History has always been one of my favorite subjects. During the presentation of ideas in my Engaging History series, I will provide activities, journal-writing opportunities and questions, ways to include geography, music, and literature in your lessons, and projects for your children to complete to help bring history alive. I urge parents to preview books, movies, and other resources and references prior to sharing with your children. Only you, as the parent, know what your children are ready to read or view in a movie.
Often in schools, the events past a certain point in American History are often skipped, abbreviated, or ignored – depending upon time constraints or teachers' personal preferences. When homeschooling, one can focus upon the entire history of their nation or just discuss what interests the child or children being taught. In this post, I will share several different books and ideas for teaching events and topics in post-Civil War American History (the event that usually divides US I and US II history courses in traditional school settings).
An interesting but sometimes overwhelming topic to teach is the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt following the Great Depression in America. One resource is FDR's Alphabet Soup: New Deal America, 1932-1939. While the book is not necessarily a place to start for children unfamiliar with the events and topics of the time period, it is a good resource which provides a lot of details, timelines, photographs, political cartoons, election buttons, and definitions. Tonya Bolden presents the first 100 days of FDR's presidency and more as she explains the various New Deal problems for ages 12 and up.
New Deal Activities
- Research how Herbert Hoover received the nicknames: Great Engineer and Great Humanitarian. Write an introductory speech for him as he is being inducted into the Hall of Presidents.
- Listen to one or more of FDR's fireside chats. Pretend you are living in the 1930s and write in a journal your thoughts and feelings about what he is discussing. Is America going to pull out of the Great Depression?
- Frances Perkins was the first woman to hold a cabinet post. Read more about her. How did she try to help America during this time period?
- Eleanor Roosevelt was published in the August 1933 Woman's Home Companion with an article entitled: "I Want You to Write to Me." Nearly half a million letters and telegrams were sent to the Roosevelts following the inauguration. By the end of 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt would receive over 300,000 letters. Write Mrs. Roosevelt a letter discussing how your family is coping with the Depression. What do you want her to know about her family, friends, and town? What would help your area of America during this difficult time?
- Kings of Swing – Listen to the music of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. How do they compare to today's musicians?
- Read a book published during the time like Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth or watch Frank Capra's It Happened One Night. How do they reflect the time period? Or if you are interested in horror, watch Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat.
- There were several individuals like Huey Long, Father Charles Coughlin, and Dr. Frances Townsend who were critics of the New Deal programs for a variety of reasons. For older teens and adults, there is the Robert Penn Warren book, All the King's Men, which is a fictionalized account of the life of Huey Long. There are also two movies based upon the book: the 1949 release starring Broderick Crawford and the 2006 release starring Sean Penn as Willie Stark.
- There are many resources when studying history but sometimes the unconventional ones are the most fun when studying history. One of the popular methods for campaigning during the 1930s and 1940s was the use of buttons. One can very easily demonstrate who they were backing for president by wearing a small (or large) button on their lapel. Design your own campaign buttons for a past election or an upcoming one. Think about colors, the message, and an imaginary slogan you might want to include.
- Create a timeline of the New Deal programs.
There are many different ways to study the presidents of Modern America. A simple way is to check out age-appropriate biographies from the library to read and review.
- Read Richard Nixon (The United States President Series) by Tamara L. Britton to find out more about his early life and the events prior and during this presidency.
- The Nixon family were Quakers. Research the Quaker religion. How might that have impacted Richard Nixon?
- View the famous Checkers Speech. You can read it here at The History Place or at The American Presidency Project. If you do a search on YouTube, you will find several videos of the speech uploaded. (Note: Please preview any YouTube videos prior to sharing with your children and maximize to full screen so any inappropriate comments will not be visible.) In this speech, he addresses contributions and gifts from taxpayers and discusses their dog, Checkers.
- How did the use of television change the way in which people responded to politicians? In 1960, two presidential candidates debated on television for the first time. Richard Nixon debated John F. Kennedy and the opinions regarding who won the debate differed depending on if someone heard the debate on the radio or watched it on TV.
- Create a timeline of the events leading to Nixon resigning from office.
Since teaching the history of Modern America can often seem daunting – because there is a wealth of information you might want to teach your child, taking a look at individual citizens who impacted history is a good way to teach to their specific areas of interest while providing useful background information on the time period. The great thing about teaching from this perspective is that there are so many interesting people to study! And don't just study Americans...there are so many interesting people who impacted history from around the world.
Planning on studying the 1950s with a children who loves sports?
- Interested in baseball? Read more about Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, or Richie Ashburn.
- For fans of ice hockey be sure to read about Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, Terry Sawchuk, or Jacques Plante.
- Is your child a fan of track and field? Why not read more about the Czechoslovakian long-distance runner Emil Zatopek or the American sprinter Bobby Joe Morrow?
- Review the work of Louis Kahn including the Salk Institute in California.
- Or visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House.
- Compare and contrast such painters as Mary Cassatt, Norman Rockwell, or Grant Wood.
Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, or Thurgood Marshall.
Resources and References
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum: Audio and Visual Collection
Addresses and fireside chats can be found, along with photographs and other useful information.
Frances Perkins Center
This site offers a biography, photographs, links to primary and secondary resources, and more.
Time's The Long Story Behind Presidential Campaign Buttons and Pins
Provides a brief look at the history of presidential campaign buttons through the years.
The Official Site of the Hockey Hall of Fame
National Park Service's Civil Rights in America