Working with Teaching Methods

 Over the past half century or so, educators have worked with a learning pyramid to aid in understanding learner retention. At the top of the pyramid are techniques with the least retention while the techniques at the base of the pyramid provide the greatest amount of retention. Over the years this pyramid has evolved as new techniques develop through evolving technologies.

This Learning Pyramid is my design for techniques in the living history environment. As with the traditional pyramids, at the top are the techniques with the least personal connectivity with visitors/learners. At the bottom are those techniques providing the best connections with visitors/learners. The strata of the pyramid do not represent good to bad. They represent the varying ways to connect with visitors at different depths. The top of the pyramid can give a good over view of a subject, while the base of the pyramid can provide visitors with an in-depth, personal experience and ingrained understanding. By utilizing a combination of the techniques the full height of the pyramid, visitors are offered a  complete experience, which through their choice meets their particular needs.  


Let us examine the pyramid from the top down.

Lecture Style Presentations  can include most presentations where a single or small group of interpreters talks to a group of visitors in a stagnant setting such as a classroom, gallery or auditorium, or in a mobile setting such as in guided or even self led tours. (In self led tours, the presenter and setting changes while the presentation style remains the same.) One can also include introductory videos in the category as well. In this technique, the visitor is primarily a listener and observer with the occasional opportunity to ask questions. (I will say in hind-sight of the visual presentation of this pyramid, I would like to have made the top level longer as there are so many formats which fall under the lecture style presentation.)

Self-led Inquiry includes examining original artifacts (or in some cases reproductions), reading original documents such as diaries, letters and ledgers, and looking at original images such as photographs or genre paintings. Self-led inquiry does not include significant guidance from a knowledgeable person or source. Instead, it is entirely learner/visitor led. 

Interactive Exhibits are guided inquiry. These exhibits use instruction, often through text and visual panels or other media, combined with hands-on examination. They are organized to lead the learning and exploration process.

Demonstrations and First Person Presentations are live-action multi-sensory learning experiences allowing visitors/learners to see, hear and smell how something works or is done. These are meant to be interactive (If they are not interactive, they belong further up  they pyramid.) where visitors can ask questions, feel samples, examine tools, etc.. These techniques use multiple senses in connection with a live, interactive education source.

Hands-On Activities and Play to Learn opportunities go one more step beyond the above techniques. The focus transitions from the demonstrator showing how to the learner/visitor learning how. In this technique the learning process is guided according to the project or activity.

Role Playing and Experimental Archeology because wholly learner centered. Here, the learning process becomes learner lead.  Granted, event or site staff are present for consultation and to ensure the safety of participants and the site.

Food for thought

What do you call the people who pay as they walk through the gates to learn about history from you?

Here are some definitions thanks to

Visitor – “a person who comes to spend time with or stay with others, or in a place. A visitor  often stays some time, for social pleasure, for business, sightseeing.”

Guest – ” is anyone receiving hospitality, and the word has been extended to include anyone who pays for meals and lodging.”

Spectator “a person who is present at and views a spectacle, display, or the like; member of an audience.”

Customer – “a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron.”

Optimizing the Visitor Experience at Living History Events

Part 2

The details can greatly improve visitor experience. These are often the things that we don’t want people to find fault in. But, to really enhance the visitor experience at LH events, we need to give them what they ask for before they ask for it. Ideally, they will never notice they needed it in the first place or be completely “wowed” by the fact we thought about it.

Let us start with one of the biggest needs people will have at every event…. the bathroom. Did you know there are actually blogs which discuss the conditions of bathrooms and what they mean in terms of customer service? There are. While we likely can’t have beautiful spa bathrooms at events, we can strive to have the best services available. But, I hear you. What can we do to make porta-potties nice? First and foremost… Keep them Clean!!! To do this, there needs to be the right number of potties for the people. To few potties makes for messy potties and long lines. Next, a solid cleaning schedule. Potties must be professionally emptied every morning or more frequently if there is non-invasive access. But, don’t leave the cleaning to the service. A housekeeping staff needs to check on the potties throughout the day. I know, ick. Who wants to do that? You do, because that means happy visitors and happy attendees who will return and spend money. Now, how do we improve the bathroom experience when dealing with porta-potties? Don’t just line them up out in the sun. Be smart. Find a way to turn the potty set-up into a more pleasant bathroom type experience filled with the amenities a bathroom would have. One method I have seen which does this well uses the back of a barn which creates shade and wall-type fencing. The potties are lined up in the shade of the barn with the truck access point on the far side. The side towards the event has a wall made of fencing. From the outside, you just see the wooden fencing. From the inside, you see a counter filled with “running” water, paper towels, hand sanitizer and mirrors. Benches were provided for those waiting in line. A curtained changing area provided a private area for infants. While not an indoor bathroom or a period correct one, this provided a well improved visitor experience.

