I’m always going on about how well fiction works as a supplement to classroom lessons. It is amazing what reading a story can do for helping your kids visualize a time period, a science procedure, or a country they’re studying. And visualization means memorization. So reading a story about a subject you’re studying can totally help your kids remember what they’ve learned.
Last week, the boys and I had an experience that really validated all my Crazy Book Lady ramblings.
No, really. Let me tell you about it.
When fiction teaches history perfectly
I’ve mentioned several times that we’re reading All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque to supplement our history lessons about World War I.
It is the rawest account of war I have ever read. When I finished reading the first chapter to the boys, there was dead silence. The three of us stared at each other for a minute.
No words, y’all. It’s that profound.
Finally, almost in unison, my sweet boys said, “This book is sad.”
Yeah, it’s that. It’s also real. It also is reminding us of all the things we’ve learned so far about the Great War. Trench warfare was a terrible thing, and learning about it was in a scholarly sense was bad enough. Reading Remarque’s account of being in the trenches is showing us just how terrible it really was. The boys aren’t likely to forget it.
Last week, we read a chapter in which the protagonist, Paul, and his fellow soldiers came under bombardment after setting barbed wire on the front. Part of the attack included gas bombs. It was a terrifying account, to be sure, but the coolness of our day was yet to come.
When I opened the book we’re currently learning about the war from (World War I for Kids by R. Kent Rasmussen, which is a.maz.ing), we discovered we were going to be reading about…
Barbed wire and Poison gases.
I mean, I totally did not plan it that way, so can you believe how that worked out?
After we read about Paul and his buddies fighting to get the barbed wire set and then, in the midst of battle, fighting to get their gas masks on, we learned about the history of barbed wire and how it was most used in World War I due to the trench warfare that prevailed.
Then we read about the different types of poison gases used during the war and we got to make cardboard gas masks!
I’m telling you, World War I for Kids is awesome. We’ve made recruiting posters, periscopes, and all kinds of other good stuff suggested by this book, but this day was total serendipity.
Check out these cool (and not a little bit creepy) gas masks!
Okay, so they went a bit nuts with the tape…
Using fiction to supplement history is hands-down my favorite thing ever. So often you can find books written during the time period and if you can’t, there’s usually a good book that’s at least set in the time period. There’s nothing like reading Sense and Sensibility while studying the Regency Period in England or A Tale of Two Cities if you’re studying the French Revolution. Or what about Gone With the Wind for the Civil War? Or The Grapes of Wrath for the Depression? The Great Gatsby for the roaring ’20s. I mean, I could do this all day.
Oh my, there are so many books I want my boys to read.
It’s so easy to pick a supplementary novel for history. Just think about the Magic Treehouse Series. Think about all the classic novels you want your kids to read. What time period are they set in?
I’m not making it up that I plan our novels for the year first and then plan our curriculum around them. They don’t call me the Lit Mama for nothin’.
If you’re not using fiction to supplement your history lessons, you’re missing out on an invaluable resource.
Need a book suggestion? Let me know. Obviously, I’m full of ’em.