Making History Sticky
- Friday, December 31, 2010
"You shook his hand?" asked Jesse, wide-eyed.
"Yes," Ethan replied with a shrug.
"Chuck Yeager? You shook Chuck Yeager's hand?"
"Yes, Dad and I met him when we went to Edwards Air Force Base last year."
"Wow!" responded Jesse, who had been studying Bernoulli's principle (movement of fluid through a pressure difference) and building airplanes with his younger siblings. Ethan's stature had just grown visibly in his brother's eyes. "We just watched a documentary on him! He was the first man to break the sound barrier."
Yes! I thought. They're getting it! History is beginning to stick. My children grasped more about Chuck Yeager, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart at ages 6, 10, and 13 than I understood at 44. For that, I can thank the vehicle by which their history is being delivered.
Cathy Duffy, in her book 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, tells us to "Approach social studies as a newspaper reporter. Reporters look for the answers to the questions: Who did what? When did they do it? Where did they do it? and Why did they do it? . . . Our social studies should be like a good newspaper article, combining all the necessary ingredients." Duffy defines "social studies" as "a comprehensive term that includes history, geography, and cultural studies." For the purpose of this article, I'll use the word history, but the ideas apply beyond the discipline of history.
I interviewed Jessica Hulcy, author of the popular KONOS curriculum, to better understand how to compose the newspaper article that is to be our children's history experience. She tells us we must use a multi-sensory approach, because when we involve the five senses, our children experience history from many perspectives, rounding out and solidifying their grasp of the concepts.
According to Endangered Minds by Jane Healey, brain cells have many protruding connectors. These can hook up and make "pathways" in the brain similar to paths in the forest. God designed our brains so that we will develop particular pathways at given stages of life that coincide with normal growth and family interaction. Just as in a forest, we establish the paths we use most while the little-used paths will be lost. Learning through discovery—thinking, dialoguing, dramatizing, and parental interaction—strengthens important connections and causes the brain to actually grow in size.
Related research shows that the brains of roughly half the population tend toward more traveled paths in the left hemisphere and the other half of the population in the right hemisphere. To simplify further, roughly half of the population learns better through hands-on involvement, and the other half tends to respond better to lectures and book learning. According to Hulcy, using the discovery learning method covers the bases for all learning styles, while it also stretches children to improve their ability to learn through methods they find more challenging.
Mix It Up
Blending other subject areas into the study of history also helps children remember better what they have learned. Hulcy likens the study of history to observing a three-dimensional sculpture. If we look at a sculpture from one angle only, we will have an incomplete concept of the whole. If, however, we walk around the sculpture, noting the angle of the head, the placement of the feet, the posture of the back, the expression of the face—examining every detail from every angle—we will form an entirely different impression of the masterpiece. We add depth to our children's study of history in the same way. This kind of discovery experience causes children to own the knowledge; ownership, making history a part of themselves, allows children to recall the experience and related facts even years later.
Make It Fun
We have addressed two important ingredients for our "sticky history" formula: discovery learning and integrating subjects. However, we are still missing an important element. That element is fun. Wait! Please hear me out. I stand among you as a mom concerned that today's children are addicted to entertainment. We do not want to encourage that addiction, and I am not endorsing fun in the self-focused sense of seeking more pleasure through entertainment. Yet, fun isn't all bad. Hulcy tells us, "I can attempt to force my children to pay attention with threats. Or by the way I teach, I can motivate my children to want to pay attention from inside themselves. Motivation is far easier than force and has fewer tears attached."
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