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For kids in about fourth grade and up these days, the study of World War II is the study of the youth of their grandparents and even their great-grandparents. For the purposes of this column, we're going to slide by the Holocaust for the most part, not because it isn't a topic for study but because it is so big a topic that it needs a column of its own. You'll find our Holocaust article with a recommended booklist here.
To study any era, you need to get a sense of the time -- the events, of course, but also the clothing, fads, music, modes of transportation, and the cost of living. You need to become familiar with the shakers and movers of the day. One community I know of, Pine City Minnesota, did a school wide and community wide theme on World War II and they started it by asking everyone who had been alive during those years to come to the school to be interviewed. (See school wide parallel reading article for more on this topic)
Of course they got the veterans but they also got the nurses, Holocaust survivors, the war brides, the air raid wardens and the average citizens who remembered details sometimes dramatic and sometimes mundane which, taken as a whole, gave the students a look at the war and its effects in a way that a history book can never manage.
With these people as resources, the school went on to the books, both fiction and non-fiction, the newsreels, newspapers and periodicals and the movies to deepen their studies. Although Pine City's small town, single school aspect gave them a unique setup for this opportunity, the idea is one that could be used in any community, small or large. Even helping the kids construct interview questions to seek similar information from their family members or neighbors who would have similar insights will give them invaluable information.
You may want to start the kids browsing through books and materials before the World War II survivors come to the school or the interviewing begins. They can compose lists of things to ask them about. Start such a list yourself: battles, of course: the Blitz, D-Day, Bataan and Iwo Jima, but also from the home front: vmail, rationing, shortages, black-outs, bomb shelters, defense stamps, stage door canteens, aircraft, plane spotters, , MacArthur, Patton, and Marshall-- does that get you started? Go through your list with the kids telling them how you came by your information. Add their own suggestions. (See also Flight and Planes)
As they start their research, it is often useful to enter some of their information in a class chart. One possibility for the study of World War II is:
|Source of Info||Setting||Facts|
|Marrin's||Germany||Suffered from results of World War I|
|Marrin's||Japan||Wanted to expand its empire|
|Marrin's||Japan||Attacked Pearl Harbor|
Put up a bulletin board where researchers place want ads for information they need and information they have found which may be of help for other students. Work with the kids to establish goals for their study and areas of their specific interests. Make sure that they have ample reference resources such as atlases, almanacs, chronologies and encyclopedias. Find history texts on a variety of reading levels to help them fill in the gaps in their information and put it in perspective.
Grab the best of the fiction and the non-fiction (see next section of newsletter) and put it out where the kids can get at it. Do a book spiel selling some of the best to the readers and suggest that they use both fiction and non-fiction sources. Find ways to pull in as many disciplines as possible. Make sure that the art, physical education and music instructors know what your kids are about to be immersed in. Don't forget science and math. You won't have to stretch very far to include them.
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In Times Past
by Carol Hurst and Rebecca Otis
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Teach US History using great kids books.