This article first appeared in MAPE Focus on History Spring 2000
Exploring personal history
Many parents today keep a Baby Book for their children where they might record birth date, birthweight, body length, hair colour, eye colour etc. There might also be spaces for baby's first photograph, hand print, foot print and other milestones like the date baby took his first steps or said her first word. These books can be invaluable in helping young children build an understanding of their own history. Other family records like birth certificates, christening or baptismal records, photographs or video recordings can also help build up a picture of the child's personal history.
Even if the child does not have a Baby Book, sending a simple list of questions home that the child can use to'interview' their parents/grandparents or other family members will also help to build an individual historical profile for the child. (You may need to bear in mind that some children parents may be uneasy about discussing these personal details and you may need to handle this with caution or sensitivity.)
These written, pictorial or oral records can be discussed at length in the classroom to help young children to understand how we gather evidence of what happened in the past.
Individually, the children should be encouraged to organise, order and retell their own history. An adult might record this for them or they might use a tape/video recorder to record it for themselves. Certain photographs or printed documents might be scanned in to the computer and the child can use a word processor to label the images or write a short sentence describing each one.
Many more rich history activities can be gleaned from the data which the children bring in to school.
You could develop individual'Timelines' of the class members either as a wall display or using the computer. Alternatively, you might decide to build up a simple database called 'Ourselves' with your class. You can decide together which headings or 'fields' to include in the database, for example:
Date of Birth;
Place of Birth;
Age for First Steps;
Age for First Words . . .
Many databases allow you to enter'tokens', that is, data from which children can select the appropriate answer. This limits the possibility of children mistyping their data. However, you or another adult, will still need to help the children enter their data in to the database, but once it has been entered you can start to explore the data to answer a number of questions. For example:
'Are boy babies or girl babies heavier at
'Do most babies have blue eyes?'
'Do boys or girls learn to talk first?'
'Do girls or boys learn to walk the first?' . . .
And the children will probably suggest other questions they would like to answer.
You might decide to extend this project 'backwards' in time to gather data on the history of the children's parents and possibly their grandparents or 'forwards' by asking the children to prepare a 'time capsule' to leave for their children or grandchildren to explore in the future.
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