Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your Kindle Fire or Apple or Android devices.

German spies infiltrated the Pennsylvania Railroad during World War II. A Pinkerton detective went undercover as a coal miner to investigate the Molly Maguires in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. Frank Piasecki, who invented the dual-rotor helicopter, first built a helicopter in his garage in Philadelphia and tested it by flying around the surrounding countryside. These are just some of the interesting facts my family uncovered as we explored Pennsylvania state history.  

Following are some of the ideas and activities that have emerged out of those years. Although originally designed to teach Pennsylvania history, this plan can be used to study the history of any of the fifty states.

Most children in fourth through eighth grade will be able to read and complete the activities independently. Special needs children and younger children will need more help, including some adjustments to the activities. Older children can use the outline and question prompts to write a research paper or devise their own projects. 

Gather together any books about your state that you may already have. Next, go to your public library and see what is available. What you don’t find anywhere else can usually be found on the Internet. A list of some sites that we found helpful is offered in the sidebar. 


Activity: Make a “learning web” to show what you, the student, already know about your state. (See sidebar.) Save your web so you can add to it when you have completed this state history study. 

Origin of the State

1. Thirteen Colonies

Activity: Find a map of the original thirteen colonies of the United States by looking in a U.S. history book or online. Was your state one of them? If so, draw a map of the original thirteen colonies and label your state.

2. Other 

Activity: If your state wasn’t one of the original thirteen colonies, how and when did it become a state? Learn about your state by reading a book about it, or read about it online. Write a newspaper article announcing your state’s entry into the Union. Include the date and circumstances.  


1. State symbols

Activity: Each state legislature has chosen a certain bird, mammal, tree, flower, etc. to represent its state. These can be found online at www.netstate.com. Make a set of flashcards with the general category on one side and specific object on the other. Use the flashcards to learn the state symbols.

2. Coat of Arms

Activity: Find a picture of your state’s coat of arms, draw it, and make a list of the objects included on it. Try to find out the meanings of those objects and why they’re included.

3. Nickname

Activity: Find out the nickname of your state. Why does your state have its particular nickname? Make a banner with your state’s nickname on it.

4. Slogans 

Activity: Most states also have a tourist slogan. Investigate how that slogan was chosen. Create your own slogan for your state and be able to explain why you chose it.  

Native Americans

1. Tribes