Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Adding Depth and Interest to History Studies by Taking History-Related Field Trips

We are studying early American history this year and I am so excited to be studying the early history of our country alongside my children!  We had the wonderful experience of touring a reproduction of the Santa Maria in September.  We took a guided tour of the ship that lasted about an hour.  The tour was delightful!  The tour guide was quite personable and was great at getting the children involved in the tour.  

Now, I love history field trips.  I dream of visiting tons of historical sites all over the United States with my husband when we are older.  I adore living history as well.  To say that my children are not as interested in history-related field trips as I am is definitely an understatement.  In fact, my children didn't even want to take the Santa Maria tour - they were eager to get over to the Science Center.  They did end up enjoying the tour and learning quite a bit more about Columbus' voyages, though.

Since my children are not usually over-the-top excited about history field trips, I found myself wondering why I even bother planning history field trips.  In thinking through the benefits of history-related field trips, though, I came to the conclusion that they are, indeed, very valuable and are definitely worth taking even with less-than-enthusiastic young people.
History-Related Field Trips Help Us to Gain In-Depth Knowledge
Focusing on one location, one event, or one historical artifact allows for more in-depth knowledge about a particular historical subject.  Before touring the Santa Maria, we had read quite a bit about the voyages of Columbus in our history programs.  Taking the tour helped to highlight to all of us that there was so much more to learn about Columbus' voyages.  We learned many new details about the voyages and Columbus himself during the tour.  

Visiting Historical Sites Makes Connections Between the Abstract and the Concrete
Taking history-related field trips helps to make connections between the abstract world of history books and the concrete world of experience.  When teaching young children, we often focus on making concepts concrete for them.  For example, we use manipulatives to teach a young child to add and subtract.  

The wisdom of making the abstract concrete, though, is important for all ages.  While we had all read about difficult conditions on the Santa Maria for Columbus and his crew, actually seeing where the crew slept and looking at examples of foods that were eaten made the voyages seem so much more real for all of us.
Duncan takes a turn pumping water out of the bottom of the ship with the bilge pump.
Words Take on New, Deeper Meanings
Bilge pump.  Tiller.  Capstan.  While we had heard those words before, I know that all of us gained a much deeper understanding of those terms after taking the Santa Maria tour.
The Santa Maria did not have a ship's wheel.  A tiller was used  to steer the boat by pushing it from side to side.  Interestingly, no windows were available to guide the sailor in operating the tiller.
Vocabulary words come to life on history-related field trips.  As my daughter stated in reference to the capstan, "Sometimes you just need to see something to really understand it."

History-Related Field Trips Awaken Imaginations
When visiting a historical site or a living history museum, you can insert yourself into the past for a little while.  Inserting yourself into the past awakens imaginations.  We begin to think about how we would have felt in that particular situation.  
What would it have been like to wear those kinds of clothes?  What would it have been like to operate a dangerous cannon on a wooden ship?  Did the sailors think the food was as bad as it sounds to me?

Awakening our imaginations and the imaginations of our children will, hopefully, lead to greater interest in and appreciation of history.  If history rises above a series of dates and events to an exciting tale of individuals with hopes, dreams, and loves then history becomes a very interesting adventure indeed.  History-related field trips can help make history an exciting adventure.

So, have you taken any interesting history-related field trips lately?  


Faith said...

Love your post about historical field trips and can relate to the "not so excited" children. Our oldest LOVES historical trips and books but our 2 younger ones don't seem nearly as interested. We just spent a month in Portugal and visited some amazing historical sites. Thank you for sharing!

Kris said...

I'm so glad that I'm not the only one whose kids don't get as excited as I do about those great field trips. You should have heard the grumbling and complaining when we went to see the Santa Maria. Sheesh!

I like to think thet do, in fact, get something out of it anyway. If they don't, at least I do. :) I still remember our trip to a living history museum in St. Augustine, FL. Very cool!

Tonya @ The Traveling Praters said...

My kids aren't always enthused when it comes to taking field trips period- until we get out of the house that is. We visited the Santa Maria when they were younger and they LOVED it. Did your tour guide happen to show you the rope that hung over the side of the ship that was what the sailors would have used as toilet paper? lol My kids still talk about that! Go figure, huh?