How to Use American Girl to Study History
For those who are unaware, American Girl Dolls are a line of 18” dolls that were created by Pleasant Rowland, now owned by Mattel. The original dolls were historical characters, each one focusing on a different period of history. They shared their stories through accompanying books, which included subjects such as slavery, poverty, bravery, war, child labor and much more.
These dolls are extremely popular with girls – including mine. They started reading their stories long before they ever received their first doll.
Now if you know American Girl, then you know their products aren’t cheap. However, I don’t mind that we have entered this world, because I actually use these dolls as part of our American History studies.
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When I plan out our lessons, I use each doll as a reference for her time period. Her stories, which are historical fiction, are wonderful additions to our reading list. I use their lives shared in the books to incorporate hands-on activities to our history studies.
As I come to a point in history where I will be including an American Girl, I read the first book in her series again. I pull out facts that I use as discussion questions. I will plan crafts, games and food related to the doll and time period.
Here are examples using a few dolls that fit into Early American History.
What tribe is Kaya a part of? What are some ways that their way of life is different from the way the European settlers lived?
We decided to make Native American headbands for the dolls. My girls used a piece of brown felt (cut 1.5″ x 8.5″) for the band and a hot glue gun to attach bright felt squares and pony beads to it, in interesting patterns. On the back, they glued two pieces of suede lace (4″), so they could tie the headpiece to the dolls.
In the book, Felicity talks a lot about independence as it relates to herself and Penny, the horse. She loves the freedom she feels when she is riding Penny and she loves her so much that she wants her to be free. Why do you think the author talks about independence so much? Is there something going on in history that it relates to?
Since Felicity represents colonial history, I wanted a recipe that relied on cornmeal, a staple of the colonial diet. We studied this period during fall, so A Nice Indian Cornbread, with its incorporation of seasonal spices, was perfect.
The cornbread is sweet, with flavors reminiscent of pumpkin pie. The inside has a smooth, creamy texture. It is dense and quite filling.
I found this recipe on the Colonial Williamsburg website and you can find it easily on our History – Early Modern Time Pinterest board.
There must be several hundred recipes for this. East coast tribal people taught settlers how to make it. Settlers sometimes called it “Hasty pudding” as kind of a joke, because the stone-ground cornmeal required many hours of baking.
During the War of 1812, why is Caroline’s seaside village so important to both sides? Why are they both so desperate for ships?
As we read about Caroline, we see the beginning of the War of 1812. One event that I pulled out to study at length was actually from the end of the war, the creation of the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key.
Image Credit – Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian, where the flag that inspired the anthem is located, has a fabulous website dedicated to this key event in our nation’s history. There is a quiz where you can test your knowledge, an interactive view of the flag, video of people singing the anthem and a place to share what the flag means to you. There are also some wonderful educational resources listed that I used during our lessons.
Hopefully you will see what wonderful resources the historical American Girl dolls can be. They are an easy way to springboard your child into history study.
Do you use American Girl historical dolls to engage your child in history?
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Love this. My seven-year-old is currently obsessed with AG books. We took our first few out of the library at the end of August and since then she has read 23? 24? I don’t know for sure but she has a list! We’ve been trying to incorporate them into our study of the United States. Thanks for sharing these ideas.
Oh I’m so glad you have a lover of AG in your house. They are such great resources for teaching many subjects, especially history. Using them to study is a great way to keep kids engaged. I’m glad you stopped by!!
Great ideas! I add in some of the American Girl books with our history studies but I hadn’t thought of adding in crafts and cooking too – neat idea!
I’m glad you can use some of the ideas Tonia! I love doing as many activities as I can using the dolls and their stories. It really keeps both of my girls engaged. Thank you so much for stopping by!
I never had AG dolls growing up, but I’ve definitely been keeping my eye on them as my daughters get older. Just the other day I was thinking about how fun it would be to incorporate their stories in with our units. I just don’t know what age to start reading the books etc. My oldest daughter is 4, but she’s already doing 1st grade work easily. Thanks so much for sharing all these great ideas. I’ll definitely be keeping them in mind.
Renae, I’m with you, I never had AG dolls either. I wasn’t really going to do the AG doll thing, but my oldest just loves history, so it was a natural progression for us. The stories of the historical dolls are excellent. I think the age really depends on your preference. Because they are historical, there are some sensitive subjects in the books, but they are handled well. For example, in the Addy books, they talk about slavery.
Thank you for your kind words. We love using the dolls in our learning. It makes it more personal for my girls. I hope yours loves them too when you venture down that path.
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