Another must for visiting an all day event is food and water. Well fed visitors stay longer and remember the event well. Hungery visitors are tired, cranky, irritable and just want to leave. You must include on your advertisements and website whether food will be available. If it is available, mention what kind of food will be there. This will help those with special diets or allergies determine if they will be able to eat and plan accordingly. If food will not be available, invite visitors to bring a picnic. This way they know to bring food. Provide picnic space whether it is on tables, under a large tent or simply on a blanket on the ground.

How many times have you been asked if you are hot in your clothes? Chances are if a visitor is asking if you are hot, they are also hot.  Not everyone has the constitution to walk for hours and hours through an event, standing in the sun watching demonstrations. Events need to have places where visitors can sit down in the shade. This could be where there is natural shade along a tree line or under a tent. Presentation and demonstration areas need to be placed where natural or building shade is available. Seating should also be provided for those who get tired or can not stand for an extended period but still wish to listen and watch. This seating should be well placed with a good view. Seating could be wooden benches or even building steps if need be.

A few weeks ago I had some very puzzled looks when I was asking at a meeting about quiet areas during a different kind of event. It was okay; they didn’t understand. Once you hear a toddler burst in to blood-curdling screams at the sound of a cannon or see an incredibly grateful mother as you welcome her and her terrified child into a quiet gallery, you will never forget just how important a quiet area is for children. Cannons and gun-fire can be loud and scary. Every event should give parents of small children an alternate option to battles and louder demonstrations. Otherwise, families heading to the solace of the car may leave and be leery of returning. If there is an onsite house or gallery building, these will be ideal for reducing the sound. If such a space is not available, a children’s area with a moderate size tent and shaded fly set a good distance from the battle or in a comfortable area can be made to work. In either type of area, provide comfortable places to sit, small water bottles, ear-foams in their packages, and a variety of toddler safe toys. Also have items for older kids who may be frightened as well.

If at all possible, alternate transportation should be available at larger events despite issues with being an anachronism. Older individuals and families with children will greatly appreciate the availability of a trolley or wagon. There are many medical conditions that decrease a person’s ability to walk long distances or be in the sun. These visitors will also appreciate being able to access parts of an event they would not otherwise be able to reach. A trolley can circle an event stopping at designated points or criss-cross an event.  

I think this is all for now. Please stop back for additional thoughts on planning events looking at the visitor experience.

Working with Learning Styles

When developing activities or projects for both kids and adults, it is important to understand the different learning styles or multiple intelligences people have.

Visual/Spatial – deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize with the mind’s eye.

These learners often do well with visual components. This could include maps, charts, diagrams and timelines with graphics such as illustrations or photos. The maps of the mid-19th century with outlines of buildings and illustrations of homes or significant buildings around the edge of the map can be a big hit. These learners may also appreciate signs with diagrams of what they are looking at or supplemental literature with photographs or illustrations of artifacts. Images pulled from popular 19th century books or magazines could be utilized well with this type of learner such as illustrations of farm machinery or fashion illustrations with patterns.

Logical/mathematical – deals with logic, abstractions, reasoning and numbers.

These learners can work well with numbers and dates. But, their style goes beyond that into logical thinking and reasoning. This learning can get a lot out of activities like mock-digs where they need to reason through the items found during their ‘dig’ to determine what the items may signify or tell about the ‘site’. They also do well with planning activities such as the traditional ‘western trail’ game where the members of a group need to plan what to bring with them for a migration journey.

Verbal/Linguistic – deals with words, spoken or written.

These learners enjoy working with stories whether original stories in written & verbal form or stories they create themselves. They do well with reading original letters, journals or articles. They also do well with writing their own letters in a period style or keeping their own history journal. An activity this learner may enjoy is writing a letter in response to an original letter. Another is to develop a story around an ‘artifact’ either given them or that the piece back together.

Musical/Rhythmic – deals with sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and music.

These learners love period music and dance. They also do well with the rhyming word games such as those for learning the names of the kings and queens. These learners enjoy singing while they work whether they are churning butter or embroidering. Sometimes they are singing what you teach them; other times they make up their own songs pulling together what they are learning. I love the latter.

