Using diaries to stimulate children's understanding of the past

Primary History article

By Penelope Harnett, published 31st May 2006

Children develop their understanding of the past through a range of historical sources of evidence. Written sources may provide different types of information for children to work from. Records such as census returns or street directories provide information about families and tradespeople living in a particular communities and old maps may extend knowledge about what the neighbourhood looked like in the past and how it has changed. Newspapers give insights into what were important issues for people living at the time and are useful for reminding children of the variety of opinions held by different people. Diary accounts are a particularly valuable source of evidence since they enable children to identify with a particular individual living in the past – to develop an awareness of this individual's feelings and motives for action. In this respect diaries provide opportunities for children to gain a glimpse that the past was populated with real people, with real emotions who had their fears and joys in much the same way as people do today.

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