We have compiled a list of activities to do at home as you talk about some of the major concepts in American History. You don’t need fancy classes or dense textbooks to share history, you just need context, discussion, and connection. Here are some of our suggestions:
Summer Activity #1: Discovery of America Read about Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America. Then, plan your own exploration. You can explore your neighborhood, park, or another area close to you. First, plan out your trip and pack the essentials (sunscreen, snacks, pen, paper, water, etc.) Then, create a map while you explore. Try to make three new discoveries and add them to the map (cool climbing trees, new playgrounds, awesome ice cream shops). After you finish your map, share it with a friend so they can retrace your steps.
Summer Activity #2: Colonialism Read about colonialism and what life was like for children in the new world. Then, try to live like a colonial family for a day. Don’t use any electricity. Make your meals from scratch (you can use appliances simply because they are safer), see if you can make some clothes using a needle and thread, clean the whole house (remember, no electricity) and then read by candlelight before going to bed. Of course, you won’t be able to use any technology and you will have to walk instead of using a car. Fold a piece of paper in half. On one side, list the things you did that a colonial child might have done. On the other side, list things you did that are possible because of modern conveniences. Discuss the differences, by candlelight, of course!
Summer Activity #3: Revolution Read about the American Revolution and then learn about why the tax system upset the colonists. You need a parent and hopefully some siblings to do this activity. Each child should have a cup full of candy. Your mom or dad will be the tax collector working for the king. Every time you do something fun, your parent will collect a tax (three or four pieces of candy each time) and put them on a plate in a central location. If you run out of your payment, you have to go to jail (you can design the jail if you like, but make sure it isn’t fun or nice!) Play this game all day and then discuss how it feels to have high taxes that don’t feel fair. Parents: if you can invite a bunch of kids over, this is a great way to play the game:
Summer Activity #5: American Indians. You could spend a full year learning about the first Americans because there were many tribes living in different geographical, cultural, and physical locations. They had different methods of gathering food and building shelters as well as different cultures and traditions. For this activity, pick an area or tribe that you want to learn more about, try to read some books, and do research online. Try to learn about daily life for this group of people. Then, get outside! Most native Americans made baskets for transporting and holding food, water, and other items. Can you figure out a way to make a basket using just what you find outside (sticks, mud, grass, leaves, etc.)? Do your best and then see if you can actually use it to transport anything! Finally, think about how it would be if you had to make all of your own bags and baskets! Connect to today: can you find a way to make your own bags or baskets to avoid using environmentally unfriendly items?
Summer Activity #6: Immigration. Can you find anyone in your family history who immigrated to the United States from another country? Summer is a great time to talk to relatives! Make a list of relatives that might know about your family history. Call them and ask them about those that came before you. See if you can make a family tree and include the dates your relatives were born, the dates they died, and where they came from. Share the final document with anyone who helped you on the project.
If possible, pick one family member who was an immigrant and do some research. You can talk to relatives, research reasons for immigration during that time period, and read books about immigration from that country. Why did your relative immigrate? How did it change their life? Would you have done the same thing?
Then, learn about what it is like for people to immigrate today. Ask your friends and parents to put you in touch with an immigrant and ask them why they came, what they think of the U.S., and any other questions you can think of. How might the experience of today connect with the experience your relatives might have had?
Summer Activity #7: The Civil War. There are so many great resources out there for learning about the Civil War. Read a few books. Watch a movie or two. Then, put it into action by making hard tack. Try to eat it for lunch (or only eat hard tack all day). Can you imagine getting by on this meal for days on end? While cold? Sick? Fighting a war?
Summer Activity #8: Industrialization Learn about industrialization in America here and then see if you can find a chore or job to “industrialize” in your home. Can you make tacos for dinner and create an assembly line with your family members to make them? Can you mechanize the way you make your bed? Can you invent a machine to sort the laundry?
Summer Activity #9 World War I: Read a book about World War I and then participate in an online graphic activity about trench warfare. Discuss the challenges of trench warfare for the average soldier with a family member.
Summer Activity #10 The Roaring Twenties: The roaring twenties were a time to celebrate for many Americans. Read about this time period and then learn how to dance the Charleston. If you can, host a “Roaring Twenties” party and encourage people to dress up as flappers while you dance the night (or afternoon) away!
Summer Activity #11 The Great Depression: After Black Friday, the Great Depression challenged the USA like never before. With one out of every four Americans unemployed, families struggled to feed, house, and clothe their families. Read about this time period and then write up a plan for what your family would do if everyone lost their jobs and couldn’t get another one for a year.
Summer Activity #12 World War II There is so much to learn about World War II but here we will focus on the home front. What was life like for those in the U.S. during the war? Look at these posters and then create one of your own.
Summer Activity #13 Civil Rights Our country is still working on civil rights, but we all should know about Martin Luther King, Jr., and his speech, “I have a Dream.” Watch the speech and then tell someone what it means to you.
Summer Activity #14 (Final) The Cold War Communism and Capitalism. What do those mean? Look up the terms and then look for references to these terms in a newspaper or on online news sources. See if you can learn a little bit about the relationship between Russia and the United States today by reading the news. Compare with how it was during the Cold War. Compare and contrast with a parent or friend.