Bodily/kinesthetic – deals with the ability to control of one’s bodily motions and the capacity to handle objects skillfully.

This is the learner that loves to handle objects whether original or reproduction. They like to examine pieces personally, looking at the details and how things work. They also like hands-on activities such as helping out during a demonstration of spinning, carding wool or cooking as well as make-and-take projects. This learner also likes role playing and acting out an idea with another object.

Naturalist – deals with nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings.

This learner will do well with connecting topics to the natural world around them. When discussing topics such as food or clothing, they will find interest in where the food or fibers come from, how the plants or animals grow, how the fruits, vegetables, wool or flax are harvested. These learners may also find how land is utilized for settlement or the impact a battle had on the land interesting.

Intrapersonal – deals with introspective and self-reflective capacities.

This self-reflective learner may enjoy reading the personal writings of someone they can relate to. They may also benefit from role playing activities which involve deeper understanding of their character.

Interpersonal – deals with the ability to interact, communicate effectively and empathize easily with others.

This learner enjoys working with others on activities. This can be in the form of social learning or teamwork. They also like role playing and acting out an idea with other people.

Existentialist – deals with the ability to contemplate phenomena or questions beyond sensory.

These learners could challenge you if you are not one of these learners or don’t already know one well. This learner is often the one who asks you those questions that catch you off guard. This idea learner may find the development of social dynamics interesting. With this in mind, you may want to talk with them about the effects of the Civil War on society or how the industrial revolution effected the roles of working class women and the development of social movements in the 1840s and 50s.

Which is Which?

I’m sure you are asking ‘how do I tell which learners I’m working with?’ My biggest suggestion is to watch and listen. Notice what catches each person’s attention when they first arrive. Is it the written sign, an illustration, an object they are reaching for? Listen to what they are asking and how they ask it. Pay attention to key words that may tip you off such as ‘sound’, ‘how long’, ‘why’, and ‘feel’. If you only have your audience for a short time, hopefully you can pick up some signals quickly. If you are unable to, just make a point to incorporate as many of the learning styles as possible. Talk about what appeals to the senses, offer to let them feel a reproduction item or a handful of wool. If you will have your group for an extended time, start your day with a get-to-know-you game. While each attendee is getting to know each other, pay attention to hints from each one. I’ve noticed musical learners will put a rhythm to name games while mathematic and visual learners will make mental lists. Visual learners will also identify something about a person with what they say, requiring them to look at each person in turn. Interpersonal people often look right at a person as well. Bodily/kinesthetic learners as well as some naturalist learners will put movement into the game or even get up and walk through the game from person to person. I have yet to figure out what the intrapersonal and existentialist learners do for this game. I suspect this may be some of those who can close their eyes and recite word for word what each person’s name is and the food, object or saying that went along with them.

Edit 2021: I am curious about who is reading this page. Twice a year the stats for this page go up notably. It seems like a class or such. If someone could leave a comment letting me know, I would appreciate it. Thanks!

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 7:22 pm  Comments (5)  

Optimizing the Visitor Experience at Living History Events

Part 1

I’ve been enjoying reading Stephanie Meyer’s Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Guide for Museums, Parks, Zoos, Gardens, & Libraries. Reading her book, has prompted me to consider several additional aspects of the visitor experience at living history events. Here are some of my developing thoughts:

The visitor experience begins before the visit. Whether a potential visitor is learning about your event through a website, radio advertisement or print advertisement it is important not only to entice them to come but to give them an accurate understanding of what to expect through words and/or images.

The way a visitor’s day starts can impact the whole  day. This can include how easy or difficult it was to find the event, what parking was like and finding the entrance. A map, good directions and clear signage can help ensure visitors find your event without getting stress or taking excess time. Once a visitor pulls through the front gate a combination of signage and parking guides are a good way to help visitors find the right parking spot. Ideally, parking will be adequate and on a flat, even surface. Given the nature of many events, this is not always the case. Parking guides should be well aware of the parking plan and potential issues with parking. They should also be observant of lower riding cars, taller trucks, families with small children or those who may need handicap parking or shorter walking distances. Guides should be well versed in the safest way to the entrance, the nearest water source and bathroom They could also know for those exiting, how to get back to the highway and where the nearest restaurants are. Another extremely important piece of information that must be covered in the parking lot, via signage, preferably at the entrance and several times after, is whether or not certain items are allowed on site. This could include coolers, glass drink containers, alcohol, chairs, strollers, etc. It will greatly affect a family’s plans for the day if some of these items are not allowed or if they get them to the entrance and have to turn around to take them back to the car.  Signage with a helpful approach can be greatly appreciated. A sign that says “don’t forget your water and sunscreen” could help save a person’s day.

