A few days ago, while hiking with my daughter, I was so tempted to start lecturing about how in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the trail we were on—but then my mom sense kicked in, and I realized that might be a bit intense for a kindergartener. You know what was age-appropriate? Telling her about my own experiences working at that lake during college.
Effective ways to teach our families and ourselves about the past are all around us; and when we connect children with history, we give them a gift of knowledge and a sense of belonging.
Find Everyday Ways to Engage Children with their Heritage
My mother grew up walking to Liberty Park in the summers with other sandlot kids. Why not take my own children on a historic tour of grandma’s childhood?
- Gauge activities for age and special needs. The point is to bond as a family, not to deliver a college lecture or create a Pinterest post.
- Ask a family member or neighbor about their favorite spots and visit them.
- Food! We all love it. Engage children in preparing family favorites or recipes from your ancestry. Compile and illustrate a cookbook. Learn about other cultures through cuisine.
- Find and create teaching moments through music, mementos, stories, or locations.
- Check out this article from PBS Kids for more ideas.
Learn the History that Surrounds You
Our kids’ tumbling classes required us to drive down Sugar Street in Layton at least twice a week—which meant I told them at least twice how the fields in northern Utah and southern Idaho were once filled with sugar beets and how my grandmother harvested beets as a young girl.
- I Love History and History To Go provide ready access to Utah history. Turn to Utah Historical Quarterly for deeper dives.
- Before you go to Peach Days or get a raspberry shake at Bear Lake, could your children research local history for a reward?
- Even if you just came to Utah, you are part of this state and its history. How do you connect to the past around you?
- The National Park Service gives 4th graders a FREE family pass for the year! Children with permanent, documented disabilities can get a lifetime pass.
Everyone’s Story is Significant
It’s a mistake to think that history is limited to famous people or events. Everyone’s work and life plays a part in this world, and our lives are enriched by learning about the seemingly simple people—especially if they are family members. Ask your loved ones about their lives.
Some of our Favorite Spots
Utah has so many festivals, historic sites, beautiful buildings, and cultural opportunities. Ask what the history of a festival or building is. Why does that matter and how does the history extend to the present?
- American West Heritage Center
- Antelope Island
- Bear River Heritage Area
- Bingham Canyon Museum and Visitors Center
- Eccles Dinosaur Park
- Edge of the Cedars
- Fremont State Park
- Golden Spike National Historic Park
- Helper Mining & Railroad Museum
- Ogden Union Station Railroad Museum
- Park City Mining Museum
- Spiral Jetty
- This is the Place Heritage Park
- Topaz Museum
- Wheeler Farm
Remember that effective ways to teach our families and ourselves about the past are all around us; and when we connect children with history, we give them a gift of knowledge and a sense of belonging.
Holly George is senior state historian at the Utah Division of State History and co-editor of Utah Historical Quarterly. She is the author of Show Town: Theater and Culture in the Pacific Northwest, 1890–1920. George received a PhD in American History from the University of Washington; her research interests include culture, networks of all sorts, social welfare, and gender. Her current project is about Marie Ogden, the leader of a commune in southern Utah. George is the mother of three children.