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Heritage in Your Homeschool: Teaching Family History

January 11–15, 2016   |   Vol. 125, Week 12

How do you get in touch with your roots? No, don’t dig up that tree in the backyard—do a little cultural digging instead! On today’s Homeschool Heartbeat, your host Mike Smith suggests hands-on projects for teaching your children about their cultural heritage.

“As your children learn about their family heritage, they will gain a new sense of where they fit into the world and the connection they have with history.”—Mike Smith

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Do your children know where they’ve come from? No, not biologically—what’s your family heritage? On today’s Homeschool Heartbeat, host Mike Smith lists some reasons to include family and cultural history in your homeschool.

Mike Smith: Family heritage can be one of the most exciting and personally meaningful areas of history. As a homeschooling parent, you have a unique opportunity to incorporate your family’s own history into your teaching. And there are some great rewards for doing so!

One of the most important reasons to teach your children about their heritage is to highlight the faithfulness of God. In the Old Testament, God continually showed His people how He loved and guided them by pointing out the way He worked in their history. You can instill in your children an awareness of how God’s hand has preserved your family.

Another lesson your children can glean from family history is the importance of personal decisions. Do you have ancestors who distinguished themselves by acts of personal responsibility and heroism? Maybe you can tell a story of someone who made an important impact by quiet faithfulness.

As your children learn about their family heritage, they will gain a new sense of where they fit into the world and the connection they have with history—which is a great way to engage them in history on a broader scale. You might even find history a little more fascinating!

And finally, the best way to ensure that your family heritage survives to be passed on some day from your children to your grandchildren and succeeding generations is to impart it today to your own children.

Mike: As you consider teaching history by using your heritage, the best place to start is probably with what you already know about your family.

You might consider dedicating a unit in your history studies to this project. The thought of genealogy all by itself may sound pretty boring to you, but here are some suggestions for bringing out the human interest in history.

Consider what you know about your ancestors from past generations. Did they all settle in one area of the country? Were they farmers, merchants, miners, or ranchers? You could have your children write about, illustrate, or even reenact what daily life might have been like for them.

As you think about each generation, try to put them into historical context. What was going on that part of the world when they were living? World Wars I and II are only a couple generations back, and you might have relatives still living who experienced them. Your children might be fascinated to discover the roles that their own ancestors played in major historical events.

Another aspect to consider is the Christian heritage of your family. Whether you come from a long line of circuit-riding preachers or are a first-generation believer, you have a valuable story to impart to your children!

Mike: Are you ready to tackle family history but need a few ideas to get you started? Your children will love exploring their heritage with these projects.

One great place to start is by helping your students create a family tree. Working back from your family, have your kids list themselves and their siblings on one row, their parents on the row above, each side’s grandparents, and so forth. They could use different colors to delineate family branches or paste in copies of pictures to help visualize who’s who.

Younger children might only get back to their grandparents, but your older students could create an elaborate family tree, depending on how much genealogy you have traced. You can purchase butcher paper from an art or school supply provider and display your family’s tree in a prominent place in your home.

A great way to preserve memories of your family and motivate your student is to incorporate technology. Let your child set up a studio and make audio or video recordings of interviews with grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-aunts and -uncles. You can find suggested questions for oral history interviews in books or online. Consider incorporating writing assignments into your family history study by having your students write up the stories they hear or an account of their experience conducting interviews.

Mike: As you teach your children family history, consider including your cultural heritage. There are many areas of this that you can choose to emphasize.

As part of your civics program, you and your children might want to study the political history of your cultural background. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

What nationalities were your ancestors? Did they come from countries known for political freedom or repression? How did rulers come to—and stay in—power in their country? Did the people historically have a voice in their government? Has that changed over time?

Another fascinating element of heritage is the culture itself. Have you investigated the contributions made by your ancestors’ country of origin to the fine arts? You could incorporate research on your heritage into your student’s art, literature, or music studies.

Have you considered doing a study on the inventions that came out of your cultural heritage? Students with a hands-on learning style might enjoy creating models of significant inventions or innovations in everything from machinery to architecture.

As part of your Bible or religious studies class, your students could trace the history of faith in your cultural heritage. What impact has Christianity had on the culture through history? Who were important missionaries and church leaders?

Mike: Hopefully you’ve been inspired this week to explore family and cultural heritage in your homeschool. If so, there are lots of hands-on projects and field trips that your kids can do to supplement a study of their cultural heritage.

Consider some field trips to go along with a study of family and cultural history. You might check for historical museums related to specific ethnic groups, either in your area or, if you go to visit relatives in another part of the country, where your family originally settled. Your family vacation might incorporate a pilgrimage to some places significant to your family, state, or cultural heritage.

Something you can do from home is to research cultural traditions related to significant events or holidays. Are there special foods, celebrations, or other customs associated with life events like births, marriages, or birthdays?

Holidays are another great way to focus on heritage. Many cultures have special Christmas traditions that your family would enjoy reviving in your home. Ethnic holidays like Chinese New Year, Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, or Oktoberfest are also good opportunities to explore historical culture.

Wondering how to celebrate? You could check for ethnic cookbooks and help your kids create tasty tributes to family history! If you have children young enough to enjoy dress-up, you could make traditional costumes to show them what their ancestors would have worn.

Whatever you do, help your children experience the fun of family history! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike SmithMike Smith

Michael Smith and his wife Elizabeth, along with Michael Farris and his wife, Vickie, incorporated Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and were the original board members. Mike grew up in Arkansas, graduated from the University of Arkansas where he played basketball, majoring in business administration. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Navy and served three years before attending law school at the University of San Diego.

In 1972, he was admitted to the bar in California and also has been admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States. He is licensed in Virginia, California, and Washington, D.C.

Mike and his family began homeschooling because their 5-year-old flunked kindergarten. This was quite a disappointment to Mike in light of the fact that he was preparing this child to be President of the United States by starting his education as early as possible.

His family’s life changed drastically when he heard a radio program in 1981 which introduced him to the idea of homeschooling. When they started homeschooling, they began homeschooling one year at a time to meet the academic and social needs of their children. After spending lots of time around people like Mike Farris, he became convinced he had been called to use his gifts and talents in the legal profession to assist homeschoolers who were being prosecuted because they didn’t hold a teacher’s certificate or satisfy the school district that they could competently teach their children.

Mike came to HSLDA full-time in 1987 and has served as president of the organization since the year 2001. In addition to serving as president, he also is a contact lawyer for California, Nevada and Puerto Rico. All of Mike’s children are now grown, and three of the four were homeschooled. The most enjoyable part of Mike’s job is when he is able to go to homeschool conferences and meet what he calls America’s greatest heroes, homeschooling moms.

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