09 Apr Learn White House History From Home!
Now that most of our schools are engaged in distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s a wonderful opportunity for teachers and parents to share with their kids this country’s rich history, especially, our resilience during times of crises. Lately, our lives revolve around listening to the news coming from the daily White House briefings on the subject. The White House, also known as the People’s House, is more than a structure or a tourist destination. It represents our heritage, and now all this information is easily accessible at:
“When it became clear that coronavirus would disrupt the normal learning environment of many schools across the United States, we decided to organize our already substantial digital resources in a way that would be most helpful to teachers, parents, and interested students,” said Dr. Colleen Shogan, Senior Vice President and Director of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History at the White House Historical Association.
On this website parents and teachers can find resource packets for students of all ages. Its format is not scholarly serious but fun and inviting! It includes access to many images, information, short educational videos, letters, and virtual tours. Kids can take a virtual tour of the White House, parents can do activities together with their children (new activities posted every Wednesday) and teens, as well as all adults, can listen to various interviews with experts or eye-witnesses to history in The 1600 sessions podcasts.
The topics discussed in the podcast range in historical significance from discussions on slavery, Washington’s Legacy, or the presidents helicopter- to the Marine Band, the elaborate events hosted in The White House, and the incredible desserts made by White House Chef Roland Mesnier, who worked in five administrations!
This is because history is more than what is usually studied in school. Dr. Mathew Costello, historian and Vice President of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for the White House, gives this advice to students.
“Everything has a history. Your family has a history. Your town has a history,” explained Costello. “Whatever you are interested in – sports, music, literature, animals…all of those things have a history behind them. Explore those interests historically and you might find yourself enjoying history a little bit more.”
Costello suggests that teachers can use the images and videos in the website to make history come alive for students.
“My other suggestion would be to design assignments or activities that encourage students to think creatively about history,” he said. “Maybe it’s a debate with assigned historical characters; or maybe it’s asking students hypotheticals (which three historical figures would you have dinner with and why?) I’ve always found those types of activities helpful because they let students have some choice and it challenges them to really think through a scenario.”
Costello shared with Good News! Book Fair that he wasn’t much of a reader as a child until his mom gave him a book on the presidents. “Ever since then, I knew I wanted to do something with history.” It started with books, and then visiting historic sites and museums with his family on vacations. Today he shares his passion of early American History, as well as presidential and White House history with others.
“I’ve always found early America fascinating because that’s when many of the institutions, traditions, and precedents we still rely on today were created,” he said.
[Books can make a difference. Check out the history books and early readers at GoodNewsBookShop.com]
Also, check the section of White House Trivia! (on the White House History website) with answers to curious questions such as: Why is the White House white? Why did President Woodrow Wilson keep a flock of sheep on the White House Lawn or Why is the Oval Office oval anyway?
Students will find it interesting to know more about the kids that grew up at the White house, also known as the “first kids”, the children of the presidents. The website includes a section full of stories and pictures of the lovely weddings (Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox in the Rose Garden), or the high school prom of Susan, President Ford’s daughter, celebrating with her senior class in the East Room and stories of President Roosevelt’s kids roller skating in the halls and sneaking a horse to the second floor.
A multitude of landmark events, important visitors, elegant celebrations, treaties signed, honors given, and crises averted, all in one house- gives everyone a perspective of history.
“History gives us the ‘moving picture’ view of our nation,” said Shogan. “It provides us with an accurate context in which to assess present challenges or crises. To understand our political institutions or the public policies that govern us, we must understand history. To answer the question ‘why?’ we must turn to history.”
(Picture Credit: White House Historical Association)
Lizette M. Lantigua, author and CEO of Good News! Book Fair.