With all the resources at our fingertips, there’s never been a better time to get your kids loving history, says Cassie Mercer. These hands-on activities will inspire them to learn more about their family – past and present.
Winter holidays are here, and during this time, there are lots of fun things to do to help your child or grandchild learn and be inspired by their ancestors. These 12 ideas will keep them – and you – entertained for hours.
1. Ask a grandparent to describe the very first house they lived in, then ask your child to draw each room. Encourage them to ask questions such as: ‘What colour were the curtains? Were they made of lace or another material? What was the kitchen like?‘ It’ll be a fun trip down memory lane and your child can get creative with the illustrations!
2. Research a military ancestor. With the final year of the centenary of World War One in full swing, now is a great time for your child to learn about an ancestor who served in the Great War. Ancestry has thousands of military records – search for your ancestor and read up on where they travelled to and on which battlefields they fought. You can also download service records from the National Archives of Australia. Then trace their journey on an atlas, whether it was to Gallipoli or the Western Front.
3. Visit your local historical cemetery together. A favourite haunt of many a family historian, cemeteries can be a fascinating playground when you’re a tyke, too. Search for the oldest tombstones you can find and reach some of the plaques – kids will be fascinated to see the names and old dates. You could even take photographs and upload the images to Find-A-Grave to help other historians in the search for their ancestors.
4. Cold and rainy outside? No problem – stay indoors and head to Trove, the National Library of Australia’s free site of digitised newspapers dating back to 1803, when the first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, was published. You could search for your ancestors’ names or your local area to see what stories come back. And older kids could even help correct the digitised text!
5. Tell the story of somewhere in your area with an interesting history and go on a visit there – just be sure to pack a thermos of hot chocolate or winter soup and a beanie to ward off the chill! Did you know that Tamarama Beach in Sydney’s east once had a rollercoaster built over its sandy shores? Imagine that, being on a rollercoaster as the waves rolled in below!
6. Google the Indigenous name of your town or a street nearby to discover its meaning. For instance, ‘Dubbo’ is thought to come from the word ‘Thubbo’, possibly meaning ‘red earth’ in the local Wiradjuri language.
7. Help them draw a simple family tree of the immediate family and grandparents. Perfect for a little one who loves drawing and colouring in, look for photos of each person, or ask them to draw everyone’s faces. They’ll have a giggle depicting everyone, while learning all about the family tree.
8. Explore a collection of old family portraits. Ask your child to anaylse and compare the images – what can they see? Is the hairstyle, dress style, portrait style the same or different? What does this tell us about the era in which they lived? If you know the details on the portrait subjects, tell them a little about the person they see in each image.
9. Get the kids in the kitchen. Suggest they ask a grandparent, aunt or uncle for their favourite recipe and help them make it. Then your child can write up the recipe to keep.
10. Take a wander through a local museum or historical house in your town. The staff will love to see kids taking an interest in the collection. Then settle in for afternoon tea there – often they’ll have a cafe on the premises.
11. Join a local history society with your child. Perhaps see if you can plan a treasure hunt around the town centre. It might take a little planning but the kids – and the society – will have a ball. You could leave clues on local icons such as memorials, then help the kids to solve each clue before finding the next clue with them. There are loads of historical societies around the country who would love some new members! CoraWeb has a comprehensive list of societies in Australia.
12. Suggest your kids interview a family member about their life, including special memories, their wedding day, favourite food – anything that takes their fancy. Your child can then write up the story and it’ll be a memento for everyone to cherish.
Have fun and here’s to helping inspire the next generation of historians!
Cassie Mercer is an editor based in Sydney. She founded the award-winning magazine Inside History in 2010, creating a following of 60,000+ readers and working with Australia’s key cultural institutions to bring the nation’s history to life across Inside History’s multi-channel platforms. The history bug struck her when she discovered the story of her 5x great grandparents – in the late 1700s, one was a highwayman in Dublin and the other was the madam of a brothel, of the Lower Sort.