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Free Online Resources for American History

Are you a parent or a teacher? If so, we SALUTE YOU for the journey you’re about to go on this school year. Listen. This year is going to be tough for everyoneteachers, parents, and especially kids. As we find ourselves treading these uncharted waters, we think it’s important for everyone to just take a second and breathe! Since we are lovers of history and its ability to help us contextualize current circumstances, we thought we’d share a few,  free online resources for American History, to add to your child’s online learning curriculum. 

In order to get through this, we must first redefine what success will look like this school year. 

Instead of all of the goals and marks of achievement you would normally expect to hit, decide now what is possible for you within these very tight, very unusual new restrictions. What is really most important when it comes to the wellbeing of you and your kids? It probably isn’t test scores or any other typical accolade. Parents and teachers have been presented with a new opportunity – not to lead the charge in learning, but to learn and grow alongside our children. Sometimes that’s how life goes! This is one of those times.

KIDCITIZEN (GRADES K-5)

KidCitizen, where have you been all our lives? This is the first of our free, online resources for American History, as it provides a growing catalogue of interactive episodes (labeled by grade), kids from grades K-5 explore concepts in civics and government by investigating primary source photographs from the Library of Congress. This is an excellent way for children in this age group to personally relate to what they discover. 

From the site:

KidCitizen episodes capitalize on the active and social nature of young children’s learning. They use primary sources for rich demonstrations, interactions, and models of literacy in the course of innovative hands-on activities that make academic content meaningful, build on prior experiences, and foster visual literacy and historical inquiry.  Each KidCitizen episode draws on a set of primary source photographs from the Library of Congress.

If you are a history teacher, you can also join a community of other teachers using KidCitizen with young learners. The Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Teachers Network is a professional social media platform that enables “conversations, connections, and collaborations” inspired by Library of Congress primary sources “to improve student learning.”

TEACHING AMERICAN HISTORY (HIGH SCHOOL)

Teaching American History is a site that supports teachers of American history, government and civics. Members get access to America’s story through primary documents written by the minds that shaped our nation’s history: presidents, labor leaders, farmers, immigrants, philosophers, industrialists, politicians, workers, explorers, religious leaders, judges, soldiers, and more. These documents and debates come alive through seminars, document collections both online and in print, and other multimedia resources. 

These resources help learners understand the challenges earlier generations faced, examine their intentions, and join the great debates that guided their choices. 

Here is a sample online curriculum in American history and government for a high school student. If you like it, all you have to do is sign up for a free Teaching American History account, and you can save historical documents to your dashboard, create custom collections, and get alerts when programs are in your area.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE (ELEMENTARY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL)

The NMAAHC is a fabulous resource for learners of all ages. Learn the American story told through the African American lens and other perspectives. 

This summer, students participated in free digital programs like Artists at Home (grades 3-12), where they engaged with great artists and works of art that inspired creativity and cultivated creative expression. 

Another wonderful online program students enjoyed over the summer was Through the Window and Into the Mirror: Narratives of African American STEM Professionals, perfect for middle and high school students. A video series that included Black guest speakers with careers in STEM allowed students a peek into the “windows” of these professionals’ lives, learning about their experiences firsthand and having questions answered about careers in science education, chemistry, science communication, science policy, engineering, biomedical research, and computer science. The aim of this series was to enlighten and encourage interested students to take steps toward careers in STEM.  

Finally, Smithsonian Learning Lab is a free, interactive platform that allows teachers and students of all ages “to explore well-known and lesser-known moments of history through millions of authentic, digital resources, create content with online tools, and share in the Smithsonian’s expansive community of knowledge and learning.” Doesn’t that sound awesome? Through this platform, the NMAAHC shares resources that tell American history through collections that “utilize objects, documents, imagery, and videos to enhance content knowledge, hone historical thinking skills, and inspire users to see themselves as agents of change.” Check it out right here!

We highly recommend an in-person visit to this Washington, DC museum when the time is right! In the meantime, the Smithsonian has launched an open access initiative that has made images of objects from the NMAAHC available to view, download and share. These fascinating topics are at your fingertips, and exploring these collections together with your kids is a great way to start important conversations.

SMITHSONIAN’S HISTORY EXPLORER (GRADES K-12)

This incredible resource for educators and students provides lessons, artifacts and activities that give you every reason to fall in love with history. The side panel lets you filter by grade, era (starting with the 1620s), resource type and cross-curricular subject, like math, foreign language, geography, economics, government and civics, the performing arts, reading, writing, science and more. From there, choose lessons that engage, excite and empower young learners. 

Lessons are also incredibly helpful for parents who don’t have backgrounds in teaching. For example, this lesson on how young people shake up elections gives educators learning objectives, common core state standards for reference, and recommended discussion prompts that are student-led. Each lesson is rich in meaning and is supported by outstanding resources curated by the Smithsonian. 

COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG (ELEMENTARY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL)

In addition to on-site opportunities for students and teachers, the living history museum that is Colonial Williamsburg has created an online educational resource library that helps you teach American history with videos, classroom lessons, and virtual activities and games. Browse by era, theme, or subject!

Creating a free account is easy, and allows students to learn everything from life in colonial America to the basic concepts of American citizenship and government—all through lessons written in student-friendly language.

We hope you can utilize and enjoy these free, online resources for American History. Just remember—history is fun. Learning is fun. And that doesn’t have to change!

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