UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Young children’s historical understanding Weinert, Stella Rose


This study investigated young children's historical understanding, as little research has been done in this area. It described and analyzed first and second grade children's historical understanding before and after they were involved in a local history project. Specifically, it looked at how primary children understand history and what historians do; their understanding of the historical elements of evidence, interpretation and empathy and how the teaching of these concepts can develop their thinking. This information is important in considering appropriate history curriculum for young children. The study took place in my classroom of 18 students in a small, rural, public elementary school in British Columbia. I had the roles of both teacher and researcher in this case study. The data consists of interviews with the students, writing samples and transcribed video and audio-taped class discussions, as well as detailed classroom notes. The data were analyzed using qualitative research methodology. The study's findings revealed the children involved in the study developed an understanding of history and what historians do and engaged in historical methodology, including the use of evidence and interpretation. Although empathetic thinking proved difficult for most, a few considered its nature. All showed an interest in and engagement with the subject of history. Explicit teaching, as well as engaging students in historical methodology, at a level appropriate to their age, furthered their development. In light of these findings, the thesis proposes that history is an appropriate subject for young children and one in which they can become meaningfully engaged. This study is intended to inform and support the work of curriculum developers, elementary school teachers and teacher educators.

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