We just about discovered that today is the international day of Monuments and Sites. We kept wondering about how this is related to parenting and that there has to be a teachable moment in here somewhere.
Then we realised, what better way than this to start introducing the concept of history to toddlers/pre-schoolers. History for pre-schoolers sounds heavy but it's all about introducing awareness to concepts like time (past, present, future etc.), passage of time, context of self with respect to passage of time.
History is the story of people and events, and it’s the record of times past. Children are blank slates and are most curious about finding about their place in the world. One of their first historical questions are: “Where did I come from?” and “Was I always here?”1. These are as open-ended as they get. As children grow older, you can delve deeper and deeper into these questions. Apart from the obvious biology related answer to these questions, you can use them as a starting point to address the topic of history with your children.
Eight simple ways to introduce history to toddlers and pre-schoolers:
- Talk about family history: Share the names of your family members. Create a family tree. If grandparents are around, encourage them to talk about the members of their generation.
- Times are a changing: Talk about family homes and how lives were different earlier on. Talk about how lives have moved from villages and towns to cities. How dwellings have moved from a farm house to an apartment. Talk about how modes of transport have changed. Talk about how modes of communication have changed. Make a trip to the post office to see "snail mail" at work. Talk about how family units have changed, from the joint family system to nuclear families.
- History is all around us: Talk about Gandhi on our currency. Talk about the famous people after whom roads are named, railway stations are named, streets are named. Talk about festivals and days that honour historical figures, like Ambedkar Jayanti, Children's day (Nehru), Teachers day (Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan). There is a (his)story everywhere, if we are receptive to it.
- Field trips: Go to nearby monuments and historical sites and engage in imaginative play. Allow the child to talk about what they think the monument was built for. What life was like when the building was "new". Ask the child about their perspective on what happened to the people who lived there.
- Contextualize: An easy way to teach toddlers/pre-schoolers about their place in the world is a really simple activity. It involves cut-outs of progressively larger concentric circles. (Get free printable here.)
- Make a time capsule: Collect some of the things from your childhood like your childhood photos, newspaper clippings, vaccination cards or any relics from your childhood. Create a time capsule together for your child with simple items of significance. Record a message and date of creating the time capsule, give it to your child after a few years.
- Timeline: This is to make children understand context of passage of time with respect to themselves. You can create a slideshow or a compilation of photos of your child from birth until now and talk about how they were tiny and how over time, they crossed so many milestones and have become bigger. You can visually represent it on a chart using a horizontal line. (Get free printable here). Another easy activity is to create a visual representation of their routine of each day. About, how it starts when the sun rises up and ends when they go to sleep. After a few days, you can show them how days fit into a wall calendar.
- Visit museums: A simple google search shows that there are around 15 museums in Mumbai and more than 30 in Delhi. Museums, with their real artifacts, dioramas, and immersive exhibitions provide a uniquely positive environment to foster learning by young children2. Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions3. Go to a museum and immerse yourself in history. Do not worry that you may not have the answer to all the questions, it's a collective learning experience.