Having an understanding of world history is essential if we want our children to understand their place in the modern world and their unique heritage, all it takes is a little historical research.
History is the story of our world.
Once we comprehend the struggles that our forefathers went through on our behalf, we learn to appreciate the liberties and opportunities that we often take for granted. Even if your child isn’t interested in becoming an historian it’s still worth doing a basic study of history.
The school history (social sciences) curriculum is undoubtedly beneficial for providing a good foundation of general knowledge of the history of humanities and usually history at school is represented in a somewhat chronological order.
But if parents take the time to discuss the history of the world and various ideologies that have influenced civilisations through the ages then this provides a wonderful opportunity to give little ones a head start for understanding complex concepts they will encounter at school.
Then when learners are presented with themes such as the industrial revolution, colonialism or the great depression in their social studies at school they will have the ability to put these new ideas in context and easily grasp new learning material.
Discussing human history also provides a wonderful opportunity to help kids understand important issues such as democratic governance and human rights by using communism, colonisation and the slave trade as examples to show just how far western civilisation has come.
How Children Benefit From Learning Facts From History
Most children (and grownups for that matter) don’t see the point in learning ancient history about a whole bunch of archaic facts, “dead people” and battles fought centuries ago. But if they were only to realise how relevant these tales of the past actually are they may have a completely different outlook.
All these social and cultural events have in fact brought us to where we are in this modern era.
From ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire and then on to the middle ages and the crusades, each era of global history has made an impression on our world as we know it today. Western Europe wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the revolt of the people against their rulers during the French Revolution. In order to appreciate where we are in the span of time it’s necessary to understand we came from, that’s the importance of history.
It’s futile trying to teach kids history by delving into the chronology of each and every historical era in an effort to recount the story of human civilisation. Instead educators will attempt to spice up social studies by offering interesting history facts and helping learners to realise that they themselves have a history and also have the power to make history!
Where to Find the Best Historical Facts for Children
Still the best place to search for valuable historical lessons is in the texts of a good book. These some of the best books published for children’s history:
Great Children’s History Books
Fantastically Great Women Who Made History
‘Fantastically Great Women Who Made History’ is the second book in Kate Pankhurst’s history series celebrating important women. Her first book ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World’ is also a must read. The books highlight the incredible stories of extraordinary women such as Harriet Tubman, Mary Shelley, Pocahontas and Ada Lovelace, who all played key roles in modern history.
Some more suggestions to look out for:
Politics for Beginners by Alex Frith
What Happened When in the World by DK Eyewitness
Explorers Sticker Book by Fiona Watt
Frightful First World War by Terry Deary
World War II by DK Eyewitness
Indaba, My Children: African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs by Credo Mutwa
World War I by DK Eyewitness
World War I by DK Eyewitness is an ideal book for readers between the ages of 8 and 12, offering a comprehensive account of the Great War and many of its decisive battles in just enough detail for kids.
The book boasts maps and detailed diagrams for easy comprehension of big topics as well as numerous pictures of genuine artefacts such as weaponry.
World War II by DK Eyewitness
The National Archives: The Buildings That Made London by David Long
The Diary of Anne Frank (Abridged for young readers) by Anne Frank
Top 50 Kings and Queens by Terry Deary
100 Women Who Made History by DK Eyewitness
History Year by Year by DK Eyewitness
Rotten Romans by Terry Deary
Kid-Friendly History Sites
National Geographic Kids
The National Geographic site for kids has information about almost every aspect of planet earth from Zoology and science to geography and of course there’s a fantastic section on history.
They offer bite size portions of information on various topics that are perfectly tailored for children. From ancient Egyptian pyramids and tombs to ancient societies of the Roman world. Discover more about fallen kingdoms and the powerful monarchs of European history.
Ducksters offers such a diverse array of learning material on so many historical topics but we love that there is a really comprehensive section on African history for kids.
