Think back to the great historical figures you pretended to be, when you were young. Maybe nothing comes to mind. Perhaps it’s because you pretended to be characters from movies and comic books instead. (I was usually Sarah, from Labyrinth.) But it would be just as cool to be a young, fiery Queen Elizabeth I or fierce, brave Harriet Tubman—if I had known their lives were exciting and amazing like I do now. This project can be as long-term as you and your kids want it to be. Essentially, you’re going to (we would never use the word “trick”) encourage your kid into researching and reimagining some history. But it will involve drawing, reading, writing and play; and it’s probably going to be a lot more fun than history class.
Step One: Deciding on a time period and making your game board.
The when and where of your game will influence everything else. This can be done easily if your offspring already have a favorite book, movie or interest. If your son loves samurai, check out the 13th century period in Japan. If your daughter is crazy about Katniss Everdeen, try to pinpoint what she likes about the story. Katniss is a strong, smart female, striving against the establishment in a world that’s difficult to live in. You and your daughter might find similarities and people to explore in Joan of Arc and her time, the 1400s.
Use the internet, the library, or both, and talk about what you discover. (Or, what your kids discover if they’re reading and searching on their own.) You can get your little anthropologists started by giving them some seed questions. Try some about the interesting stuff that’s maybe not covered in school. Where did people go to the bathroom? Did they wear underwear? Did women have jobs? Were people allowed to do what they wanted? (The answer to this, regardless of where you look in history, is almost always “no.” So a good follow-up question is “Who was stopping them?”)
What you’re going for is getting a holistic grasp of the times. In each session you should find paintings or photos to look at, and your kids can draw some themselves. Eventually you’re going to make your game board. The overall conceit of the game will be to move along squares from start to finish, but the design is up to your family. A battlefield in France? An ocean with pirate ships, whales and reefs? London, 1875? Sketch in your path, and then decide what you want around it. Help you kids create different areas around the board.
Step Two: Picking out some characters.
If you’ve chosen a period because of a person, e.g. the above Joan of Arc idea, this is easy. Use the people who surrounded your main character, like their family, their enemies, and their colleagues. You can use the real ones, such as Robert de Baudricourt and the Dauphin Charles VII. And, if some of the people in your main character’s life are not mentioned by name in your reading, your kids can name them and flesh them out. Joan of Arc probably had a steward, who you can make Molly Fridae, horse whisperer. You get the idea.
You want to have as many characters as people who will play the game at one time. Six is a good number to start with. You can always add new faces to the game later on. Create a game card for each one. Let your kid/s paint or draw (or in extreme cases of artist resistance, print from the internet) a likeness of each character. They can also write the most interesting details about that person on the back of the card. “Was Grand Prince of Kiev. Usurped throne. Loved pickles.” What your kids are drawn to, as far as interesting facts, is what should go on the character cards.
To get this far, it’s probably going to take you several sittings. “Hey kids, let’s work on our game!” will be a familiar phrase in your house. But you’re all going to be so proud of it, when it’s done.