The entrance is not just the way into an event, it sets the stage for the event. An admission table or gate should be welcoming and well informed. Admissions people should know the plan for the event as well as the site layout backwards and forwards. They should be able to not only hand you the very well designed map of the event and accurately detailed schedule, they should be able to answer questions about bathrooms, activities for small children, demonstrations and where particular groups or units are.

I am particular about literature. I believe a map needs to clearly show all the necessities a visitor is looking for as well as the locations of everything they will want to see. The locations of demonstrations, battle seating, hands-on activities, bathrooms and food all need to be marked. Schedules must be accurate. They should cover military and civilian activities, presentations, demonstrations, hands-on activities with times and locations. Most often we see this as a list with what is happening at each time. One of my favorite schedules for an event was actually a chart, in full color, that showed times on one side and locations on the other. Reading across the chart you could see everything that happened at the xyz pavilion through the whole day. Or you could see all the domestic demonstrations colored in green through the day. This format, though costly in color, allowed visitors to easily plan out their day or to glance at to find what is happening nearest them at a particular time.

It is all about details …. next…

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Be There… Be With…

There is nothing like walking into a nice building filled curious items you know absolutely nothing about with no labels or signs and no one to guide you or answer your questions despite the neat little benches arranged as for an audience.

#1 Be There 

Be where? Be there for the visitors. Be where visitors will have questions. Be where they will be curious. When planning an event, you need to anticipate what visitors will want to know more about in order to have a guide or historical interpreter there.  Come up with a list of locations visitors will likely have questions or inquiries. This could be at medical scenarios, demonstrations of arms, near cooking demonstrations. No list is ever set in stone from year to year or event to event. You must observe and adapt. Watch visitors. Talk with them. Find out what they learns and liked. Find out what questions they have that weren’t answered during the event. Then adapt. Add to the original list of locations or change locations. Always strive to be there for the visitors; be their guides bas they connect with history.

#2 Be With

Be with your visitors. Sure you are portraying history, teaching history. But, each visitor’s experience should be visitor focused because no two visitors are alike. Each person has a different base knowledge. While one person may remember using a pierce tin barn lantern, while another may think it is a cheese grater. Both deserve the best individualized attention you can give.  When talking with a visitor, do you best to see what they see. truly listen to what they are saying, what they are asking and what they are not asking. By focusing on the visitor, you will be able to convey what you are teaching in the best way for the visitor.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm  Comments (2)  

The Power of Myth – Part 2

As educators, interpreters or reenactors we often encounter myths while working with visitors. These myths can range from a long propagated mis-truth to a family story. When facing these myths we need to find a way to educate while ensuring a good visitor experience.

In my opinion, the type of myth you need to be the most careful about when addressing it the family myth. This is a myth a person has grown up with, believing about their family. It is one which may or may not be rooted in fact, developing or evolving through the years. A family myth can come up at almost any time in a discussion with visitors. They may believe they have a connection with a person, a building, an artifact or a moment in history. The catch is, you have absolutely no idea whether their story is history or myth. With a visitor centered approach, I suggest you listen to what the visitor has to share. Even if everything they are saying doesn’t quite fit with what you know, listen. If you don’t listen to what they are saying, chances are they aren’t going to want to listen to you either. While you are listening, really listening, try to determine what level of additional information they will be receptive to. Some people will be open to a whole different version of the story, the researched and documented research you can provide. For these individuals, first compliment a specific aspect of what they shared, hopefully a piece that is documentable; then offer additional information beginning with a phrase such as “my understanding….” Be certain to offer the visitor a resource or two to go to for their own research such as a book at the library or website that is easy to find. For others, who are significantly attached to their story, possibly in an emotional way, an “opening the door” approach will allow the visitor to hold their story while you offer them a direction for self- inquiry. After acknowledging their story and offering a specific compliment, you could open the door with “have you looked at….?” or “I would be curious to know more about…” Yes, this is an extremely soft approach. But, you are allowing the visitor to retain the integrity of they family myth while encouraging research based education and giving the visitor a good customer experience increasing their likelihood of returning.

