History & Civics

Creative Play: History & Civics


This site will probably be perpetually under construction!

I love history, especially J.C. Furnas’s version of history. In 1969, G.P. Putnam’s Sons release J.C Furnas’s The Americans: A Social History of the United States, 1587-1914. The book is a fascinating read for anyone even marginally interested in U.S. History. What sets the book apart is his focus on the mundane, the domestic, rather than the great events. Furnas covers topics as diverse as the impact of architecture and dress styles on the development of the family, the impact of mass production on improving quality of life, and a whole lot more. If you have a child taking US History, take time to read this book. It will help bridge the gap between the dry history typically found in textbooks and the living history of some of the sites below.

Cool History from Federal Agencies and Departments

What has the government done for you? Quite a bit actually, although most of it is not well advertised and is only useful when folks track it down. Did you know that nearly every government agency and every federal program produces a kid’s page or multiple pages. That is true not only at the federal level, but at the state level as well. For example, Virginia has “Capital Classroom” where you can take virtual tours, learn how bills are written and passed and about civics (designed for different grade levels, find other resources (like cool science stuff), play games, and solve puzzles. The “Capital Classroom” was created by the Virginia General Assembly (see…they actually do do something in Richmond). While Virginia doesn’t provide as many resources as other states, it is still a great place to find information on a wide variety of subjects, including history, butterflies, and Virginia’s Cave and Karst Trail (bet you didn’t know we had that too). Take time to explore what the Federal Government and the individual states have in terms of learning resources. 
NEWStarting Spot: Federal Government (Kids.usa.gov)
Starting Spot: Individual States
History for Kids from Kids.usa.gov. The U.S. Government created a terrific American history site, drawing on information from the Smithsonian, as well as other Federal agencies. If you are looking for information on American history, this is a good place to start.

The National Park Service. The National Park Service not only administers the National Parks (Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and assorted other holes in the ground), it also administers, at least to some degree, the National Trust and the National Register of Historic Places, American Battlefields, National Heritage Areas, National Natural Landmarks, and assorted other features. In Virginia, alone, there are 22 National Parks, 2 National Heritage Areas, 10 National Natural Landmarks, 119 National Historic Landmarks, and 2,840 National Register of Historic Places properties and districts. It could take awhile to see them all. The have some terrific online resources that will help bring history alive, including:

Like other Federal agencies and departments, the National Park Service has development some terrific materials for kids, for parents, and for teachers. Take some real time to explore this site…I think you will be surprised at the amount of material available for all kids 6 and up.

  • The Smithsonian (Natural History and Museum of American History). Possibly the most amazing set of museums anywhere and a pretty cool online presence. You can access special exhibits, background information, online activities, and at least part of one of the really terrific magazines around (Smithsonian Magazine).The National Archive. The repository for all of our records: historical documents, photos, and records; military records; all sorts of resources for folks interested in their ancestory, reports, and online exhibits (a good place to start for your next history research assignment).The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is the depository for nearly everything else not housed at the Smithsonian or the National Archive….from sound recordings and films to manuscripts and maps to phototgraphs and newspapers. You can explore world history and cultures; news, journalism, and advertising; arts and culture, maps and geography, religion and philosopy; recreation, sports, and leisure; science, technology, and business; and a whole lot of other stuff. If it has a copyright, it’s here. If you are a Civil War buff, you can peruse Abe Lincoln’s papers, study Civil War maps, and look at one of the largest collections of Civil War photographs anywhere. Perhaps the best parts of the Library of Congress are their American Memories and American Folklife Center. A great place for fans of history, cultural geography, and anthropology.

The Smithsonian, as well as the National Archive and the Library of Congress are US Government supported entities.

General History Sites (a mix of all sorts of things)

  • NEWQuatr.us. One of the best history sites you have probably never heard of. The site was started and is run by Dr. Karen Carr, an Associate Professor Emerita of History at  Portland State University.  The site is, according to the authors, designed as “a study guide for anybody interested in history” and is written by historians. It is a site designed for folks who are curious and love to wander through history in non-linear fashion.
  • NEWHistory (BBC).  Ever wanted to try your hand at being a courtier to the King of France or how protests have changed the world or why Americans really like the Magna Carta?  Check out the iWonder series from the British Broadcasting (BBC) They also have an extensive History section for kids in their archive. You can build your own castle or create your own cave art, as well as learn about the British Isles, the ancient world. An excellent site. A quick side note: typically, UK videos are not available outside of the UK. You can access most of the videios through programs like Tunnelbear.
  • History for Kids. A very cool history site from Stephen Byrne and his dad. Stephen is a 12 year old student from Dublin, Ireland, who has created an excellent website on a variety of history topics. We encourage everyone to explore Stephen’s site and congratulate him on a job very well done (oh yeah, and his dad too)

Cool Museums

  • Virginia Transportation Museum (Roanoke, Virginia)

Civics and Civic Education

  • iCivics. Bar none–this is the best civics site online or anywhere else. Create a budget, argue a Supreme Court case, be a member of Congress and pass new laws, or run for President. iCivics is a non-profit organization was founded and is led by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The idea behind the site is to change how we learn about and think about civics and civics learning. Rather than “read” about how our government (and all of the branches) and democracy, the site includes interactive games that help folks become active participants in the process.
  • Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents. A collaborative effort by the National History Day, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the USA Freedom Corps. The site provides access to 100 documents that provide a snapshot of the important milestones in American History, from 1776 to 1965, along with photographs and related documents. Read the Constitutiion, the Federalist Papers, the Monroe Doctrine, the Dred Scott decision, thethe Surrender of Germany in 1945, the Marshall Plan, and much more. A great source for primary source documents.
  • Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids. Compliments of the US Printing Office. Information and some activities…activities are not nearly as cool as the stuff on iCivics, but the information is accessible and easily understandable. It also has a pretty good glossary, an overview of citizenship, and and explanation of federalism and the differences between state and local government. It also has a great list of government sites for kids.
  • Congress for Kids. Brought to you by the Dirkson Congressional Center. Everett Dirksen, a Republican from Illinois, served in both the House and the Senate (1933-1948; 1951-1969) and helped write both the Civil rights Acto of 1964 and the Open Housing Act of 1968. While the site is a bit drier than iCivics, there is a long of excellent information on elections, the three branches of government, citizenship, and the Constitution.
  • Kids in the House. The civics website from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. The site is designed to provide students at all levels an overview of the House of Representatives, including understanding how the House is supposed to work.

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