Passports to History – Time Traveling in Second Grade

I’m a lover of history. I love it so much I have a degree in it. But it can be hard to bring it down to a kid’s level without losing a lot, including the kid’s interest. This is a problem compounded by sometimes apparently arbitrary decisions by policy makers about what is grade-appropriate.

Two years ago I was working on a floor of second grade classrooms that were required to study Ancient Greece, Ancient India, Ancient China, and Modern Japan. We had about a month to finish before the winter holidays hit. Would I have thrown this combination of subject matter together for second graders? No. But because this was subject matter I’d never tackled before in an elementary classroom, so I was looking forward to flexing my curriculum-design muscles in a totally new direction.

There were nine sessions before the winter break in which to fly through all 4 civilizations, so I decided to unify our studies with the idea of time travel. I’m fortunate to have a friend who dressed up as a TARDIS for Halloween a couple years ago, and he let me borrow it. With the idea of time travel, we could briefly “visit” old, old foreign cultures, see one or two of the most notable things, and move on.

Our TARDIS!
Our TARDIS!

In our first session, I introduced the idea of traveling, and the necessity of carrying a passport. Some of the students made personal connections to their own travel experiences, which lent some gravitas to the occasion. I brought in my personal passport to show them, then they had to make their own:

Sample passports.
Sample passports.

We added the year under “USA” so that we would always remember what year to come back to. Inside, the students had to draw a small self-portrait and include some identifying information.

We used these during each session when we “visited” a different culture. At the end of each “trip,” the students were required to design a “stamp” upon returning to class and include

1) one fact they learned about the destination.

2) An illustration.

It was a good way to organize all the information we were learning, and also helped to ease their brains around the idea of visiting cultures from the ancient past (and in the case of Japan, in the present, but on the other side of the world).

How do you make history more accessible to your little ones? I’d love to hear!


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