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Friday, April 15, 2011

History Pen Letters

Last year, my oldest daughter Rebekah had a really cool idea!  She loves history, and one of her main interests is the Civil War.
Her Cousin A is interested in it too, so last year they started writing letters to each other, pretending to be someone from history.
They each chose a historical last name, but not necessarily one from the Civil War time period.  For example, Rebekah chose Rolfe.  They weren't really trying to include exact details, but just having fun.
They dated their letters with the current day's date, but with 1861 instead of 2010 (although they did write 2010 somewhere else on the letter.  I thought this was good so later they could remember what year it really was and how old the girls were.)
They "live" in different places, so that they would have a reason to write letters.
In their letters they are married and have children.  They write about their families and occasionally  historical events that occurred during the Civil War.  Mostly it is for fun, so there's not too much of this in each letter.  =)
Sometimes it's more hysterical than historical.  =D

Once they were both expecting, and thought it hilarious!
The letters are sometimes funny, or not always about things that are historical, but they're having a good time. I am not directing this in any way, and just let them have fun with it.  It was their idea, after all.  =)
They may do some research however, just when they want to know something for a particular letter, so they're learning a little bit here and there.
My daughter has a "husband" in the war, and she writes about him being gone, and where he is, and a little about the battles.
Once my niece was in the middle of writing a letter to Rebekah and her writing got faint and illegible as she wrote, "I can't see" and the pen trailed off...
Then the writing on the paper changes styles and it's her husband writing (later) to my daughter telling that Cousin A had fainted and that the doctor came.  This was during her "pregnancy."
I thought that was clever how she did that in the letter!
The girls are making copies of each other's letters to put them all in order in clear sleeves in a binder.  They have enjoyed reading back over them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I got to thinking about how a group might do this for educational purposes, and I decided to put my ideas here.
If it was a group of kids rather than just two individuals, I wasn't sure about how to decide who would answer whose letter... and some kids might be close friends, and others kind of be left out of all the action.  So maybe they could have a buddy for a few weeks, then switch up each time they move on to a different time frame.  Or maybe there could be communities where some kids know each other and could only write to those in the other locations.  (Would be fun to reference "Mr. Tomkins" or others in the community)  If there are any who want to pretend to be related, that would be great, but it might be easier if they were separate so they could have more control over their profiles and personalities, etc.
The writing only needs to contain just a few real facts, and the rest could just be made up about their own "life."

I'm thinking this will work well with American History, as it can be more ongoing, being that it is typically studied for a year.  But other specific historical eras may lend themselves to this type of study as well.

But they should brainstorm and write down a "profile" of their character to begin with. 
This will end up being a history lesson in itself! 
Rebekah said the hardest thing is keeping the characters' ages, kids, and other details straight. It's a lot like writing a book.
Each "character" needs a profile so details will not mistakenly get "changed" from one letter to the next. Each child should keep their own profile handy, as well as a list of things s/he "learns" about her historical buddy.
What kind of family? middle class? poor?  Jew?
What kind of occupation? Shipping?  printer?  businessman?  laborer?  watchmaker?
Also, she said the setting needs to be clarified, as in what time period.  Clothing and customs could be studied a bit. 
Also, where does each character live? It will obviously need to be in different places because they are writing letters.  What kinds of day-to-day things they write about will depend on their location.  Talk about hardships or accomplishments of the time.

This should probably be done like writing... after brainstorming and figuring out a few things for profiles, let it "rest" a couple of days before going back to it.
Assign some easy children's books to read, even for older kids, so they can get an overview of what time period they are studying.
Copies should be made of the profiles for at least one main person to keep; someone who could help with assignment suggestions if some are having a harder time figuring out what their type of character would do/see every day.  As their character develops new facts about themselves, these should be added to the profiles.  Things like an injury, moving, getting a dog, etc.  Just anything, really, that should be kept in mind.

(A blog would be an excellent place to keep ongoing updated material like this!  For assignments, too.)

You could assign the dates each week, like the month of July, 1776, or preceding months. That would be a huge one!  
Or July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.  What would one have heard in the news about it?  What were you or your family doing when you learned of it?  This would obviously be a one-time assignment, and not ongoing.
Before beginning the assignment each week, let the kids discuss where they live and what was going on at that place during the time assigned. They could write down a few notes to research at home.
They could just mention a few details of what happened in their town, etc. and ask a few questions to the one they're writing.

Additional note:  Boys may not want to write letters.  Some girls may not either.  So maybe they could pretend to write for a newspaper, or to be a spy who is finding out information from the enemy. 

History Pen Letters won't work for all kids. My son would rather just find 2 or 3 facts and write them down.
IF he was forced to, that is, lol.

I'm sure there are many more ideas, and can it get quite specific.  I guess if a co-op or group wanted to do this, they would need to also brainstorm and find more new ideas and discard others.
The beauty of homeschooling.  =)


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