Historical places are all around us, and we can bring the struggles and sacrifices, successes and failures, motivations and values, to life for our grandchildren. Today’s children could use a larger perspective of life, looking beyond their immediate lives, and an appreciation of the contributions of those who came before us. In spite of Garrison Keeler’s wise reminder to us older folks to stop whining about having to walk miles to school in snowstorms, or similar stories we may have, because the kids aren’t interested (New York Times, don’t remember the date!), they can be engaged in experiences that bring history to life and discussion about how things have changed and the impact of these changes on their lives.
Hopefully, our grandchildren have teachers who have effectively opened their eyes to the treasured experiences of the past, how humans have arrived to this day. Whether or not, we can play a key role in contributing to their understanding of history’s “lessons” in so many ways, by taking their experience a step further, challenging them to imagine what life would be like for them in past times.
By sharing experiences like visiting a living history museum, and there are many, like touring the myriad of historical sites in and near our communities, by watching TV or movies that depict former times and places, we can help sharpen their imaginations and enhance their understanding of the profound impact of activities, decisions, events have on us now.
Take it to the personal: Can you imagine how it would be to be the first people to arrive at a new land or territory? (And why did they venture out to the unknown?) How and where did they obtain food, and what were they eating, how were they cooking? Water? Shelter? Education? Work? How have things changed for us? How did children spend their time on the farm? What did they look forward to when they reached adulthood?
Or: What would it be like to have an unpopular opinion? How would your neighbors treat you? (i.e., the world is round, not flat; the British have a right to tax; illness is God’s retribution, etc.)
I think of the rich history of New York, which I have become acquainted first-hand as an adult. The one-room stone house that a family of 9 lived in and grew up in, now open to the public in Kingston, NY. The sites of Underground Railroad safe houses scattered all through the state. Sites of the effort to win women’s right to vote. The Immigrant Museum, located in apartments on the Lower East Side not touched since the 1930’s, with interpreters explaining the lives of those who lived there.
And around the country—Information about pioneer women who ventured to the west “on their own,” (with help from the men, actually) and who slept with their vegetables so they wouldn’t freeze in the winter. Lincoln’s cabin (As a child, I’ve seen several of them throughout the Midwest!). Native American sites, burial grounds, celebration grounds (appallingly, I remember men in full costume and headdress in the heat of summer dancing at the train station in North Dakota for pennies). In Philadelphia, on display, not only the Liberty Bell, but letters from the wives of this country’s founders, writing of the daunting task of managing the farms, and urging their husbands to get on with standing up to the British. Listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin talk about the presidents of the past and bringing history to life.
I recommend that we also get out of our comfort zones and explore this amazing world around us. I enjoy a chance to learn history almost-first-hand, not as just dates and places we were required to memorize in school long ago, and sharing these learning experiences with my grandchildren is fun for all of us.