Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Once Upon a Time"

“Once upon a time” isn’t just for fairy tales. It’s also for history.

History is not facts and dates. It’s stories—stories of people and places and events that have shaped who and what we are today. It lives…it breathes…it presents us with the opportunity to explore the many facets of our culture, our ancestors, our lives.

History helps us understand who we are as a nation and how each of us is a part of this ongoing story. A sound knowledge of both American and world history is a step toward shaping a student’s world view and eventually becoming the type of adult citizen our country needs.

Do you know the Greek origin of the word “history”? It means “to know”.

Educators are encouraging parents to supplement their child’s education in history with a few simple steps and access to entities such as The History Center in Fort Wayne. A trip to The History Center can help lay the foundation for a life-long interest in history as you and your child explore the past, relate it to the present, and look to the future.

Prior to your visit, take a look at the virtual tour on our web site at www.fwhistorycenter.com. This will give you a basic idea of what you can see and help you plan your trip. Then visit the other pages of the web site to gain some background knowledge about Allen County and Fort Wayne history.

Next, relate this to your own family. If you grew up in Fort Wayne or have family members who did, sit down and talk about your childhood with your sons and daughters. Real life stories about people your child knows—and places they see as they’re out and about in our city—can give them some background and create a context of awareness about the history of our community.

Listen with them as their grandparents and older relatives talk about how technology has changed in the course of their lifetimes and in yours! If you have friends and neighbors in their 80s and beyond, they too can tell your child about the marvelous inventions they have seen and how their lives have been impacted by them. The internet has always been a part of your child’s life. Talk about what you did before it was invented.

Dig out old family photos and documents of significance—like your child’s birth certificate. Use the internet to explore the current events for the day or year your child was born. These are a part of your son’s or daughter’s history.

Perhaps your child has a special interest such as music, baseball or art. Most of us think of history as the political—wars, treaties, and government. But it’s also about culture, ideas and people. If this is what sparks your child’s imagination—run with it!

Take some notes in a history notebook as your conversations occur. Write down questions for further study. Keep this journal so you and your child can add to it as you explore.

The History Center is home to an exhibit that will be expanded over the next year. “Made in Allen County” displays some of the inventions that were created here that we now take for granted. For example, how about the “electric pig” aka the garbage disposal. Or the television. Or the washing machine. Or the gasoline pump.

Transportation shaped our community. Do you know how? Does your child? A look at transportation and how it’s evolved can lend itself to an interesting afternoon as you look at exhibits featuring the Wabash & Erie Canal and the railroads of bygone years. Transportation led to the establishment of several major industries in Fort Wayne. Do you know what they are?

As you explore exhibits ask your child some questions:

“What does this mean?”

“Why is this important?”

“What does this tell you about our world today?”

The History Center has created a number of “hands on” exhibits to help your child experience the past.

Ever worn a hoop skirt? We’ve got one you can try on.

Or an aviator’s helmet circa World War I and the leather gloves to go with it?

You can see what it feels like to be in jail.

Or what a Victorian Doll House really looked like.

Plus find out about some little-known facets of baseball history that originated in Fort Wayne.

Never seen a wringer washer? You will at the History Center.

You can supplement your trips to the History Center and other historically based entities with activities at home.

Create a time line of the history of our community, noting historical events you’ve studied in relationship to family events such as births, marriages, the start of kindergarten, etc. You can then teach some of the concepts of time such as decade, century, generation or simply a year.

Collect brochures and pamphlets and make collages of photos about our city and county. Or create your own original poster.

Take a trip to the library and check out additional books and other works about the exhibits you have seen. Reading the biographies of notable persons in history is an interesting way to further learn about events and people.

Watch television shows about history.

Have your child make up a quiz about what you both experienced and see how much knowledge you retained. It’s fun for a child to be the teacher once in a while!

Create a scrapbook of photos of historical sites with old photos from brochures and photos taken of the sites today. Disposable cameras can add to the fun of touring historical sites for your child.

Point out stories in the local newspapers about historical happenings both past and present and discuss these events. As your child grows, the depth of these conversations will change and their level of critical thinking mature. This is a time to instill the value of checking alternate sources for the accuracy of the information, learning about opposing viewpoints and developing opinions based upon a variety of sources.

It’s important to let your child know you’ll be learning along with them. Not even the most fanatical of “history geeks” knows it all—and as time and research expand our knowledge, we all have the opportunity to learn more. But no one will ever know all there is to know about the world’s history.

Pick the facets of history that you and your child find most intriguing.

Call upon the multitude of resources available to expand your knowledge and that of your child. The History Center’s gift shop offers a variety of books about local history and our blog will continue to explore the past while relating it to the present. The George R. Mather Lecture series also offers programs that may be of interest to high school students.

There are other historical sites in Fort Wayne and the surrounding area that make great day trips for the family. Contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information.

Being involved in your child’s education is important to their success. A home environment that encourages learning sends a message to a child that school is important.

As a parent, if you never stop learning, neither will your child.

“A well-formed mind is better than a well-stuffed mind” is an old proverb that certainly applies.

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