Teaching history to young children


By Keiran Egan, published 9th February 2009

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

History is a subject whose meaning is properly appreciated only in our maturity. In their old age we find those we consider wisest turning to Gibbon, Burckhardt, and Thucydides. The richness and endlessly elaborated meaning of history become accessible perhaps last among the humane studies. The abstractions and the incidents are finally seen not as battles and wars and growing empires but as the triumphs of life, its waste, and the grief of mothers. Human sympathy gradually percolates into the narratives of events. If this is a final achievement of the wisest people, what access can young children have to it? Even if our vision of history is dominated by an ideology - such that the individual events and characters are seen in great movements, sweeps of centuries, rising and falling classes or empires - the powerful abstractions through which history's meaning is filtered are again inaccessible to young children. What can they know of economic forces, dialectical struggles, global strategies?

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