Although my children are all teenagers, and I have never taught any subject other than music, I have always had an interest in history. With the successful opening of the Broadway musical, Hamilton, the soundtrack discovered by one of my sons and shared with the rest of the family, I have started to refresh my knowledge of American history. Below are a few ideas for teaching your children about the history of this nation that will be enjoyable for any age group.
I am embarrassed to admit that when I first had this discussion with my children, I could not name all of the faces on the bills and coins I use on a daily basis. One of my daughters is obviously happy anytime she obtains another “Hamilton” or ten-dollar bill.
Discuss the name (and spelling) of each historical figure and then research the history behind each person. Recently, there was an announcement of new faces for the bills we use the most. They are listed on this government site: https://modernmoney.treasury.gov/
If neither you nor your children can identify or remember the faces at first glance, Google can be a wonderful resource to use.
Ask your children if they know the exact date and year of the original Independence Day. Many children celebrate the same holidays every year without knowing the origins. You can find some interesting facts at the site: http://www.military.com/independence-day
The History Channel has many resources, including video clips about Thomas Jefferson’s involvement in penning the Declaration of Independence. http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/declaration-of-independence
As mentioned earlier, the soundtrack to Hamilton contains songs that have been successful in attracting a new audience to the world of Broadway musicals. Although some of the songs are not appropriate for younger children, there are many subjects discussed about the main character, Alexander Hamilton, and the historical events that surrounded his life. Hamilton was also one of only two non-presidents to be honored on American bills (Benjamin Franklin being the other).
Some topics that are relevant to today’s society, and especially to older children, include immigration, politics, allies, and government. The music is filled with humorous lyrics, rap battles, and beautiful melodies. To my children’s delight, we discovered there are two wonderful books related to this musical. Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, is an inside look at the songs and cast. Alexander Hamilton, written by Ron Chernow, is the biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda, the actor behind the main character who is also one of the writers of the musical. They are both available online and in major bookstores.
My final suggestion is to investigate your family tree if no one else has. I know not every family is able to find the original ancestor who immigrated to the United States. Whatever information you obtain, and whether or not you are able to complete a family tree dating back to your grandparents, you can also find out possible countries of origin. In addition, summer time is a popular season for ethnic festivals. Most have reasonable admission and a variety of food and activities to enjoy.
I hope you will enjoy these activities with your children. They will be sure to leave a lasting impression of the love and time you share with them.