Thursday, May 18, 2006

History (Sept. 2005)

History was always my worst subject, which makes it all the more surprising that it’s turned out to be one of our favorite homeschooling topics. Not only does it provide a framework for the rest of our studies (we’ve looked at the origins of math and science and learned about bygone cultures through art, music, and folktales) but, much to my amazement, I’ve discovered that history is actually ... interesting. One of the best tools for our trips back in time, of course, is the Internet. A website with games, video and animation beats out a dry old history textbook any day. And hypertext is way more cool than plain footnotes. So come with us as we delve into some of our favorite history websites.

History is more than just memorizing names and dates. It’s finding out about how people lived long ago and about fascinating, if not always exemplary, personalities. We loved exploring A.L. Brims’ darkly funny site on Henry VIII, for instance -- roll your mouse over the portraits of Henry’s six wives to uncover their fates. And many colorful characters from fiction, like pirates and witches, have their roots in historical fact. Pirates! Fact & Legend is full of articles about real-life unsavory brutes such as Blackbeard and Anne Bonney. Talk Like A Pirate takes a decidedly sillier tack, with Junior Pirate and Links pages that will help you bone up for next year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day celebration, which occurs every September 19. Want to know what your options are if they accuse you of being a witch? Take the online quiz and learn about the Salem Witch Trials with University of Missouri law professor Douglas O. Linder’s engrossing site about famous trials. Even more witchy links can be found at A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling Web Site, a handy source of useful websites for any parent.

When sites have online activities, they make plain facts come alive. At Plimouth Plantation’s website, you can follow two children, a Wampanoag and a girl who arrived on the Mayflower, through the real First Thanksgiving (go to Learning and pick Online Activities). Go to Secrets of Lost Empires, from the PBS series NOVA, to try out engineering discoveries like Gallileo’s experiments on motion and gravity. Or challenge yourself on a journey with Lewis and Clark on National Geographic’s interactive adventure. Finally, the BBC has so many entertaining history pages it’s sometimes hard to find the one you want. Go to History Games for activities like Mummy Maker and Gladiator: Dressed to Kill.

Teachers and hobbyists alike have collected history websites families can use to explore their own areas of interest. Ancient times through the Middle Ages is the focus of the simply-written, content-packed History for Kids by Portland State University history professor Karen Carr. Budding Medievalists can check out Castles on the Web, with links for kids that include Lego castles. NetSerf’s links cover everything from King Arthur to early music, plus historical news, like the five-year-old twins who last month dug up actual Viking treasure in their backyard in Oslo. The oft-cited Mr. Dowling’s Electronic Passport has articles and links on more than 20 topics in world history from Florida geography teacher Mike Dowling. Social Studies for Kids is not as dry as it sounds; former Guide David White’s homepage is organized like a newspaper, with current events, early American history, and “This Week in History” features. There’s also a page with links to history, culture and economics games. Teach the Children Well comes from Cape Cod elementary teacher Elaine M. Doolittle and looks like the seashore. Her Social Studies section is filled with useful links. In contrast, Best of History Websites is all business; their picks emphasis clever use multimedia technology. We’ve only gotten as far as the 1700s in our history studies, and these are only a few of the sites that help parents and kids take a look at the past. But whether we’re looking for a broad overview or one specific time in history, we know how to turn the Web into our personal time machine, and you can do it too.

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