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Teaching Young Children About History Through Travel

Over spring break, my husband and I took our two children, ages four and seven, to visit Washington, D.C. While there, we saw many school groups also visiting the historical sites and museums. For the most part, the groups consisted of teenagers, teachers, and parents. Some of the kids were genuinely interested in the monuments and museums, but many others were obviously bored, constantly looking at their phones, and wondering when they’d be done. For a lot of these kids, this trip came too late in their educations. Kids need to experience historical places at early ages.

Why travel to historical places with young children? Young children are naturally curious and they ask questions without hesitation. Because young children learn best through utilizing all of their senses, experiencing historical places first hand is an important way to develop their basic cognitive understandings of history. Children will come to enjoy learning about history if it is taught by combining interesting stories with real places.

Child enjoying historical monument

Kids need to experience historical places at early ages to gain a full appreciation of their significance.

How young should you start taking your child to historical places? Believe it or not, the toddler years are a great time to begin. Vocabulary development during this period is explosive, and it is a time when children are learning about the world around them by associating spoken words with tangible objects. When my son was two years old, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida and Ft. Pulaski National Monument in Georgia. During both visits, we told our son we were in a fort, which was a new word for him. Better still, he was able to associate that word with a real place in real-life dimensions. A fort was not just a blanket-covered table to play under or some toy; a fort is huge, and made of stone or brick, which he was able to physically touch. A fort has room for lots of people and supplies inside and special spaces and windows made just for large cannons – another new word he was able to associate with real-life objects.

As children grow into preschool and elementary ages, the vocabulary associated with historical places can be built upon with stories. Visiting historical places makes the stories of history come alive for kids. For example, we visited Ford’s Theater while in Washington, D.C. While in the theater, we told our kids the story of President Lincoln’s assassination (another new word for them). We could literally show them where the “bad guy” came into the Presidential Box, shot Abraham Lincoln, and jumped from the balcony onto the stage. We told the kids he broke his leg when he fell, but still got away. Our daughter remarked, “He must have hopped,” which showed me that she was actually picturing it happening! These days, so many historical sites have character actors who young children just love to interact with, and who are able to make learning about the history of a place enjoyable and engaging for all ages. So, don’t hesitate to travel to historical places with young children – they will enjoy it more than you think!

Emily Kowalski SchroederEmily Kowalski Schroeder is the author of the blog Growing Little Leaves, which is dedicated to sharing ways to educate young children about family history. Learn more at GrowingLittleLeaves.com.

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Faces of NextGen: Meet Caitlin Gow

Caitlin GowCaitlin Gow, 24, Australia

Why genealogy? I just love it! I love knowing who my ancestors were and where they came from. I love finding out their story. Doing genealogy has also made me feel closer to my Grandma who died before I was born. She was the genealogy queen in our family.

What’s the coolest discovery you’ve made? I solved the 100+ year mystery of my Great Great Aunt Jeannie Gow. That was pretty amazing. You can read the story here.

What are you working on this week? I’ve been researching my best friend’s family history for a couple of weeks now. A few years ago I discovered that we have a connection. We’re not cousins, but there is an odd connection! Her family history is very interesting.

What superpower would you want to help you uncover your family history? The power to travel around the world without any restrictions – I guess that means flying! I could go to cemeteries and ancestors’ hometowns whenever I wanted.

What are we most likely to find you doing when you’re not researching family history? I’m either reading, watching a few of my favorite TV shows, or spending time with family and friends. If you asked me last year, I would have said studying at University, but I just graduated. Woo!

The NextGen Genealogy Network is made up of young genealogists with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Faces of NextGen will showcase a different member of our community each month. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming feature, simply complete our questionnaire and submit a selfie.

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Sharing is Caring: Introducing Your Ancestors on Social Media

If you’ve ever tried – and failed – to hook your family on family history, now is the time to introduce your ancestors on social media.

Whether it’s the vintage hues, ridiculous fashions, or subtle family resemblances, an old photograph of an ancestor can capture the attention of someone who would never give a pedigree chart a second glance. In fact, even if your family archive is short on old photographs, you might have come across an intriguing newspaper clipping about a great grandparent, or maybe you visited Google Maps and discovered the church where your ancestors married in the old country.