There’s a page dedicated to each topic that you can either read with your child or have your child read independently, depending on their age and reading skills. Every page also offers a quiz which really makes this a fulfilling online learning experience and helps parents to gauge how much their children have comprehended.
SAHA is perfect for older learners. The site isn’t specifically geared towards activities for kids but boasts a very comprehensive overview of the history of South Africa.
This is a good place to start for kids learning about uniquely South African topics and highly recommended if your child is doing research for a history task. Point them towards SAHA instead of wasting time doing an open ended online scavenger hunt for relevant information.
Historical Knowledge for Kids – What Do They Need to Know?
There are five critical events in history that are important for children to be aware of as they grow up.
It’s beneficial if kids are exposed to discussions about certain events, even in the home environment, as they are a part of the social history of our world culture.
1. The First World War
This gruesome war that’s often referred to euphemistically as ‘The Great War’ began on 28 June 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated along with his pregnant wife. Of course this event wasn’t the only reason for going to war but served as a catalyst. Differences in foreign policy was part of the bigger picture in the driving force behind WWI.
It was in 1919 after four merciless years of warfare that the war was officially ended by the Treaty of Versailles. It was insisted upon that the Germans accept complete responsibility for causing the conflict. It also called for Germany to help repair allied countries; surrender some of its land to neighbouring countries; decolonisation of African colonies under German rule and downscale its military.
It was through this treaty that the League of Nations was established in order to prevent further warfare in the future.
By 1923 fifty three European countries had joined the League of Nations, and it was thanks to this league that Europe was again rebuilt.
2. The Second World War
WWII almost brought the entire world into “total warfare”. The death toll during this period was devastating with an estimated 27,000 deaths daily from 1 September 1939 until Japan’s surrender on 2 September 1945.
World War II caused more than half a decade of world-wide crisis.
Italy, Germany, Japan, United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain (along with its Commonwealth nations) were the chief participants in the war with much of the conflict taking place within Europe. The World Wars are now an integral part of European history.
On 7 May 1945, in the week following Adolf Hitler’s suicide, Germany finally surrendered. It took Japan another four months of active warfare until they too surrendered, after the United States conquered Japan by bombing the towns of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Although Great Britain had won the war they lost most of their empire doing so, and it was the USSR and USA that emerged as the chief superpowers.
3. The Holocaust
This event, which is tied to World War Two, is a difficult topic, even for the most seasoned historians and scholars.
To present it to young children certainly calls for great sensitivity. A genocide that obliterated over 6 million adults and children will continue to affect numerous generations to come.
With so many beautiful biographies that have been written by Jewish people that survived unspeakable ordeals, there is plenty of material to choose from when attempting to get to grips with the Holocaust.
A wonderful book to start with is The Diary of Anne Frank, a touching yet gentle introduction to the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jewish people.
4. The Cold War
In order for children to understand a lot of the global political climate that involves continued debate over Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, it’s essential to have some basic knowledge of the Cold War which is also a pivotal theme in American history.
After 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States began competing for global political, economic and military prowess. This silent battle was coined the Cold War because neither country ever actually engaged in active warfare.
During this period many nations as far afield as Namibia and South Africa feared an invasion of communist parties.
1948 – 1953 saw the peak of the Cold War when the Soviets attempted to blockade West Berlin. In 1949 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was formed in order to resist Soviet occupation in Europe.
Despite the fact that immigration seems to be a contemporary theme in the media at the moment, the truth is that it isn’t a new issue at all.
American slavery also brought about a major immigration of Africans to the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries. After the Second World War, Britain had a severe labour shortage. This ignited a wave of immigration to British soil that would change England forever.
It began with an influx of commonwealth immigrants, but once the Iron Curtain fell and various other groups started seeking political asylum from various volatile regimes, Britain was flooded with foreigners.
There was a second wave called The Windrush, a term coined when more than half a million immigrants left the Caribbean for England.
Historical events cause chain reactions that have a ripple effect throughout the course of history. Revolutions in ancient civilisations have lead to enlightenment that still affects us today.