Teaching History through Children's Literature
Copyright © 2002 Smithsonian National Museum of American History | Illustration by Smithsonian Institution.View larger
In 1998, looking for ways to encourage more frequent visitation by local family groups, the National Museum of American History, Behring Center, launched a cutting-edge history and literacy program. OurStory: History through Children's Literature was a frequent NMAH weekend program series offered to intergenerational (family) audiences.
Participants in OurStory programs:
- discovered Museum objects and exhibitions related to OurStory themes
- listened to children's authors, illustrators, and storytellers bring history to life though award-winning children's literature
- participated in music, dance, and arts and crafts activities
- continued exploring history at home though special activity booklets containing hands-on family activities, suggestions for further Museum visits, a recommended reading list, and interesting Internet sites
Since its inception in 1998, over 5,000 visitors have enjoyed OurStory programs, and many participating families have become repeat visitors to the Museum. The program connects children's literature to exhibitions and also explores issues of American identity.
OurStory encourages visitors of different generations and cultural backgrounds to interact, share, and learn from one another. Programs have highlighted Puerto Rican santos, Iroquois pottery and folktales, Flag Day, Chinese American traditions, African American migrant workers, Teddy Roosevelt and the first teddy bear, and life on the home front during WWII. OurStory has been highly successful in attracting new and diverse audiences to the Museum, and has become a model for other literacy-based museum programs across the country.
Visitors to OurStory programs have commented:
"I enjoyed the program and the discussions. I'm coming back to the exhibition. The musical part really brought alive how slaves had to travel and the dangers they faced. It exceeded my expectations. The author was wonderful."
Parent of two eight-year-old children attending the Riding Freedom's Rails: Women on the Underground Railroad program (March 2000)
"History through children's literature was great! As an educator and Puerto Rican parent, I know how important it is to learn and value the diversity in the world around us . . . This is a wonderful way to learn about one another."
Mother of a seven-year-old attending the Puerto Rican Santos program (September 1998)
"The OurStory programs continue to be among the best activities for kids in this city."
Mother of six and nine year-olds attending the Mailing May program (March 2002)