Leagues, culminating in a project creating a ginormous biographical baseball card for one particular player (my older son chose Josh Gibson; my younger son is the process of making his choice). The entire unit offered a wonderfully specific and engaging way to think about issues of race, social justice, and sports in American culture, and the baseball card project in particular asks the students to consider how such themes became part of the life story of their chosen figure (both in limiting and in inspiring ways, or at least that’s certainly how my son’s Josh Gibson project played out). It’s not always easy to know how we should remember something as fraught yet vital, frustratingly circumscribed yet impressively successful, as the Negro Leagues—much less how we could teach such a history to kids. But this unit and project do so very effectively on all levels, I’d say.
2) Explorers: Another part of 4th grade Social Studies focuses on explorers and exploration throughout history, from Marco Polo and the Vikings up through 19th century Americans like Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea. This year the unit features a new multi-pronged culminating project, with one option being the chance to create a board game based on a chosen explorer’s journeys. My younger son has chosen Sacagawea, and as I write this is in the process of finalizing his board game of her role in and contributions to the Lewis and Clark expedition and an expanding national identity. Thanks to how much the unit has taught him, and to his own empathetic perspective, he’s including some of the expedition’s negative effects—both its own deaths/losses and the ways in which it led to often disastrous consequences for native tribes and communities across the continent—as well as its and Sacagawea’s more positive and heroic sides. As with other native figures such as Pocahontas and Sarah Winnemucca, it can be hard to navigate those more inspiring and more painful sides to their lives and legacies—but this unit and project have helped my son to do so, and in a board game no less!
3) The Lost Boys of Sudan: As part of his 5th grade Social Studies class, my older son recently completed a unit on the Lost Boys of Sudan, one centered around Katherine Applegate’s historical novel Home of the Brave (2008). The unit’s most striking and exciting culmination was a visit to their class from two of the actual Lost Boys, now young men living their unfolding American lives and sharing their stories here. (As an important aside, refugees from Sudan would no longer be allowed to come to the U.S. under Trump’s new Executive Orders.) But the unit also featured a final project, in which my son and a couple classmates created a newspaper featuring stories about a number of moments and figures in the story of Applegate’s fictional Lost Boy protagonist Kek. As he worked on the newspaper, he was able to think not only about Kek’s experiences and perspective, but about the vital question of how we can tell such stories, how we can connect them to audiences (something that the visiting Lost Boys also helped model, of course). One more great lesson from these wonderful school projects!
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Kids’ histories you’d remember and share for the weekend post?