American History with American Girl

Our family has a long history with American Girl’s historical dolls (now called BeForever), beginning with me. I have both the oldest and (almost) newest dolls in our house. I received the now-retired Kirsten over 25 years ago, and Melody was a birthday gift from my children this summer.

Bunny is the proud owner of the most dolls in our home…six of them, including two pairs of friends, (which is currently half of our total collection!), at least half of which she’s purchased with her own money over the last seven years:

And Ladybug has a nice collection of four dolls, including one pair of friends and the two dolls in our cumulative collection that represent the earliest parts of American history:

The dolls we own embody American history from the Revolutionary War era (Felicity) through the Civil Rights era (Melody). The total American Girl/BeForever line covers America’s past from the time before the Revolutionary War (Kaya) through the 1970s (Julie).

Our dolls personify the times of three different wars (Revolutionary, Civil, and WWII), the yellow fever epidemic of 1853, pioneer days, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Era, plus everything in between.

The girls (and I) love playing with the dolls, but American Girl is so much more than that. If you’re familiar with the company, you know that each historical character has always come with a series of books that allow the reader a glimpse into daily life in that time period. That books have changed format since the years I had the first editions (which I read so many times they felt apart long before I had children!), but the stories have remained the same. So while we don’t have all the dolls, we do have all the book series, for our dolls, and dolls we had hoped to buy but weren’t able to before they retired, and dolls we still hope to add to the collection someday.

We have used those books in our homeschool studies since the very beginning. When the children were smaller, I read the books out loud for fun, and they loved the interesting stories they were hearing without even realizing they were getting a glimpse into American history. I have used them to supplement special summer school units (especially in 2010, when we learned about colonial America, and this year, when we studied the pioneers and Westward Expansion), and as the basis for a “Christmas through American history” study, which included craft and food ideas that came to us while reading. I’ve also read them alongside  our regular history lessons, and of course, the older two girls have read through them all on their own. And now I’m starting again, from the very beginning with Kaya, and will read through the full scope of American Girl American history through Julie’s time to Chickadee, who isn’t quite old enough to read them herself.

We have been able to cover so many topics with the help of these books. We’ve learned fun things, like what holiday and birthday celebrations were like in the past, and we’ve learned hard things about wars, racism, injustice, and parents and friends dying. We’ve learned what it was like to be a child through all these different events, and while the books are clearly marketed towards girls, the boys have listened to the stories and learned some things, too.

The historical information isn’t limited to only the books, either. The dolls and their accessories have allowed us to get a good look at the fashions of different eras.  Bunny has even been inspired to make clothes for her dolls herself! We have had hands-on experience with what school supplies and lunches looked like throughout history. We’ve seen how children might have spent their free time. We’ve even had glimpses of what furniture looked like at different points in history!

And, for those more STEM inclined, American Girl has even had a place in our math lessons, and the more dolls we collect, the more fun we have! Chickadee can practice her counting by identifying how many dolls have blond, brown, black, or red hair, or she can sort them by eye color or other identifying features. We can use the information she gives us to make graphs and do statistics…what percentage of our dolls have freckles? Pierced ears? Curly hair? It’s very basic math, but it’s a start, and very fun and hands-on when you’re five!

We’re not done collecting…Chickadee hasn’t even received her first BeForever doll yet, but she has an idea of which one she wants to be her first (one that none of us have yet). We wait with anticipation every time we hear a new doll is coming, because we can’t wait to learn her story.  And we’re always keeping an eye out for new fashions for the dolls we have, and we all will save our money when there’s something new for one of our dolls. I love the way American Girl has helped history come alive for my children, through play and imagination and books that show us what the past was like!

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