History defines as “chronological record of events, as of the life or development of a people or institution, often including an explanation of or commentary on those events.” (Dictionary.com) However, through the eyes of a child what significance does this hold to their overall understanding of history. In order to understand how children views history, I have conducted two interviews, in which children were asked to classify and determine the chronological events of the given images. Both children were upper elementary one 4th and the other 5th grade. I then concluded from their responses to the images and questions, a concept of history and time through a child’s eyes. I have come to the following conclusions: First, understanding history is dependent on what a child holds valuable. Secondly, in order to obtain knowledge children must be exposure to events present and past. The last conclusion was determined from asking the children questions about historical figures and current events. Children must understand that history is not only a reflection of the past; it is present, current and happening everyday, and it contributes to our overall perspective of our world.
The first conclusion states the relative nature of history. Events, time, and place hold little importance to a child if they cannot relate it to their current surrounding or impact in holds on their personal life. Understanding is dependent on what a child holds valuable. In both interviews, the children were able to express opinions about the more recent image of the car and the later image of the horses as one being past and the other being closer to the present. When asked how they determined the order of these two images, they seem to relate it and connect it to their present life. For example, one child made a statement about how their mother drives them to school everyday and how the image of the car was of present times. It is because the image contains something that was important to the child. This established a connection between the image and it was given a place in that child’s view of history. As a method to encourage children to learn about history and historic events, it is imperative that we relate it to their world. Have them incorporate elements of their own history as historic events in the classroom. According to Lisa Hayes on the partnership of learning website, history should “focus on the family and progresses through elementary school to encompass the neighborhood, the community, the state, the country and…the world.”(Partnership of Learning) This will provide the more personal elements that history needs in order to relate to children.
The second conclusion states that in order to obtain knowledge children must have exposure to events of the present and past. I believe exposure is a large part of understanding history and any knowledge for that matter. Prior knowledge defines present knowledge and without essential background knowledge components, new information will be lost. It was clear from the interviews which child was exposed to the items in the images prior to our interview, and which child was lacking the necessary exposure to determine the time of the image. For example, one of the children I interviewed determined that the image of the wood houses was very much from the past. Although, the exact date was off a few centuries it was determined to be one of the later images. When ask how they determined these finding I was impressed on the higher order thinking skills required to come to this conclusion. The child reported to me that the image was of a farm, but it had to be an old farm. (See attachment) The child reported that his uncle lived on a farm but the farmhouses did not look like this anymore. He continued to go into detail about how they made homes like log cabins in the past. The child’s prior experience allowed him to have a clearer picture of history, and it is this prior knowledge we must provide for our students so that they may also have the tools to determine the past from present. However, how do we provide students with background knowledge? According to Nelson, Lynn R. and Nelson, Trudy A. the most effective way to increase student’s knowledge of history is with great literature. The research suggested “students’ interest in the subject matter and their ability to learn and retain information increased significantly when their history instruction included literature.”(Learning History through Children’s Literature) Literature can be a great way to connect the children to history; many stories told historically focus on a personal perspective of historic events. This will provide them with the essential background knowledge to further their understanding of events in the past and their relationship to present and future events.
The third and final conclusion drew from the responses to the questions asked during the interview. Although the children could tell me important historical figures of the past like George Washington and Martin Luther King, they had no response when asked about current bank policies or the capital of some very popular American cities. This made me realize that children need to have daily exposure to current events. A great way to have students connected to current events and utilizing present technology is to have students connect to an internet-based newspaper. This way they are connected to what is happening today in addition to the advancements and growing changes of technology.
The information I gave gathered from these interviews has made me aware that in order to teach history effectively it must incorporate many elements. When teaching elementary school age children history, the information must be personal and have value. Furthermore as educators, we must expose children to a broad range of activities, reading material, educational trips to the art museum, zoo, or symphony to broaden their intellect and knowledge of the world that surrounds them. History is an every changing and evolving state, is an important part of learning an appreciation of the journey we evolved as a people along with the rights we now have because of the effects of the past. Exposure and emphasis on learning about our world will provide children with a greater understanding of self and a greater appreciation for others.