How Do I Help My Middle Schooler with History

There are two different ways to interpret this question: How can I help my child better understand history? And how can I help my child get better grades in history? I will address the first question in this post. Your middle schooler probably sees history as an abstract subject because she’s twelve (a lifetime for her), and she may be studying about people who lived 3,000 years ago. It’s hard for a young person to imagine people living lives so different from her own. With your help, she can see  a connection – history is like a tapestry where people and events are woven together and each have an effect on the other and future generations.

First, you want to engage your child in the stories of the past, make her wonder about life a hundred years ago. As Jurassic Park  author Michael Crichton once said, “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You’re a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.” A  good place to start is with her own family history. The more personal you make history for your child, the more interested she will be. Look at old photographs together, ask her questions about what it may have been like to have been a child during her grandparents and great- grandparents’ youths. Are there any ancestors who have served in the military? I find young people to be particularly fascinated by World War II. Find some published diaries or journals to read at the public or school library.

Aunt Virginia

Aunt Virginia is our family matriarch. She was born in 1918. Her mother survived the flu pandemic and was sick when giving birth. At 97, Aunt Virginia’s mind is still sharp, and she loves sharing family history.

Help her see that everyone and everything has a history. Take her to historic sites to learn about important people and events in engaging ways. You will be walking in the footsteps of those long gone, if there’s a historic interpreter present, you can ask more detailed questions. Some places hold living history events where you can observe pioneer skills in use. Some of my favorite memories are family trips to these destinations. The seed, which was planted, led to my becoming a history major.Your child may not initially be impressed, but if you show interest, chances are she’ll follow. As a college instructor, I witnessed how the older students in my American history classes influenced the eighteen and nineteen year olds. When nontraditional students began to ask questions and give input, I noticed the younger students would perk up and listen more intently, even to the point of joining our discussions.

Relate historic happenings to current events. This presidential election year offers many great comparisons. Immigration is an issue that has recurred in previous elections. Remember the “Know-Nothings” of the 1850’s? They won several state elections on an anti-immigration platform. Discuss Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.  How do his ideas and his presidential bid compare to Norman Thomas in 1932?

Now you know where to start; you’ll be amazed at your discoveries. Next time I will offer some suggestions for improving history grades.

What about you? How have you’ve made history more interesting for your child or student? What do you enjoy most? If you have a question you would like for me to address, send it to



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