Kids bored? Tell ‘em a story...

By Matthew MacArthur

Given where I work, you might guess that I love history. I also love books. And I love reading to and with my three kids. Given those facts, I have always been a strong supporter of the museum’s OurStory initiative, which promotes historical children’s literature in a variety of subjects relating to our research and collections—everything from prairie sod houses to Puerto Rican carnival to Pueblo pots. As a parent, I have found that the quickest way to engage kids in history is through a well-told story.

Freedom_on_the_menu After seeing the museum’s "Join the Student Sit-ins" program recently, my family became interested in the protest at the now-famous Greensboro, N.C. lunch counter and other aspects of the civil rights movement. It dovetailed nicely with what my fourth-grader had been learning in school about the history of race relations in our home state of Virginia. So I was glad to see that the newly-redesigned OurStory Web site had a new section featuring a work of historical fiction on the same topic, Freedom on the Menu.

We borrowed the book and dived into the supporting online materials. A reading guide provided some historical context for the book (which reinforced what the kids had seen in the museum) and suggested questions for discussion as we read along. The site also offers a range of activities—suitable both for home and for more structured settings—that reinforce the historical themes and extend the experience. Because our family loves music, we chose to do an activity where we listened to civil rights songs on a referenced Web site, sang along, and even came up with a few of our own lyrics.

For any caregiver who is looking for a way to entertain elementary-age kids over the summer, or is simply looking for access to a great list of historical literature (nearly 200 books are referenced in a useful online search), I can heartily recommend the OurStory site. I know my family will be back for more.

Matthew MacArthur is Director of New Media at the National Museum of American History.