Over the past few months, during conversations about race and racism, I’ve heard many friends say, and have even said myself, why wasn’t I taught this information in school? We are mourning the reality that the nice, neat history in our text books wasn’t always the whole story. Many of us our now on a mission to make sure our kids don’t fall into the same trap. We want real US history for kids, or decolonized history, to help combat racism and make sure this version of history doesn’t continue to repeat itself.
How to present real US History well:
Since many of our children will be home a bit more often this upcoming school year (i.e. always) it is the perfect opportunity to be more involved in your child’s learning. If you notice the history lessons seem a bit one-sided, you can supplement the school history curriculum with some new perspectives.
However, fourth grade teacher Nadia Carter cautions, “Be careful to not go too far in the other direction. The key is to be balanced. When I teach 4th grade social studies, I tie the curriculum to current events, if possible, in order for students to realize that history exists all around us. I understand the desire to offer a different perspective…but we as teachers need to teach children history from all angles so they are able to think critically and form their own conclusions. You don’t want children to have only one perspective, as much as you agree with said perspective, because it doesn’t give them enough credit to make their own conclusions. I would also utilize primary sources if possible to allow the students to read what was going on for people in that time. I found it brought history alive in a different way.”
We don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel and start over. We can add on to what we already have and teach our kids to be critical consumers of content. Remember, the goal is not absolute truth. We all have biases, it is part of being human. The goal is to introduce your child (and yourself) to as many different perspectives as possible so that we can draw well-rounded conclusions.
If you are going to home school next year and in search of a full curriculum that presents real US history for kids, here are a few recommendations:
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Anti-Racism Home School Curriculum
Match Fishtank is a FREE K-12 curriculum written for a diverse student body. Diversity is intertwined from the beginning.
Woke Homeschooling is a conscious US History Curriculum for grades 3-7
Outschool offers Black History From a Decolonized Perspective for 8-12 year olds
Blossom and Root’s “A River of Voices: The History of the United States” is available for elementary and middle grades
Real US History for Early Childhood
For the littlest learners, you don’t really need a full curriculum. Just by reading books about people from varying backgrounds, you are introducing them to diversity. It may sound crazy to present real US history to preschoolers and toddlers. Although they may not be able to articulate their thoughts yet, they are listening and already starting for form worldviews..
Here are some great biographies that present real history for kids (yes, even little ones) in an age appropriate way:
- My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris- The story of growing up with alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through his sister’s eyes.
- Rosa by Nikki Giovanni- The story of Rosa Parks, one of the most important civil rights activists.
- Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Freedom and Equality by Suzane Slade- The story of Susan B. Anthony’s fight for freedom and equality
- Just Behave, Pablo Picasso by – The story of how Pablo Picasso kept painting in his own way, despite criticism about his work. This book is also available in Spanish.
- Dreamers by Yuyi Morales- a story about immigrating to the US, resilience and hope.
The “If You…” series from Scholastic (best for ages 4-10) is great for Pre-K and elementary aged students. It talks about what life would have been like if kids had grown up during certain historical events.
Another way to begin teaching real US History from the beginning is to present holidays differently. Imagine how your Thanksgiving lessons may look if you taught the Native American’s perspective alongside the traditional views. Check out Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms for a complete guide to authentic learning about Native American issues.
Real US History for Elementary Students
With elementary students, you can begin to dig a little deeper into the stories of real US History. Keep in mind, what is appropriate for a 4th grader is not appropriate for a Kindergartner. Although we want to introduce our kids to the truth, we also want it to be appropriate. The goal is to instill wonder, not fear. I tried to put the books in order of complexity, with the simplest text first. However, it’s always a good idea to preview texts before having your child dig in. Edutopia also has some great tips for teaching history in age-appropriate ways.
Beautiful Feet’s Early American History Packs is a pack of books that teaches different aspects of history through the stories.
The Tuttle Twins offers a series of books that present a variety of ideas about economics and civics to young kids in an age-appropriate yet thought provoking way.
A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman by David A. Adler- The daring story of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery written for elementary age students.
American Girl Books are factual but present the reality delicately.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World-chapter books about amazing women in history such as: Ada Lovelace, Madam C. J. Walker, Dr. Wangari Maathai, Junko Tabei, and Alicia Alonso.
Ground Breaking Guys: 40 Men Who Became Great by Doing Good by Stephanie True Peters (for grades 3-7)
A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Honest History Magazine is a quarterly magazine that presents factual history while encouraging kids to dig up facts and stories of their own.
Real US History for Middle School Students
A History of the US by Joy Hakim
A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America by Rebecca Stefoff
Stamped is recommended for ages twelve and up. There is even a free educator’s guide! Stamped from the Beginning is the preteen version if you have younger learners.
Penguin Random House’s March Series- This three book series tells of John Lewis’ lifelong battle for civil and human rights
History Smashers– fast, fun graphic novels that present the truth about historic events in engaging ways.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie- Although this is not a history text, it gives us an inside look into a people group that is largely ignored in today’s society.
The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History by Jennifer Armstrong tells the story of America through 100 true tales- some of victory and some of tragedy.
Real US History for High School Students
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W Loewen
These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Leopore
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas- No, this isn’t a history book but it does help students see both sides of our racial divide through an engaging and eye-opening story.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann- A look at what the Americas were really like before the arrival of Columbus.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Man
Where to find Diverse Books:
We Need Diverse Books is an awesome non-profit that is dedicated to putting books with more diverse characters out into our kids hands. They have lists of recommended books, minority owned bookstores and tons of resources to help diversify your bookshelf and your child’s education.
Nomad Press has fun and interactive books about science, history and current events that bring learning to life. There is a series about the Civil Rights Movement and one coming out about Reconstruction.
Teaching Books has audio and video excerpts or complete versions of books categorized by grade level and category. There is a huge selection of diverse books to choose from.
Bookshop.org has a great selection of books. You can order many of the books listed above just by clicking one of the images below. What I love about bookshop.org is that they support local bookshops with their online sales.
Valuable Educational Resources:
Zinn Education Project has wonderful resources and guides for teaching tough but important topics to kids. The organization uses the same around the approach Howard Zinn used when writing his book mentioned about “A People’s History of the United States” to present topics and information.
Mirai Online: Going forward to school– This website has virtual learning resources, international book clubs, camps, webiners and more.
Global Read Aloud– From October 5th to November 13th 2020 Global Read Aloud will host weekly global read alouds with diverse books for all ages. Click the title to read more about the project, find the book selections, and Facebook groups for each age group.
Teaching Tolerance has wonderful lesson plans, teacher’s guides, trainings and resources to help educators (yes parents you are educators too) teach kids about tough topics is appropriate ways.
Welcoming Schools offers great lists of diverse books, LGBT and gender inclusive books and even training for schools and educators on how to make their school more welcoming and inclusive.
Nine Network of Public Media offers a huge list of resources for talking with kids about race, racism, diversity, feelings, family, and so much more.
Embrace Race has amazing action guides, frequent free webinars, and recommended children’s books that can help us all embrace race.
How real US History will make us better
When we know better, we do better. By taking the time to learn both sides of our story, we can draw more well-rounded conclusions. Hopefully we can take advantage of this opportunity to be more involved in our children’s education and learn alongside them about the pieces of our history that have been all too often ignored. You don’t have to recreate the wheel, force your children to share your beliefs or become a certified teacher. All your kids need is an open-minded parent who is willing to explore and learn about real US history, from all the perspectives, alongside them.
If you are looking for more resources to help you talk with young kids about race and racism, check out our free eBook!