Monday, 12 March 2012

Learning through Stories from the Past

Convincing children to study history is a challenge most parents and teachers face. History as a subject is a narration of events that happened in the past. Most curriculum books simply state the events in a chronological order and briefly describe the event. And, leave the student with the difficult task of memorizing the information.

Last week, my niece was struggling with memorizing a history (state board) chapter for her Class 8 exams. The topic was The Rule of the Marathas of Thanjavur.

To help her with the lesson, I decided to read it. T
he textbook chapter provides a short brief about when each ruler took charge of the throne, the activities they did during their reign and who their successor was. I had to read it three times to understand how all the Maratha rulers were connected and how each successor came to be. I had to also do some bit of Internet research to fill in important links that the textbook had left out. What I achieved at the end of my three-hour research was the plot to an interesting story.

Once the picture was clear in my mind, I built a family-tree structure that listed the name of each ruler and their relation with their predecessor. I also added the period for each ruler, so I automatically had an order to the events in the story. The final part was being a little creative in writing a narrative of the lesson. 

In my narrative, I added personality traits for each character and added interesting information about the place (setting) where the event occurred. To bring a little more excitement, I added some bit of drama to describe the downfall of a ruler and the circumstances that led to the selection of the next successor.
 The whole narrative fit in two sheets of paper (A4 size). Finally, I added the family-tree on the cover page and put a flow-chart on the last page.

When my niece read the story I had built, she was thrilled. She didn't feel like she was studying history, because she was not reading a history lesson, she was reading a story! At the end, she could retell the story, which meant that she was easily able to recall the names of the rulers, the events and the causes.

History is a story, a story of the past. If it is simply stated, as in textbooks, it fails to engage children. But, if the same story is narrated in an interesting way, it can change the way children perceive history as a subject. 
It's not possible for parents or teachers to research and rewrite every chapter in an interesting way. But, you can have children read historical fiction story books. They provide a great way for children to visualize the setting and understand the cause and effect of wars and other historic events. 

Check out some of these titles:

  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp
  • King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the American Revolution

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