When it comes to teaching kids about our country’s history – we might not know when to start. Sure, they get a smattering of U.S. history in preschool, kindergarten, and the primary grades. But in my experience, I didn’t get my first big dose of American history until fifth grade.
Let’s change that!
Today I’m going to share how to teach kids about history — using one simple word.
Too simple, right? Actually, reading with our kids and talking about the books is one of the best ways to help them learn. You may not live near a Native American museum. Read about it! You may be far removed from the Civil War battle sites. Pick up a book! You might love to visit Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, but you’re not driving across the country. No problem. There are books for that.
While it’s true that visiting historical sites is an awesome way to teach your kids about American history, it’s also true that books are not only a wonderful stand-in, but they should be first. The next time you plan to visit a museum or landmark, check with your library beforehand. Build background with a great history book for kids.
Ah, but what are those? It’s extremely hard to find accessible, interesting history books for kids ages 4-10.
Never fear! The “If You…” series from Scholastic is here!
I’ve loved this series ever since I began teaching grades 3-5 fourteen years ago (I’ll pause while you do the math there). These books are fabulous for many reasons.
Why I love the “If you…” series of history books by Scholastic
1) They are great for many age levels.
a) I had these tucked away in my box of books for my kids to enjoy when they were in about third grade. But when my four-year-old daughter asked me to read one, she was hooked.
b) Now that my daughter has finished kindergarten, she reads these books on her own. The content and vocabulary are appropriate for advanced readers of a young age.
c) Kids in the primary grades who can’t quite read these independently will learn a lot from listening to a parent or teacher read and discuss the series.
d) The books are perfect for independent readers in grades 3 through 5. They’re a great support for the American history these children will be learning in school.
2) I love the layout – it means you can skip around without losing meaning.
There are no chapters. Instead, the books are organized with a series of questions. As you can see, these can be read out of order without any difficulty. Since sitting through all 60+ pages of history in one sitting is a lot to expect from a little one, pick and choose. You know what interests your child.
My daughter is always interested in pages that tell about food.
3) The illustrations are beautiful and many.
Nothing’s worse than a history book for kids that skimps on illustrations. Pages of single-spaced text are going to scare away even an avid reader. These books are accessible even to preschoolers because of the many engaging illustrations. On occasion, historical photographs are included as well.
4) The content is appropriate for young children.
Let’s face it – history can be gruesome. I don’t like it when I’m reading what I think should be a great nonfiction book to my kids – and then I have to stop in my tracks and edit. That’s even harder now that my Six is reading over my shoulder! But I can feel comfortable having her read these books on her own. They don’t sugarcoat history – but they spare the details that young children aren’t ready to handle.
5) The series covers a big span of United States history.
My library doesn’t carry this series (how could they have missed it??), but I can get the books by requesting titles from other libraries. As I was researching this post I was excited to discover newer books that I’ve missed. We’ll be asking for these soon!
These books are also great to own – consider ordering a few for your home library. For your convenience, I’ve arranged them in chronological order – not by publishing date, but by when the events occurred in history.
If You Lived with the Cherokee, by Peter Roop (© 1998)
If You Lived with the Sioux Indians, by Ann McGovern (© 1992)
If You Lived with the Hopi Indians, by Anne Kamma (© 1999)
If You Lived with the Indians of the Northwest Coast, by Anne Kamma (© 2002)
If You Lived with the Iroquois, by Ellen Levine (© 1999)
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620, by Ann McGovern (© 1991)
If You Lived in the Time of Squanto, byAnne Kamma (© 2006)
If You Were at the First Thanksgiving, by Anne Kamma (© 2001)
If You Grew up with George Washington, by Ruth Belov Gross (©1988)
If You Lived in Colonial Times, by Ann McGovern (1992)
If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days, by Barbara Brenner (© 2000)
If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution, by Kay Moore (© 1998)
If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution,by Elizabeth Levy (© 1992)
If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon, by Ellen Levine (© 1992)
If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie, by Anne Kamma (© 2003)
If You Grew up with Abraham Lincoln, by Ann McGovern (© 1976)
If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America, by Anne Kamma (© 2004)
If You Lived at the Time of the Civil War, by Kay Moore (© 1994)
If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine (© 1993)
If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island, by Ellen Levine (© 1994)
If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, by Ellen Levine (© 1992)
If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights, by Anne Kamma (© 2008)
If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King, by Ellen Levine (1994)
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