Civil War Unit Study

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Want to take a hands-on approach to history with your kids?  Learning about the Civil War for kids can be very hands-on.  A few supplies, a couple of field trips and lots of conversation have given my kids a great understanding of what this important time period in American history is all about. 

Resources for a Civil War Unit Study for elementary aged kids.

Resources for Older Elementary Aged Kids 

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Our book:   Two Miserable Presidents: The Amazing, Terrible, and Totally True Story of the Civil War  We used this book as our “spine book”.  In fact, it was reading this book that inspired me to derail from our current history studies and create a Civil War unit study.  This book presents a detailed account in a funny and entertaining way, written by Steve Sheinkin, a former textbook author who thinks textbooks are boring.  Sheinkin now writes the way he wants to write, including lots of quotes and personal details about historical figures. The result is an engaging book that makes this historical period come alive. 

Two Miserable Presidents by Steve Sheinkin

Our felt board to keep track of all the players and information. I found it hard to keep track myself of all the main players on both sides of the war. Generals constantly changed in the North. To help both my 4th grader and myself to keep track, I created a felt board using free printables. Homeschool share also has more free Civil War printables

Felt Board for Civil War Unit Study

Living Books  We chose many, many living books at my child’s reading level; whatever we could find from the library. Many focused on the main players of the Civil War:  Abraham Lincoln, Robert. E. Lee, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, etc. as well as key battles, warships and main events, such as the Emancipation Proclamation.  

Field Trips.  If you live in, or travel to, the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia there are Civil War battle sites there. Our home state of Virginia had the most battles so we had a lot of field trip choices.  Currently, it is around the 150th anniversary of the war, so even more activities are taking place in public parks, preserved sites and towns.

We went to a camp re-enactment and were able to see what Civil War tents, uniforms and weapons looked like. Re-enactors in full dress marched and fired their guns, etc.  We  learned so much just talking to the re-enactors.  They were very well versed in detailed information about the era. I suppose if you’re going to use your free time to stand out in a field, often in very hot weather in full dress (wool uniforms), you’ve got to be passionate about this subject.

Civil War Re-enactment in Virginia

We also went to Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. and toured the place where Lincoln was assassinated. There is a gem of a museum on the theater campus, in the house where Lincoln was brought to receive medical attention. If you go, plan to spend some time there. 

Tour of Ford's Theater, Washington, D.C., site of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Clockwise from top left: Presidential box where Lincoln was shot; ceiling detail of the theater; sign outside the theater; tower of books four stories tall, all written about Lincoln, a permanent exhibit on the Ford’s Theater campus.

 Resources for Early Elementary Aged Kids

My 8-year-old had very little interest in the Civil War but she has a HUGE interest in American Girl dolls. Our main approach to history for the past two years for her has been to use this historical book series. 

The American Girl doll from Civil War times is Addy.  We ordered  Addy’s Boxed Set  of books used from Amazon and a Civil War era dress from Etsy for my daughter’s Rebecca doll.  

Civil War era dress for American Girl Doll and Addy Book Series

American Girl doll Rebecca wearing a Civil War era dress found on Etsy, with the first book in the Addy series.

We also did activities from Addy’s Cook Book and Addy’s Craft Book.  

This has led to some great discussions, not just about the Civil War, but about slavery, freedom, the Underground Railroad and what it was like for newly freed African Americans to start a new life. 

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