We’ve been working our way through American history this year, and we’ve reached a major milestone: the Civil War.
A group of us have formed our own living history co-op, and so this semester we spent the day living the time of the Civil War.
We started out taking lots of pictures, because the kids look way too cute to pass that up.
Then an older homeschool student visited us to serenade us with ‘Taps’ on his bugle. The haunting notes were beautiful and echoed through the air. We could imagine them floating through the camps.
Then many of the kids opted to give their reports. Each one had studied a person alive at the time of the Civil War and had come dressed as their character. Many had prepped info to share. My Big Helper chose to study Elizabeth van Lew, a spy for the Union based in Richmond, and My Little Man studied Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, leader of the 54th Massachusetts, the first all-black regiment.
Later we dug into our activities. Each family had planned one. The kids worked together to build tents, Union-camp style, so they could see how the soldiers lived during the war.
Another family built a telegraph from scratch and demonstrated how to use it. The kids split themselves into two groups and practiced using Morse code to send messages back and forth.
One family brought small blocks of balsam wood, and the kids carved out letters to block print them. Journalists covering the battles would have printed their newspapers this way during the war.
My Big Helper is now one of the biggest kids in the group. She’s had the opportunity to practice planning and giving presentations over the past year, and this event was perfect for her to do another. She prepared her own activity to teach to the other kids, and she did a great job. Speaking as van Lew, her character, she shared several codes and the ways that she moved them to her handlers. Then she gave the kids the way to crack the codes and asked them to translate the messages.
There were several other activities, as well – the kids built games, played games, and learned about the Underground Railroad. They played in a field hospital lean-to and waved flags and banners.Each family also brought an authentic dish to share, and so we feasted on molasses cookies, hominy, fried potatoes, orangeades, and many other delicious foods for lunch.
While the Civil War was anything but fun, it was important. This day gave our kids the opportunity to smell some of the smells, to taste the foods, to know the dangers and the skills that people staked their lives upon.
The Civil War means more to my kids than it did a week ago, and they have new skills to go with that new appreciation.
How do you bring history to life for your kids?
These resources will help!