10 Ways to Make History Come to Life

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When I was a kid I always thought history was boring.  Turns out, it was.  Everything I learned from history was from a school textbook.  In fact, before teaching the Civil War to my own child, the only thing I could tell you about it was from the movie Glory.  Seriously nothing else.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to find history interesting.  So when I decided to homeschool I knew I wanted to make sure to make history come to life for my child.  So in this three part series we are going to start by discussing 10 ways to make history come to life for your child.

1. Seeing History

Nothing is better than seeing history in person.  Going to a historical site and seeing it, especially after reading about it, can really bring life to the subject.  I realize that not everyone can do this.  However, it may be easier and more economical than you think.  Where we live there are a surprising amount of ruins, Native American cliff dwellings, archaeological sites, dinosaur excavations, meteor craters, historical buildings and landmarks.  Most of them are less than a 3 hour drive and cost less than a cup of coffee to get into.  

One of the best investments we have made is to purchase the America the Beautiful Annual Pass.  The pass costs $80 for the year.  It allows four adults and all kids under 15 to get into any national park for free.  The pass includes access over 2,000 sites in the U.S.  To check it out go to the America the Beautiful Pass Website. It literally pays for itself if you only use it once or twice depending on the landmark.  So look around your neck of the woods, history is waiting!

If you have a fourth grader you can apply for the Every Kid Outdoors pass.  This pass allows all kids under 16 (including your fourth grader), as well as 3 adults over 16 to get into over 2,000 national parks for free.  This includes homeschoolers.  You can also apply if you are an educator of 4th graders.  To apply go to Every Kid Outdoors.

Junior Rangers

Before you go, don’t forget to set your kids up with their very own junior ranger accounts HERE.  This will allow them to find parks online with interactive and printable activities. You can view special places within the parks from your living room. You can also watch wildlife, geysers, and other activities in real time. They can also download junior ranger books HERE. 

In addition to this, when you visit local parks, your junior rangers will receive badges each time they go to one of the national parks (as long as they are available).  They can collect stamps and badges along their journey.   All of these interactive activities make these trips more enjoyable and fun.

2. Audio Books

Sometimes school is more fun when you don’t call it school.  I started using audio books for history as bedtime stories.  Instead of calling it history or school, I named it storytime.  My absolute favorite is the Story of the World Series read by Jim Weiss (review coming soon).  These are so well received that my child will excitedly ask for them.  Another great series on audio is the I Survived Book Series (also in paperback).  

A great audiobook can make history come to life.  For children, it’s like having a fantastic book read out loud by a great storyteller.  If you think bedtime might be too scary for history (history is violent after all), then just do it during the day.  I don’t give tests on this and I don’t ask questions.  We just let it be enjoyed.  Remember, if you don’t call it history or school, they will love it.  If they love it, they’ll remember it.

3. Educational Television

That’s right, I’m not opposed to using television as a tool.  There is nothing wrong with high quality videos to teach kids great things.  Amazing videos keep kids engaged and can explain things in a way I am not always able to. But, I use this sparingly and with care.  One of my favorite educational video sites is Curiosity Stream.  It has hundreds of streaming high quality educational videos.  All of them are available for the price of a couple of cups of coffee per year.  What’s not to love?  If you want to read more about them, you can check out my post Where I Find Educational Videos.

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4. Lap Books and Hands On Programs

It’s a proven fact that connections are made in the brain when you “see, say and do” things together.  Hands-on activities are a great way to solidify what has already been learned.  My favorite is by a company called Homeschool in the Woods.  This family run company produces fantastic world and US history unit studies, lap books and timelines.  

Each program focuses on a specific time period and then has hands-on activities that you can do with them.  They include everything from recipes from the time period to miniature reproductions of things.  I have used many of their units and we are never disappointed.  (Full review coming soon!). They are not the only company producing these hands-on products.  However, they produce high quality at an affordable price.  

