One of the reasons we preserve historic places is so that they can continue to tell the stories of our history for the next generation. But how effective is that goal if the next generation doesn't understand the value and significance of these places we've dedicated ourselves to saving?
This is why it’s so important to get kids involved and interested in historic preservation now: Ignite a passion for history and culture, and spark a lifelong commitment to saving places that matter.
Here are 10 things to do with kids in the classroom or at home to get them involved in and excited about historic preservation.
1. Explore family history. Ask kids to investigate the places that are significant to their family -- for example, where their parents or grandparents went to school, grew up, or got married. Look at old photographs, and, if you live in the same area, visit these places if they’re still around. Talk about how they compare to the photographs and what has changed. Think about the future of these places in the community today.
2. Encourage kids to talk to neighbors who have lived on their street for a long time. Find out what they remember about living there and about the people who have moved on. Maybe they have old photographs of how the street and houses used to look.
Tip: You can also consider recording the conversation. Oral histories are an invaluable resource and provide a tangible link to the places of our past. Plus, this is good interview practice.
3. Take a walk down Main Street. These authentic and traditional commercial districts are full of historic buildings and feature locally owned stores that are a vital part of the community. Take this time to begin a discussion about why buying local and supporting local stores is so important.
A class of students listening to Civil War reenactors at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.
4. Visit a historic site. Take kids to visit a historic site in your area, or stop by the local historical society or museum. Is there a National Trust Historic Site or Partner Place nearby? Talk about what stories are told at these places. You can often find an original map of the surrounding area at the historical society or museum. Make a project out of comparing old maps to today’s roads and neighborhoods. What’s changed? What’s stayed the same?
5. Assign a group history report. Ask different groups of students to research various aspects of their city -- architectural styles, changes in neighborhoods, stories of well-known families and political leaders, construction of important historic buildings like City Hall, and more. What about each of these elements makes your city unique?
6. Participate in a community project. Ask your historical society or local preservation organization if there are any projects that your kids can get involved in. Help clean up and repair neglected buildings, plant trees in or around historic areas, or clean headstones in a local historic cemetery.
7. Write letters to local public officials or congressmen. In our previous toolkit, we laid out various steps to take when lobbying for preservation. One of those is to let your member know what historic resources are important to your city or town. Ask kids to write to a member of Congress about a certain historic place and explain what make it special and worth preserving.
8. Create a historical record for a landmark. Brainstorm the items that should be included in a historical record, like photographs, construction dates, architectural styles and features, and stories of who lived there or used the building and for what. What kinds of things would someone want to know about this place in 50 or 100 years? Then, put together your own historical record.
Hands on learning about tall ships and their history at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, California.
9. Volunteer at a museum or historical society. Volunteering can offer kids an opportunity to organize historical records, set up displays, or create exhibits by collecting photographs and artifacts and writing label descriptions. Look for opportunities to become a junior docent at a historic site or help with research, such as title searches at the county courthouse. (Note: Some of these activities might be better suited for an older age group.)
10. Create a historic walking tour of your city. Ask kids what places they think are historic in your city or town. Draw a map of where these places are and create a walking tour that you could take a visitor to your city on. This is a great way to get kids thinking about what buildings are historic, why, and how they all tell a story of the history of their city. In what ways do these places tell pieces of the same story? Do they tell different stories from different eras?
For more ideas, check out our Teaching Preservation page and the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places site. You can also share these inspiring stories of other young preservationists in action with your budding placesavers.
What lesson plans or activities have you done with your students or kids to teach them why saving places matters?