13 of the best ways to get kids excited about history
Make friends with a Tudor girl
Take playtime back five hundred years with a historical doll, perfect for girls who’ve outgrown soft toys and baby dolls but still love hair-dressing and styling their own pint-sized companion.
Matilda is a beautifully crafted Tudor doll, complete with court dress, velvet cloak and a ballgown, and she comes with a novel to tell the story of her adventures at the court of Henry VIII. You can also bring the character's world to life with the period activities suggested in her keepsakes book, from making marchpane and jumbles to sealing letters with wax, preparing family trees and plaiting hair in Tudor style.
Matilda, Your Tudor Girl, £89.99
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Immerse yourself in stories of the past
Historical fiction isn’t just for adults, and even best-selling historical novelists like Phillippa Gregory now write for older children. The best historical novels inform readers with details that create atmosphere while offering an engaging story; as well as classics like Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, brilliant historical reads for kids include:
- The million-selling My Story range, which turns historical events into first-person diaries. From the Battle of Britain to the suffragette movement and the sinking of the Titanic, the past is brought to life with realistic voices – and there are fantastic battle-heavy options as well as princess-themed royal reads.
- The Historical House series from Usborne – six linked novels about the life and times of 6 Chelsea Walk in London and the girls who lived there in different historical periods (£5.99 each, suitable for KS2).
Be hands-on with history
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but a replica model will be! Arm yourself with scissors and glue to recreate Viking settlements, Roman villas and medieval villages packed with accurate historical detail – why not start with a 14th century castle or a Greek temple?
Make This... series, Usborne, £6.99; suitable for KS2
Gather the family together for a board game
Start a new Sunday night tradition and play a historical board game – you’ll find yourself learning as much as the kids do! Our favourite educational (but very engaging) games include:
- Learn about the Home Front (£17). The perfect choice for KS2 children who will be covering World War II at school, the game covers key curriculum facts from the outbreak of war to VE day. You’ll need to know your facts to progress around the board, and drawing skills will come in handy when you’re called upon to show what an Anderson shelter looked like! Created by a mum to help her daughter remember the infromation she was learning in class, Learn about the Home Front is revision your child will actually ask to do!
- What came first, the light bulb or the telephone? Were hot air balloons invented before globes? Timeline is a card game to help you get your historical facts straight – though you’ll need to play all your cards in the right order to win! Compact and perfect for travelling and holidays; £13.99.
- Develop the medieval walled city of Carcassonne in an addictive tile-laying game, suitable for 8+, £32.99. Simple to play, you’ll need to build areas of city, farmland and roads in a strategic way, but you can also sabotage your opponent’s expansion to win! Also available as a Facebook application, an app or a computer game, we love the old-fashioned board game version for hours of round-the-kitchen table play.
Look for the period detail
If your child loves Where’s Wally they’ll spend hours poring over detailed, colourful illustrations in non-fiction books about the past (and you’ll be subjected to a stream of fascinating facts from your new period ‘expert’!).
The Usborne See inside books have flaps to lift to let your child delve inside buildings (or add your own authentic sound effects!); Dorling Kindersley’s A Street Through Time shows the same stretch of road as it changes over 12,000 years and Through Time: London details how the city changed from Roman capital to Olympic city.
Make history relevant
A history book doesn’t have to be boring – your child can take in the facts in the form of tabloid newspaper headlines in the Newspaper Histories (will you pick up the Stone Age Sentinel, the Viking Invader or the Egyptian Echo?).
Suddenly historical events seem a lot more like our big news stories of the day… From £4.99, suitable for KS1 and KS2.
Surround yourself with sounds of the past
Immerse yourself in ancient history with Guardians of History™, an interactive voice-activated game from Encyclopaedia Britannica, where players learn about the past through an engaging time-travel adventure and save history from forces that threaten it.
Free to use on all on all Alexa and Google Assistant voice-enabled devices or on any smartphone, either through the Alexa app or the Google Assistant app, Guardians of History is a voice-driven game that blends audio, choice-driven gameplay and educational content.
In the first episode, “The Olympia Obstacles,” the player travels back in time to the ancient city of Olympia, Greece in a 40-minute audio experience; eight different endings mean that the game is replayable over and over.
Learn through play
Created by the Museum of London, the online game The Great Fire of London is free to play and great fun – the perfect way to cement the facts for KS1 children. Your child will experience what it was like to live through the fire in 1666 by helping eight-year-old Tom Porter fight the fire and escape to the river, as well as examining the historical evidence that tells us about the past. Highly recommended.
Organise your very own re-enactments
Fancy staging a gladiator fight in a Roman arena? Or why not drive a chariot, fire a crossbow, lower a drawbridge or even step back into the Stone Age? Details like a working portcullis, flickering campfire and shooting cannon make historical play come to life in Playmobil sets – we love the Roman tribune and legionnaires as well as the new Stone Age range. Prices start at £2.50.
Embrace Horrible Histories
The books were first published in 1993 and have now sold over 25 million copies in 30 languages; author Terry Deary describes himself as a writer who wants to “entertain first and inform second”, but there’s no doubt that his work makes history memorable, accessible and hugely interesting to kids and adults alike.
Play games, watch clips and print out song lyrics on CBBC’s Horrible Histories website and find nasty nuggets, foul facts and competitions on the books’ site. Rotten Rulers, the Monarchs Song from the TV series, will even teach you to list all the kings and queens of England accurately and in order – no small feat!
Step into the past in your neighbourhood
How much do your and your children know about the history of the local area? Who were the local heroes or villains? What landmark buildings can be seen on your doorstep? What would life have been like two hundred years ago, or one thousand years ago? Local museums and archives can offer lots of clues to historical investigators, and you can also invest in a kids’ local history title from Hometown World – there are 30 cities available including Bristol, Norwich, Leicester, Sheffield, Cardiff, Exeter and Glasgow (£4.99).
Dress in historical costume
Make the most of time-travel technology
Make sure you carry a time machine – otherwise known as a smartphone – on historical days out! The augmented reality technology in the latest apps layers the sights and sounds of the past onto today’s views – so why not visit key Roman London sites like the Temple of Mithras with the Streetmuseum: Londinium app (free), or immerse yourself in Stone Age Britain around the Stonehenge UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Stonehenge Experience app (£2.99)? You’ll also be able to ‘excavate’ archeological finds, as well as experiencing the attractions from every angle – even if you can’t get any closer to them than your own living room.