Hands-On History

I admit it – I’m a history geek. I love visiting historic sites, I search out the history section in the book store, and I regularly PVR shows on the History Channel. I have a degree in History, and training as a Museum Professional. So I guess it’s natural that as a Guider, history creeps into our meetings on a regular basis.

“What?”  You might ask?  “Bore the girls with dry names and dates of places and events that happened long before they were born?”  I’ve found a lot of people have had bad experiences with history, and think that it has to be dry, dull, and lifeless.

But history ISN’T boring!  Really, it’s all about storytelling, and everyone loves a good story!  Especially when that story tells you about your own past, or about what it was like for people, just like us, in a different time.

In our unit, we have done everything from visiting the Medieval era at camp (complete with knights’ quests, writing with quill pens, and dressing in costumes) to having a Girl Guide uniform fashion show, to see how we would have dressed if we lived 25, 50, or even 100 years ago!  We have dyed fabric using plants, just like the pioneers in our area did, and baked bread and made our own butter.

Without exception, these “hands-on history” sessions have been wildly popular with the girls!  They request these activities over and over again, and are always the favourite things mentioned when we review the year.

But how do you get started?  What if you don’t have a history degree or haven’t worked in a museum?  And how do you make history fun for the girls?

Never fear!  There are tons of resources at your disposal. Here are some of my favourites to get you started:

  • Want to learn about Girl Guide history?  Try your Provincial Archives!  Ontario Council provides Heritage Uniform Rentals for a nominal fee. You can find their program here.  There is also an online Canadian Guiding Badges and Insignia Resource. Do a little research and find out what your provincial or territorial council has to offer.
  • Girl Guides Canada has a great online photo-sharing initiative called HerStory: Then and Now. Check out photos of uniforms, people and cookies of the past!
  • What to share the story of your town, village or city with your girls, but not sure where to start?  Try your local museum! Community museums have a wealth of information and are eager to share their stories. Many also offer special programs for Girl Guide groups geared to specific badges, and are most likely willing to work with you if you have a topic or badge you’d like to explore. For example, our local museum rents (for a small fee) Educational Resource Kits that include costumes, replica artifacts, craft ideas, books, and other resources. We have used them as jumping off points for themed meetings, camps, and badge work.
  • Why not bring in a resource person?  Want to learn a heritage skill like baking, quilting or weaving?  Try contacting a local historic site, craft guild, or fabric shop. Maybe a Trefoil Guild member has a skill she could share?  Re-enacting groups are active in many parts of the country; perhaps they would be willing to come and do a demonstration or join with your girls in a project.
  • Don’t re-invent the wheel. Use resources at your local library and on the Internet. Two Guiding resources are great for finding themed meeting and camp ideas – try Becky’s Guiding Resource (the camp theme books are great!)  or GuideZone for ideas from other Guiders for historic themes!
  • All communities have a history!  Go for a walk in a historic district, plot a hike to visit historical plaques, or participate in a program at a National Historic Site. Parks Canada runs programming at many historic sites, and some even run day or overnight programs – a great historic location for your next sleepover!

History doesn’t have to be boring – get out and explore your past!  The girls will never know they’re learning, and you’ll be rewarded with a chorus of eager history buffs in the making, asking, “Can we do that again?”

Megan with her daughter By guest blogger and Guider ‘Glowie’, aka Megan Gilchrist. Megan is the Contact Guider for the 7th St. Catharines Guiding (multi-branch)Unit. Read Megan’s other contributions to GirlGuidesCANBlog: Every Penny Counts, and “Multi-Branch” Means More Fun!


What’s New with Girl Guides? Cookie Day in Canada 2013 is April 20 (and 21 in select locations) across Canada. Cookie lovers: don’t forget to check out our Cookie Finder Map to find a location near you! Cookie sellers (Guiders): don’t forget to add your unit cookie sales event to our interactive cookie drive map.

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1 Response to Hands-On History

  1. Chelsea says:

    What an awesome post! I’m also a twenty-something with a History degree and am always trying to show people of all ages how interesting history can be! Great job!

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