I’ll confess, teacher led myths  are the ones that really push my buttons. It is exceptionally challenging to have a tour designed for a class when the teacher continuously interrupts, pulling the students in a different direction filled with inaccurate information. It is also challenging to be giving an in-class presentation only to find the teacher has or is instructing with inaccurate information. Whether you are in their arena or yours, the key to avoiding these issues is communication before the visit. Provide the teacher or teachers with an outline of the tour or presentation as part of a teacher packet with grade specific information and resources. Most museums have a teacher packet for visits and outreach which include pre, during and post visit materials. If you are working with/for a museum, be sure to know this packet well. During one of your initial conversations with the teacher(s), ask about where your talk will fit into their teaching plan or curriculum mapping, what the students will have already learned, what points he or she would like you to address. This is an ideal time and way to focus or tweak your presentation plan and identify any potential areas of inaccurate information and provide the teacher with correct information and/or resources prior to being in front of the students. Of course, you may still have a surprise in the middle of a great talk with a group of students. In these cases, you need to convey the correct information and the importance of documentation all while still supporting the teacher. Yes, it is possible. You can start with something like “That information/story comes from ____. But, new research shows _______” or “That is true for these instances _____ But, at this time ______” (Teachers are one of the few groups you can get away with using the word “But” with without being defensive. They teach the use of the word. For most other people do you best to use words such as “and” to redirect the information.) Be certain to provide the teacher with resources to further research the information new to them after the conclusion of the talk.

Enough typing for tonight. I guess there will be a part 3. In the meantime, for regular postings regarding history myths, subscribe to History Myths Debunked. I enjoy the weekly posts.

The Power of Myth – part 1

In a field where we focus on research, facts and supportable evidence we often come across stories or explanations that are less than true. At times we find these un-supportable, un-documentable, un-researched tales to be irritating, unsettling or just pressing a button. I’m sure for many of you a particularly popular or unpopular myth often used as a marketing ploy comes to mind.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a Myth is “1) a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events; traditional stories or legends collectively:the heroes of Greek myth. 2) a widely held but false belief or idea:he wants to dispel the myth that sea kayaking is too risky or too strenuousthere is a popular myth that corporations are big people with lots of money; a misrepresentation of the truth:attacking the party’s irresponsible myths about privatization; a fictitious or imaginary person or thing; an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing:the book is a scholarly study of the Churchill myth.” Comparatively, Folklore is the “traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth; a body of popular myth and beliefs relating to a particular place, activity, or group of people.”

Our world is full of myth, folklore and tall-tales that have a great impact on how we perceive the world around us. There are monumental stories we learn in school or through progressing media, books, television and movies. How many of us remember being intrigued by a tale from Arthurian legend or the stories of and Robin Hood? There has been a recent resurgence of Greek and other ancient mythology seen in our movie theaters and working its way into television story-lines. While this grabs the newest generations so captivated by media, we all can see how mythology has worked its way into the art, architecture and stories of almost any generation. Looking at a more personal level, we each have the deeply personal family stories that may have a foot-hold in truth or may not. This could be a story about great-great-great-grandpa discovering gold in the back field of the family’s farm or the story of how the family came to live here or own “this” artifact.

As historians and interpreters we come across a few different types of myths we encounter.

  • There are the myths and tales of folklore which have grown with our nation similar to the monumental stories mentioned above. These include stories about our founding fathers, presidents, and iconic leaders such as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. We could also include stories such as those about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox. Many of us in my generation learned these stories in school as a precursor to learning chronological history.
  • There are the family history myths which include stories of family history and what a family memento might be. Often times we here that a great-great-aunt so-n-so was at the first Women’s Rights Convention or that on a family dad’s-dad’s-mom’s-mom’s side they are related to someone important. These stories may or may not be true. But, to the individuals who grew up with them, they are extremely important.
  • There are the stories or explanations for something that developed about an event or item well after the contemporary era. In the areas of material culture we see this a great deal. This would include the previously alluded to marketing motivated myth above which began in the 1990s, nearly a 150 years after when the myth addresses with no plausible documentation. A good many myths about the 1700s and 1800s developed during the 20th century . In some cases the propagation of myth was unintentional due to research flaws whether narrow information, anomalies, or a missing piece. In other cases, the propagation of not-true, un-documented information was intentional.

In part 2 we will look at techniques for dealing with these myths.

Presenting the Lives of Women in Different Social Situations

Repost – This post was originally posted in January 2009


While reading the first three chapters of The Other Civil War, a presentation idea came to mind. The idea stemmed from a clothing accessory presentation/discussion method Bevin and I were discussing that I believe Liz posted on the Sewing Academy.

