Find it hard to get kids interested in history? Here are some questions I regularly ask myself when attention wanders...
Am *I* interested in this? If the answer is no, then it’s harder to excite the kids and teens. What would it take to get *me* interested? Can I at least watch a documentary or (better) read a book? If I teach history and never learn more about it, and not just what’s on the curriculum, I’m making life harder for myself and my audiences.
Am I talking about the past as the past, dead, gone, and quaint? Or am I talking about it as history, as something that continues to affect the present day, or at least informs us about the context for current events and our own lives? Like all historians, I’m wary of direct comparisons, since history never really repeats itself. Rather, I think carefully about current events or cultures of which kids are aware, and that can use some historical context.
Am I worrying too much about what kids should know, either because it’s deemed important by me or by someone in authority, or because it’s something I enjoy? What do kids most enjoy learning about? Obviously, I have the luxury of such choices. If you’re a teacher worried about getting kids through tests, my heart goes out to you: I won’t tell you what or how to teach. But I can advise that if you can bait and switch, hook kids’ interest with something that resonates from the period, then switch to what they need to know for the test, everyone wins (especially you). If you have to talk about the Great Depression, have the students read a letter from a kid or teen to Eleanor Roosevelt, one that shows the level of desperation of a young person, that they would write to the First Lady. If you have been charged with interesting kids in primary sources, pull out real artifacts or good reproductions, and choose things it’s easy to make relevant and/or interesting.