Friday, July 27, 2012

A Visit to the History Museum or Reenactment

For the purposes of this article, I am assuming you are studying a specific decade, era, ancient or historical civilization or series of events such as a war, its aftermath and what led up to it.  If you are visiting a large and expansive museum such as the smithsonian, you'll probably want to narrow the field somewhat for your kids anyway, or do a scavenger hunt where the kids are doing one essay question about one era and then finding a specific artifact from another etc.

When The Museum Visit Is Part of a Much Larger Unit of Study:

A trip to the history museum at the beginning or ending of a unit can be a lot of fun because when done well, history becomes a story.  I don't know a single person that doesn't like a good story.  Here are some ways to help your kids use what they see while at the museum to create their own version of the story their way.  These activities would make good final projects, unit projects or capstones to end a unit study related to a specific decade, ancient civilization, or important historical event.  All require a significant amount of research and learning on the part of the learner.  Your trip to the museum would either kick off or cap off this research experience.  

Care will need to be taken with these projects to keep expectations age appropriate.  As a teacher, I always gave a "rubric" to my students at the very beginning of projects like this so expectations on how the kids were to be graded was clear to all parties involved.
  • Documentary: Your children work together to create a video documentary of the "life and times".
  • Writing the Screenplay: Any kid who enjoys writing, might find screenplay writing to be a fun way to explore writing dialog while they also review what they've learned about a specific time or event in history.  If one of your kids is interested in doing this kind of writing, it will make the next idea an even easier one to accomplish.
  • Historical Drama Production:  Have your kids act out an event from history or a "day in the life of a kid from (insert year or decade of study).  Video the production and extend the project with the addition of editing and sound if the time can be devoted to such a project. 
  • You wouldn't Want to have lived in ___ or been a ____:  Have you seen these books?  They have a great sense of humor to them while still be informative non-fiction.  Check out a few and then have your kid write his or her own version of such a book using pictures of artifacts seen at the museum.
  • Newspaper issue as if the history learned was current.  Pick a day.  What were the issues of the day?  Current events?  What might people have been selling?  What kinds of career postings might have been found in the wanted adds?

These options are closer to the single day kind of option you might seek

History Museum or Reenactment Photographic Scavenger Hunt:  Some examples of things on your list for a museum visit might include:
  1. Photograph five different types of clothing that may have been worn by people who lived at the time of study.  
  2. Find three different "inventions" from the decade of study and caption the invention with what it did for society's advancement in your journal.
  3. Find a newspaper headline to photograph from (insert date).
  4. Find an artifact to photograph that tells a story.
  5. Find three different toys to photograph.
  6. Find a series of artifacts to photograph that will show the viewer what daily life might have been like for those people that lived through the (century, decade, slavery, name of war. . .
Essay Questions Sheet:  There are a million questions one could ask from any number of eras, events etc.  but essays are over-used.  Try to throw in a few fun ones that relate to the interests of your child.  Here is an example of a set designed for a middle school student particularly interested in fashion:
  1. Compare the fashions of the (insert era or decade) with the fashions of today.  
  2. How did the clothing of the wealthy compare to the clothing of the poor at this time?
  3. What does the clothing of (insert era, decade or ancient civilization name) tell you about the lives of the people who wore the clothing?  What kind of work did they do?  What kind of climate did they most likely live in?  
  4. What raw materials did the people of this time have to use for making their clothing?  What were the steps for turning these raw materials into textiles and then into clothing?  Who completed each step?
  5. Throw a few more generic questions in their of import to you and your child actually has enough written to put together a short report if you wish to have them do a lesson on how to write a report.
Let's say you have a kid interested in technology, you might start with: Compare what technologies the people of (insert era or decade) had that was important to them and their survival (even the axe was a new technology at one time)? 

Sketch Book Entries:  
  1. Ask your child to sketch 5 artifacts (or people) he or she feels represent the decade, era, event or civilization you are studying and then expect to "defend" or explain why those were the five artifacts chosen over others.  
  2. Have your child do a truncated version of your photographic scavenger hunt (because sketches take longer than photos) 
  3. Have your child answer the essay questions with sketches.


As I said in my first article about field trips in general, many sites you might visit for a field trip will have wonderful resources online for you, or you can call and have suggestions of activities specific to the location and a list of resources offered to you over the phone or email.

Let's say you are at a museum that covers a topic over a span of history such as the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field South of Seattle.  You might ask your kids to compare the first airplanes with airplanes from today and create a timeline that shows their advancement.  The timeline can be visual with sketches or photographs, dates and simple captions, or short essays can explain key moments your child chooses to highlight on his or her timeline.  He/she will need to explain why they chose the specific examples used on the timeline over others.

If you are visiting a museum that is about a specific person or group of people instead of an era or decade, you'll want to ask about that person's perspective on things.  For example, if you are visiting Graceland, you might add into the fashion essay questions how his taste changed as his financial status changed.  You'll probably want to ask about his music too.  

Or, if you are visiting a place like Manzanar, you will definitely want to include questions about what these people probably thought about their imprisonment and how it affected their lives during and afterward. 
Resources by Musea across the Country

The Smithsonian

Jamestown and Yorktown

Directory of Historical Musea and Societies in the US by State and County

Presidential Libraries

Directory of Living History a directory of historic structures, ongoing reenactments and other similar monuments.

There are also many more history musea that are specific to the History of something, for example, transportation, flight, food, fashion, tolerance, black history. . .  If you know of an excellent one in your area you would like to recommend, please leave a comment.

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