The original accessories presentation took three or four women from different socio-economic positions and accessorized them. This would include a poor woman, a working woman, a middle-class woman and a leisure class woman each dressed in a basic dress. The visual would be best if their basic dresses were similar with just slight variations for class such as a basic brown wool dress or brown silk dress. Accompanying the women is a table of accessories the women may wear mixed together including aprons, bonnets, jewelry, gloves, shawls, parasols, etc.. The audience would work together to accessorize each of the three or four women with appropriate items. The end result should transform a group of slightly varied women to individuals distinctly dress for their social positions.

The presentation inspired by this text focuses on the daily lives of women from different social positions. This will require several women distinctly dressed to represent different social positions. Ideally these women would fully span the civic and economic ranges both North and South including a slave woman, a very poor woman, a free black woman, a working woman, a middle class woman, a plantation mistress, a northern leisure class woman, and etc. Each woman would need to be prepared with the information about what their life was like. They should each know about the lives of women like them – their work and leisure, dreams and hardships, freedoms and restrictions, rights and isolations.  They would start with a dramatic presentation of who they are with a short autobiographical speech to start with. Another option would be an excerpt from a woman similar to the position they represent. After all have introduced themselves, they can interactively  discuss their lives and possibly answer audience questions.

To do this in a school setting, a photograph of each woman would be needed. I suggest a modern color photograph so the students can really see who they are looking at. A one page ‘autobiography’ would be prepared for each woman along with a life fact sheet. (These could also be used as a teacher packet for pre or post visit materials.) During the presentation, select a student to read the autobiography (length according to age/grade.) Discuss how each woman’s life was similar and different.

Published in: on February 27, 2011 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Talk on Helping Children Connect with History

This morning I was the guest speaker at the Alamogordo Kiwanis (different then the Noon Kiwanis I belong to.) I had planned on there being some children in attendance but due to testing there weren’t any. Here is some of the presentation:

While in college taking education courses we were taught children needed to have an established understanding of time and how time passes to begin to understand history. This concept of time is said to have developed by grade 4. But, if we look at history as a Story rather than a sequential timeline of events, children can embrace history at a far younger age. After-all, how many of our favorite childhood tales begin “Once upon a time…”? The US Department of Education in its 2004 publication for parents Helping Your Child Learn History points out this phrase captures the two essence meanings of history. History is a story of people and event. History is a record of times past, “Once upon a time.” Further, they acknowledge that “Although it is important for citizens to know about great people and event, the enjoyment of history is often found in a story well told.”

Children begin to thing about their own story, their place in history and society as they begin to ask “Who am I?” and “Where do I come from?”. This personal inquiry develops into wondering about their family and community. As this continues to develop, children create their own “usable history”. This is the history that pertains to them, that is important to them, that has meaning to them. Most often this “usable history” includes stories of family, friends, and community rather than “school history”, that which is taught in books that children find less or little connection with. Living history museum and historic sites, along with their outreach programs, provide children with the opportunity to experience history which becomes part of his or her “useable history” because they are immersing themselves,  in the context of the story that is history.  

When working children, museum educators want to engage children to help them connect with history. We do this through the use of story and hands-on opportunities where they can explore and investigate. Dewey refers to these hands-on opportunities as “Learning by doing” theorizing that “experience is key to learning and knowledge. When and experience is acted on it becomes knowledge. Abstract ideas need to be applied to life experiences to have meaning. Meaning is developed when connections are made between prior knowledge and between prior experiences.” (Connecting Kids with History through Museum Exhibits)

 [discussed examples of how children can take part in hands-on and history through story – dressing in clothing, games & toys, ‘a day in the life’, connecting a single experience with a multitude of subjects]

Children bring to their understanding and learning of history their own personal experiences, their own history. This was very evident to me early in my experience as a museum educator when I was teaching a school workshop on tin punching. My students usually were from rural or suburban schools. We would begin each session by looking at an assortment of tin items discussing their uses, unique characteristics and comparing them to what the students knew. This included a pierced tin barn lantern where I pointed out how the piercings let light out but kept the wind from getting in. This particular morning the class came from an inner city school. When I raised up the lantern for the kids to see, instead of hearing “lantern” as usual, I heard “cheese grater”. After a moment of pause I realized, yes this lantern does look like a cheese grater. Nutmeg graters are made the same way. I discovered talking with the kids that this group hadn’t brought the lack of electricity into their understanding of history or what they were seeing that day. Rather then discussing the rest of the tin items, we talked about candles and lanterns along with what would be different about their day without electricity.