Since we moved to Mongolia, we have been taking an active effort in teaching the kids about the U.S. and its history. After all, the U.S. is our “home” country and although only one-fourth of our family was actually born there, all of us own the same blue passport and we all – more or less (and very much depending on the day for our kids) – identify as Americans. So it’s only natural for the kids to learn about their “home” country while we explore the steppes of Asia. You know, so they don’t get Chinggis Khan and George Washington mixed up all that often (there are similarities you know, for starters they both rode horses and were kind of a big deal…). Not entirely sure how to begin a conversation about U.S. history (where does one start and what do kids at each grade level need to know?!), I ordered an American History in a Box from an expat friend’s business last year. Leah Evans is a former history teacher with a passion for – wait for it: U.S. history! – and a fellow fabulous expat mom and writer/editor (why yes, we edited the Cup of Culture book together – have you picked up your copy yet? It makes a fabulous holiday present … just saying!) who realised when her kids started going to school overseas that they really weren’t learning U.S. history like their peers at home. So, she started a business that sells grade-specific boxes containing a number of age-appropriate books and educational games and puzzles for children to explore U.S. history on their own.
To say my kids love this box is a complete and utter understatement. I set up the contents of the Kindergarten/Grade 1 box in a bin in our living room last year so that the kids could peruse the books and activities on their own without anyone having to “force” them to learn. I must say, we have read every single book at least 100 times in the past year. Within a few weeks of doing the U.S. floor puzzle over and over again, Luca knew all 50 States by heart and their location (while I still struggle to find those small states on a map). A year later, we are still reading the books – over and over again. And most importantly, we are talking about things like U.S. symbols and U.S. holidays on a regular basis (how often does Betsy Ross come up during your dinner conversation?).
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when a friend and the community liaison office from the embassy suggested putting together a ceremony to honour veterans for Veterans Day. The kids dug through the box to find the book about Veterans Day and after reading it for the nth time, felt well-prepared to celebrate this American holiday – other than being a little unsure about what the military actually is or does. So, our embassy community decided to take this event to another level and not only involve the kids in the ceremony itself (major shout-out to one of the Moms here who – oh so patiently – organised all kids to perform a song in front of the entire community) but to also add a teaching component since our lives abroad within an embassy community puts us very closely in touch with the very people who we celebrate on Veterans Day.
Last week, when school was closed to celebrate Chinggis Khan’s birthday (which by the way, does not fall on the same day every year – fun Mongolian history fact for you; his yearly birthday is determined by a Mongolian astrologer), the kids were invited to visit with the Marines and Military officers at the Embassy to learn about what they do at work and what it means to be a soldier and veteran.
It was a great learning session for all even though most kids in our community are a bit on the younger side (we kept them busy with colouring activities while they listened to adults talk) and there was the occasional typical kid-question every now and then to lighten the mood: Marine explaining history of Veterans Day and his role as a Marine: “anyone have a question?” kid: “yes, what happens when you mix water and juice?” or when the army personnel emphasised that by their work contract they have to serve the army or face imprisonment should they run away or want a different job which then led to pressing questions from preschoolers about why they had gone to prison and for how long.
I am very grateful to the military personnel who took time out of their busy lives to talk with our kids and even show them a move and a push up or two. Interactions such as these strengthen kids’ understandings not only about what their parents do abroad but how the various components of U.S. government work together – such a wonderful learning experience.
With my educator hat on, the kids’ participation did not end there, no; we added another layer of pedagogy and invited all children to participate in a poster contest for Veterans Day so that they could draw and describe what they had learned from the military. And of course there were prizes – I mean, there had to be motivating incentives, right (even if that elicited a stream of tears from my kids when they did not win…. )?
And as perfect endings might go, this year’s American History box arrived just a few days ago and was met by shrieking excitement and instant reading and more history discussion. So, it looks like we’ll be discussing U.S. history and current events now much more often (let me just figure out the right words for the latter part first, please?).