If your family is active on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, there are endless opportunities to connect and share these bite-sized pieces of family history:

Sharing is Caring Image

Celebrate a month. Although Family History Month rolls around only once a year, there are a number of months nationally dedicated to celebrating a wide range of histories and heritages, including African American History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, and LGBT History Month. Those of German, Irish, Italian, and Caribbean descent, to name a few, can also take pride in their heritage during designated months throughout the year.

Celebrate a day. Observe an ancestor’s birthday or wedding anniversary by sharing their photograph or story on social media, or get creative when it comes to holidays such as Siblings Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Grandparents Day. Take a good look at your family tree for relevant gems. Did your great grandmother raise a dozen children? Maybe she deserves a nod on Mother’s Day. For that matter, Siblings Day could be the perfect time to give your grandfather props for growing up with eleven brothers and sisters!

#Hashtag it. You’ve probably noticed the growing trend of sharing old family photographs on #throwbackthursday, but how about #waybackwednesday or #flashbackfriday? Go beyond photographs from your lifetime and take the opportunity to showcase your ancestors, while making sure to share responsibly. You can even go a step further during the holidays. Consider #honoringvets by sharing a highlight from a War of 1812 pension file on Veterans Day, and on Thanksgiving, are you #thankful for a particularly courageous ancestor?

Above all, know your family. Are there fashion divas, members of the military, or world travelers in their midst? How about new parents fascinated with their little bundle of joy? Maybe your cousin recently dressed up for a Roaring Twenties party and has no idea that her great grandmother was a flapper. Reach out with images that might pique their interest and allow them an unexpected connection with the past: an advertisement for women’s clothing at the turn of the last century, a grandfather’s draft card, a passenger manifest, or a photograph of grandma as a little girl, where, you swear, she looks just like your newest niece.

Take your love of family history to social media to allow your family a glimpse into the lives of their ancestors. And remember, #sharingiscaring.

Melanie Frick, MLS, holds a Certificate in Genealogical Research and is a member of the NextGen Genealogy Network’s Leadership Team. A genealogist, writer, librarian, antique photograph aficionado, and Midwestern native, Melanie lives in Southern California.

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Faces of NextGen: Meet Ric Filho

Ric_FilhoRicardo “Ric” Aranha de Sousa Pinto Filho, 25, California

What five words would you use to describe yourself? Curious, Creative, Active, Friendly, International

Why genealogy? Curiosity made me do it!

What’s the coolest discovery you’ve made? That’s a tough one, every new discovery is cool! One cool discovery was that my great-grandmother was actually a somewhat famous poet in Brazil, and not only that but she was a feminist that financed feminine columns in famous news papers and also financed artists that in the beginning of the century weren’t famous in Brazil, but now they are. That made me quite proud!! Her name was Irene Ferreira de Sousa Pinto.

What are you working on this week? I just started a club at UCSD called the Genealogical Society of UCSD, so now I’m trying to find other students that are interested and polishing up our Facebook page, etc. Genealogy is a part of me, so I love to help people in their genealogy tree, not only because it’s a hobby that never ends, but because I love to see how people get excited when they learn things about their past that they wouldn’t know without genealogy research.

What’s the number one secret to your success in genealogy? Never give up! I’ve been mainly working on the Internet, because I’m an international student so most of my family history is abroad in Italy, Brazil and Lebanon, so I’m somewhat limited. Sometimes it can be a discouragement when your research is limited only to the Internet, but amazingly enough, by not giving up and exploring other ways to do research on the Internet, I’ve been able to, with perseverance, find many cool and interesting things about my genealogy.

What superpower would you want to help you uncover your family history? Teleportation.

What are we most likely to find you doing when you’re not researching family history? At the gym or studying at UCSD.

Anything else you’d like to share? Genealogy is addicting!

The NextGen Genealogy Network is made up of young genealogists with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Faces of NextGen will showcase a different member of our community each month. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming feature, simply complete our questionnaire and submit a selfie

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