The Great War For Kids

There’s one thing about history that my daughter quickly learned in her early elementary school days. Humans seem to always be fighting each other.

It’s an unpleasant subject on the surface, but if you’re going to instill a love of history in your children, you can’t avoid the fact that they will, inevitably, be reading about war.

And they will find it utterly fascinating.

With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, or The Great War, we’ve seen a deluge of books on the subject.

One of these new ones is especially for kids. It’s not only a fascinating look at the deadliest conflict in human history, but it’s a primer on how to enjoy reading history.

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World War I for Kids, by R. Kent Rasmussen, is, quite simply, the best children’s book about war that I’ve ever seen. The reason I think it’s the best is because of the way the author engages young readers with vibrant illustrations and hands-on activities.

This is not just a book for reading. It’s a book for doing. Activities include camouflaging an egg, making a trench periscope, and baking up some genuine “war bread” (no sugar or lard allowed). There are 21 activities in all, spread throughout the book to help bring the descriptive passages to life.

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The author never talks down to his readers. He offers up clear and lively explanations on key aspects of the war, from its buildup to the rapid advances in military technology to the war’s impact on later historical events.

If your kids think history is boring, hand them this book. I guarantee they won’t put it down for awhile. The easygoing format, incredible photos, and fun activities are a welcome change from the usual dull texts with their laundry lists of names and dates.

World War I For Kids encourages its readers to connect the dots between the major events, why they happened, and how all the events, both past and future, are related. That, right there, is critical thinking, folks.

This book is good for any age from 4th grade up to early high school. It can certainly be enjoyed by anyone who is looking for an introduction to World War I.

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You can buy a copy of World War I for Kids: A History with 21 Activities at Amazon.

I also have a copy to give away to one lucky reader. Leave a comment here or on the Idaho Dad Facebook page. I will pick a winner in a week’s time.

Ten Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Geothermal paradise of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after three visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Fishing Cone Geyser at Yellowstone Lake

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.

Read the rest of my “Ten Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone” here.

Walking the Wall, Again

Walking the Wall, Again

It was a little over a year ago that I spent a week walking the width of England, following the National Trail that runs along Hadrian’s Wall.

It was a memorable adventure that raised a lot of money for charity. But as I hiked those scenic crags, it always felt like something was missing. I soon realized that I wanted my family to be there with me to experience the ancient Roman wall and the breathtaking English countryside.

Almost a year later, I was able to share the walk with my wife and kids. Well, maybe not the entire 91 miles. In fact, we just walked the best bits of the wall. 5 miles of it in total.

Oh, and this time I left home the stiff boots and overweight backpack.

We started out at Birdoswald Fort, touring the museum there while we waited out an early morning rain shower. After the sun appeared, we walked east to the village of Gilsland, where the kids rejoiced over an ice cream shop.

From there, a short bus ride deposited us at Housesteads Fort, a dazzling Roman site which includes one of the best preserved latrines from nearly 2000 years ago.

Roman latrines

You wouldn’t think we could get excited over an old army latrine, but it was kind of cool to see where the Centurions did their business.

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Beachcombing

Beachcombing along the Thames

Of all the things we experienced in England, my kids talk most about the couple of hours we spent shuffling slowly along the muddy beaches of the River Thames, our heads hung low, our eyes sharply focused on the ground.

We were beachcombing, or mudlarking as some call it, along the shores of the river that runs through central London. After thousands of years of stuff being tossed into the Thames, it’s no surprise that some of it washes back up along the banks.

When the tide is out, it’s easy to play archaeologist and search for little treasures. And odds are always good that you’ll find something.

We descended into the muck somewhere near the Tate Modern and immediately my son picked up a small piece of china. Then my daughter found an old clay pipe stem. Then I spotted a mineralized cow tooth.

We actually found dozens of old bones. I assumed our little stretch of beach had once been the outlet for a slaughter house.

My son theorized that it was a dumping ground for executed prisoners.

More clay pipe stems were found, along with polished glass, twisted bits of metal, bottles, and part of a deer antler.

After just a few hours of picking through the muddy rocks, we had several bags worth of goodies to take home. All little bits of history that sparked my kids’ imagination in a big way.

If you’re visiting London, don’t hesitate to step off the paved paths and get your hands dirty on the banks of the Thames. It’s one of the best ways to experience the history of this ancient place.

Best of all, aside from any valuable artifacts, you get to keep the treasures you find! Here are some that my son has proudly displayed on his shelves…

Thames Treasures

Photo Friday – Surrounded by History

“Isn’t it amazing?” I asked my daughter as we toured the Tower of London. “To be surrounded by so much history? Why, there’s the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1078. And there’s where Sir Thomas More was imprisoned. And, right in front of you, is the Queen’s House, built by Henry VIII for his new bride Anne Boleyn. Behind you is where she was beheaded, and…”

“Shhh, daddy, I’m trying to take a picture of the raven.”

Sharing Memories

I’ve been away for awhile, sharing memories with my wife and kids.

Last year I traveled to England for an 86-mile charity walk along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. It was quite successful, both for the charity and for me.

I made some awesome memories.

Then, I came home and agonized that my family did not share these memories. They could not know the thrill of following in the path of the Roman Centurions, of exploring ruined forts and castles, or of looking out over the windswept crags to imagine what life must have been like 2000 years ago.

Of course I told them about my week-long walk and the people and places I experienced, and they eagerly listened at first. But, after awhile, they were bored. They just couldn’t relate to my amazing adventure.

So, I decided to do something about that. Either I would keep my memories to myself, or I would find a way to share them for real.

You already know that I shared rather than shut up.

First chance we had, as school came to a close two weeks ago, we packed our bags and headed for England’s north country.

My family walked the wall!

No, not all 86 miles of it, but we covered nearly five. The best bits between Housesteads and Birdoswald Forts.

We also climbed to the top of St. Paul’s, wandered the streets of Carlisle, and visited the castle where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

In short, my memories are now their memories. That’s just the way I like it.

You can certainly expect a few blog posts about our family adventures in Great Britain. Like our brush with Charles and Camilla, or my daughter helping us escape from a locked Tower of London.

In the meantime, however, we have school to finish up. The kids will have no problem coming up with topics for their next history paper.