Teach Children History– Visit the Local Cemetery

by on January 2nd, 2013
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Visiting a local cemetery is a perfect way to interest children in history. Questions and discussions about wars, disease, immigration and beliefs about death are triggered in even elementary children.

Local Cemetery, the Revolutionary War, and Immigration

Take one small cemetery, Mt. Zion Cemetery, located in Bertrand Township between the towns of Buchanan and Galien, Michigan, for instance. This small plot of ground houses interesting monuments that would capture the interest of most elementary school children. One gravestone stated that the deceased, William Ferguson, was born in 1760, and died in 1844. He “served under Washington in the war of the Revolution.” Other monuments bear markings, such as weeping willows (a symbol of grief), lambs, open books (books of life? Bibles?). One monument has a hand pointing up to heaven.

A German immigrant with the last name Richter had a headstone cast out of metal. It wore better than the other stones. A bright student could surmise that Fred Richter, the postmaster who erected a monument “dedicated to my father and mother and to the pioneers of Dayton and the community” was a relative of the original German immigrant.

Local Cemetery and Inquiry Formation

The short life spans indicated on many of the graves lead people to pose many questions. Why did so many die so young? Eighteen? Thirty-three? Forty-four? A field trip to this site (or even blown-up or digital photos of the graves) is an ideal place for the Inquiry formation. Inquiry projects are part of Michigan Social Studies Standards. Strand SOC.V, Inquiry, A cemetery such as this one would give students the opportunity to pose questions about the pioneers of the area. Pursuing answers might lead to interviews, trips to the library to obtain historical information, and emails to the county historical society.

This field trip would work nicely as in conjunction with a field trip to local historic markers, which gives more information. Together, they also address state educational standards, such as Michigan Standard I, Time and Chronology, which encourages an understanding of the past. Most states have such standards. The key to learning is finding a venue that will impress the young learner. Cemeteries lend themselves to teaching local history.

Grave Rubbings, a Hand’s On Activity

A perfect activity to enhance children’s understanding would be to make a grave rubbing. All that is needed is a paintbrush, masking tape, large butcher block style paper, and chalk or charcoal. After gently brushing the tombstone free of debris, tape the paper over the stone, being careful to avoid stones that are crumbling. Rub the chalk or charcoal over the paper to obtain a relief of the design and words. Older children may enjoy taking photographs of tombstones. This is a good time to teach respect for gravesites too.

A visit to a local cemetery can spark inquiry into history, belief systems, immigration, and even understanding of disease. Grave rubbings provide a hands-on activity to reinforce learning.


Educational Materials Center. Michigan Content Standards and Benchmarks

WiseGeek.com. What are Grave Rubbings?

A version of this article was published July 4, 2010 on Suite 101.com (link).

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