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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I am so excited to learn about these books. My son loves sports and national geographic kids books, and I think he’ll adore these. I just ordered the Thanksgiving book and shared on the Local Fun for Kids Facebook page.
My daughter was just reading that one in the car the other day, Heather – she loves anything about food 🙂 I hope your son enjoys the books – and thanks for sharing on your Facebook page!
Looks like a great resource. Thanks for sharing your review.
You’re welcome, Rachel!
These are great recommendations. Please feel free to link-up with my history lesson planning post.
Thank you, Julie – I’ve linked up!
Thanks for sharing these great resources. Cheryl, Hop Hostess.
Thanks so much for checking it out, Cheryl!
Such a great idea to have accessible history books for the littlies – we have the fantastic My Australian Story and Our Australian Girl series for middle readers, but I’m not sure about what’s available for younger readers….hmmm, will have to look into this more closely from a local viewpoint. Thanks for posting!
Not sure how meaningful it would be for Australians :), but if you’re interested in learning some U.S. history, these are a great choice!
Great post! I love finding ways to teach children about history, and I like that this series also evokes a child’s imagination, as well.
Thanks for checking it out, Brittany! We’ve learned so much from this series.
Thanks for a fascinating review – I’ve been looking for good history books for my dd. I have a question on these – do they honestly tell about Christianity in US history, or do they pretend it never existed? I have looked and looked for a good Thanksgiving book, but ALL of them at the library leave out what Thanksgiving was REALLY about – Giving Thanks to God. Are these better? Thanks : )
Hello, Anna! I looked more closely at this book to answer your question. We actually just read the Thanksgiving book. The books are not Christian themselves — they do not promote Christianity – but they definitely acknowledge it and share the historical facts. The book talks about how Pilgrims were thankful to be able to worship God the way they wanted.
The Mayflower book talks about how the Pilgrims wanted to have their own church so they wouldn’t have to obey the rules of the King’s church. It mentions bringing a Bible along on the voyage , singing psalms on the trip, and saying prayers to God upon reaching the new land. It also talks about the first Thanksgiving in that book: “…Most important, they had done what they had set out to do. They had found a place to live where they could worship God in their own way. And so the Pilgrims decided to set aside a special time to give thanks.”
Hope this helps!
Thanks so much for checking this out for me! : )
All I expect from a history book is that it be honest about the role of Faith in history, and not cover it up or lie about it. Since the Mayflower Pilgrims were motivated to travel to a new land exclusively because of religion, and the first Thanksgiving was exclusively a religiously motivated observance, I see it as dishonest to omit those facts.
I appreciate knowing that these books include them – and may well seek them out.
Thanks for the help : )
These are fabulous. We’ve been travelling this summer and visiting US places – such as Monticello – with the kids. These books are just what I need to give them a better understanding of US history while we’re living in the US.
Just finished reading your about page, Kriss — you’ve certainly been around! I do think these books will be great to teach your kids about US history!
I’ve seen these in the bookstore but haven’t purchased them yet. I know we will be hitting them soon as we have really started to get into history, especially social history. Thanks for the great reminder! I’m actually writing a post about great non-fiction series and I’m going to have to include these (and link back to you of course).
I’m following your blog now, Michelle – looking forward to reading about all of your book finds!
awesome! your blog is great as well. I’m loving finding a community of readers.
Katie @ Gift of Curiosity
I hadn’t heard about this series before I’m so excited about it! I’ve been looking for preschool-appropriate books that teach about various holidays and other historical events. This series looks promising – I’ve already ordered one from the library to check it out! Thanks so much for the info!
You’re very welcome, Katie! I’ve found a few other series that are new to me in the comments section that I’m checking out myself.
Thanks for the recommendation. We have been reading the “My First Biography” series by Scholastic but these look more in depth. We just ordered a few for my 4-year-old!
I just reserved a few of the My First Biography series at the library, Carla. Thanks for the recommendation!
Danielle, The Frugal Navy Wife
Thanks I’m looking into these!
You’re welcome, Danielle – thanks for popping by!
Samantha @ Stir the Wonder
These are great books! I have a few of them from when I was taking ELED classes. Thanks for reminding me of them, I should add some more to my homeschool wish list!
You’re welcome, Samantha – I hope your little guy enjoys them when he’s ready for them 🙂
I totally agree with you on teaching history at a young age. We listened to all 4 volumes of Story of the World with our 6 year old and read many-many history picture books and chapter books. We were focusing more on the World history, so our favorite series similar to If You Lived… is You Wouldn’t Want to Be… It sends children to various parts and various time periods of the world – quite fun.
Thanks for the recommendations, Natalie! I looked at the preview of the Story of the World series… it looks great! I’m hoping my six year old will enjoy it – I reserved volume one at our library. I also requested a few of the You Wouldn’t Want to Be series… I can’t wait to check them out!
Thanks for sharing this! I will definitely be looking into these!
I hope you find some to enjoy, Lindsay!