In educational circles there is a current trend in the field of historical study that suggests teachers begin with the dawn of creation and teach history chronologically from that point. The theory of “beginning at the beginning” presents a number of misguided notions regarding traditional pedagogical approaches to historical study, as well as ignoring research on children's cognitive development.
The breakthrough work on cognitive development done by Jean Piaget (1896-1980) demonstrated that children's brains make connections in expanding circles of understanding. The young mind processes and retains information as it becomes more relative to the world in which she lives. These areas of understanding begin within the home, radiate out to extended family, then friends, then the community and so forth. In much the same way, a child comes to the study of history with interest as it relates to her expanding understanding of the world.
As a student becomes more aware of her place within her family and her community, the stories of American heroes and events become personal to her as she begins to identify herself as a citizen of this country. Surrounded by icons of our heritage–national holidays, presidential likenesses on currency, historical monuments, flags, anthems, parks–our young learner will naturally express interest in these symbols. In contrast, the events of ancient history are far removed from her world.
Throughout history children have traditionally learned their own history first–the Greeks taught young Greek scholars the history of Greece, English schoolboys studied the history of the British Empire and so forth. The study of ancient civilizations was introduced once students had been taught their own country's history. Knowing the history of one's own country provides a context for studying other cultures and time periods. If we can appreciate the heroism, sacrifice, struggles, mistakes, and traditions of our own history, we will have a framework upon which to build an appreciation of the remarkable contributions of other cultures.
On a very practical but important note, the availability of classic, award-winning works for children on ancient history is almost nil. The available age-appropriate books provide a cursory overview of the ancient world that undermines its cultural and historic relevance. In addition, comprehending the ancient world's influence on western civilization in areas of law, government, philosophy, architecture, and the arts requires a maturity beyond the typical primary student.
While there is a lack of literature on ancient history for young students, there is a plethora of award-winning and noteworthy American children's historical literature. This abundance often begins and nurtures a child’s lifelong love of history. By beginning with American history, a student is presented a wealth of excellent literature that will inspire and inform. Tragically, many young students today are missing an entire genre of beautiful children’s books due to the current trend of “beginning at the beginning.” One of the sweetest experiences a parent can share with their child is to read aloud quality literature that not only encourages learning, but also builds healthy intellectual and emotional connections. Immerse yourself and your children in the wonderful art, the classic stories, and the powerful examples found in the best children’s books.