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5. Museum Tours-In Person

The day I set foot into The Met in New York was mind blowing.  I had no idea what a true museum was like until then.  What most people don’t know is that larger museums like The Met and The Getty have actual tours of the museum.  Different companies will tour you around the museum explaining artifacts and giving historical facts and stories.   These tours will typically have themes.  They take looking at a tiny statue that seems like nothing, and turn it into an entire experience.  It is absolutely worth looking into.  To find a tour group just google “in person tours + the museum name” you are planning to visit.  Some of the museums that do these tours are: 

6. Museum Tours-Online

Most people have never heard of online museum tours.  However, most of the larger museums have them.  We have been able to take tours through The British Museum and The Getty during the pandemic.  The technology that’s available is fantastic.  Many of the images and artifacts are 3D scanned.  This means that when you are looking at them you are able to see them rendered as you would in the museum.  The tour guides are entertaining and fun.  They give lots of historical information and many times you take a 3D “walk” through the museum itself.  

The tours are done through outside companies much like the in person ones are.  They usually have themes you can select from as well.  This has allowed our family to see exhibits all over the world without ever leaving home.  The prices are generally very reasonable.  At home, I label these as “field trips” and we usually take the day off school just like we would if we were taking a real trip to the museum.  

7. Mixing History and Art

History really can’t exist without art in some form or another.  Learning about history through art is not only a great way to get immersed in the culture, it’s fun!  There is a great company that specializes in historical art projects for kids called Art in History.  They make replicas of artifacts from earthenware pottery that focus on specific historical events and time periods.  Each kit comes with all the supplies you need.  Again, this is not the only company available to you.  But I think they have a very good selection at reasonable prices.  You can buy multiple pieces together to save on cost.  So plan your history lessons ahead.

8. Engaging and Unique Books

There are several amazing book series for kids available now.  If your kid is an avid reader, this is a way to incorporate reading and history work together.  The following book series are entertaining and engaging:

The Who Was and I Survived Series

The Who Was Series discusses one individual person from history.  It’s typically a shortened biography of the main character written for a younger audience.  The I Survived Series is typically a fictional person who survives real life historical events.  These are also available in audio format for those who can’t or don’t like to read.  This series does go into a lot of detail and is at times sad and emotional.  So keep that in mind.  Both of these series are meant for middle school students.  However, I think that they can be used with younger children with guidance from parents.

Horrible Histories

Horrible Histories is all about the disgusting or gross things that happened in history.  I particularly think this series will be well received by tweens and teenage boys.  Let’s face it, most of them think disgusting is cool and it’s definitely memorable!  They are written in a Monty Python style that is descriptive and at times pretty gross (exploding corpses come to mind).  So make sure to pre-read some of these books for age appropriateness as not all parents will be okay with why ancient doctors ate patients’ earwax or why ancient Egyptians didn’t allow bodies to rot.  These books will not be for everyone.  Parental Guidance is suggested. 

This is not a complete list of book series.  If you have a favorite series, be sure to let me know in the comments section so I can add it.

9. Historical Re-Enactments

You and your family can join in and become part of history.  There are groups all over that do historical re-enactments of famous events.  When you go, you’re encouraged to dress up, hang out, and become part of the event.  I felt that there was not enough time to do them justice in this post.  Be sure to check out my full review of these historical re-enactments HERE.

10. Making History 

Yes you really can make history!  Well, at least a piece of it.  There are many different ways and companies to do this.  My favorite is The Sword Casting Guy.  In this class, your kids will literally make a piece of history.  This class was so cool I felt it deserved its own post as well.  Check out my full review HERE.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the ways that you can bring life into your history lessons.  There are so many interesting ways to learn about history.  So skip the textbooks and do something the kids will really remember.  You are better off doing a few really amazing things they will never forget, than reading a hundred they will never remember.  If you have more ideas about making history come to life, share them in the comments section below. 

If you loved this article be sure to check out the rest of this three part series:


Part 2: Making History Come to Life: Creating History with the Sword Casting Guy.  

Part 3: Making History Come to Life: Historical Re-Enactments

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