Family History in School By Jana Greenhalgh, The Genealogy Kids

I remember learning math in elementary school. I remember learning to read and write. I remember science, art, music, and P.E. And while I remember learning “social studies,” the only faint memories I have are of geography and a little bit of state history.

From Jana's 2nd grade journal

Maybe I have a poor memory, but I can’t remember a single history class from Jr. High School, and all I remember about my High School history class was a cranky teacher who wanted us to memorize dates. I believe some of you out there had wonderful history teachers that you remember fondly … I just wasn’t that lucky. It’s an absolute miracle that I somehow decided to major in history in college. Actually, I decided to major in FAMILY HISTORY, and that’s what made all the difference. History was never something that really interested me, until I put FAMILY with it. Now history is my favorite subject.

The more our children can see that history was full of their own families, the better off our young history students will be.

When Sam was in 6th grade, the very first assignment he had was to create a timeline! Even though the timeline was just about his own life (to introduce himself to his class), I love the idea of kids thinking about their own history. The inevitable result is that they will be thinking about their immediate family history. In 11 short years of life, Sam could already tell plenty of family history stories about where his family lived when he was born, how we moved around, what places we visited and what activities we did. This gives him identity, purpose, and some family pride! And it teaches him to use an important genealogy tool … timelines.

Becca studied Utah History in 7th grade. Imagine my delight when one day she came home and announced that she was assigned to write a report on her earliest family member to arrive in Utah. Thank you, teacher! For Becca, this assignment required detective work. She had to do some research. We have many early Utah ancestors, so she had do to some digging in our family tree to determine which ancestor was really the first to arrive. Fortunately for Becca, much of the information she was looking for was compiled in FamilySearch’s Tree, and she got to practice navigating through her pedigree looking for stories.

I once had a 4th grader return home from school to excitedly report that he was doing a “pioneer simulation” in his class. Something about, “I’m the banker, so I’m really good at negotiating with the Indians and the ferry drivers!” After inquiring further, I learned that his teacher was using the Scholastic publication, Easy Simulations, Pioneers to teach history (and reading and writing at the same time). Students are assigned roles in a “wagon train” while worksheets, charts and maps help them to simulate some of the challenges of 19th century pioneers.

I love this kind of project. I love when kids can actually put themselves in their ancestors’ shoes and think about what life was like for them. Having challenged the kids in her class to make it from Independence to Portland, the teacher was inspiring young family historians (probably without even realizing it).

On other occasions, I've seen the kids come home with the assignment to create a picture pedigree, dress up a paper doll like an ancestor, and a few other clever family history ideas.

Hurray for teachers who find ways to incorporate family history in their curriculum! THANK YOU!


Created with an image by Joshua Hoehne - "untitled image"