Does everything get better in time as most people—including children, so prone to obsession with the latest innovations in entertainment technology—seem to assume? That will be the underlying question guiding my students' exploration of the history of buttons. Buttons, I will inform my young learners, have not always been used to merely fasten clothes. In fact, the way they look, the functions they have had and the materials out of which they have been made have gone through many interesting transformations. They do have a past and their history has much to teach us about the lives and the times of people who lived before us. A primary objective of this curriculum-unit will be to broaden my first-graders' perspective as we learn, through our study of buttons, that everything has a past and that we can trace historical links to find out their rich heritage. Things don't just emerge out of nothing.
Even my little first-graders are highly influenced by today's consumer mentality that dictates that 'newer is better' as they experience the rapid changes taking place in the world of technology and communication (wii, gameboy, x-box, DS,
). They assume that the newest thing on the market is better without examining its actual nature or its impact on the quality of our lives. (Do cell phones really enhance our relationships with others?) I would like to counter this prevalent idea that newer is better and have my students discover that, in reality, as time passes many things often degenerate. This can be done quite nicely through our exploration of buttons. Over time they have changed markedly and by the 19
century a plastic variety was being mass-produced and buttons were no longer prized as the miniature works of art that they used to be.
There is a real challenge involved in teaching history to young children who are just emerging readers. Clearly it is not the same challenge as teaching high school students who bring more literacy skills and experience to their learning. For first-graders you need to use concrete items such as buttons themselves that young learners can see and touch and explore. Well-written picture books, both fiction and non-fiction, are also essential to making history come alive for them. Since my young students have a limited ability to deal with time, one purpose of my instruction will be to make the past seem real and not just seem like some vague meaningless abstraction. Another purpose will be to help them build insights into their own lives where they can see how the past actually illuminates the present.
I am a first-grade teacher at Davis Street Arts & Academics Interdistrict Magnet School. The self-contained class of students to whom I will be teaching this unit are a heterogeneous group with varying abilities within the 5-to-7-year-old age range. Although I have designed this unit with them in mind, I am confident that it could easily be adapted for use by teachers in other primary and intermediate grades as well.
My curriculum unit will be interdisciplinary in scope, incorporating history, reading, writing, geography and art. My students will work in both small- and large-group settings on the activities included in this unit. The unit lessons will be implemented twice a week for a period of 40-60 minutes over a 3-month period. I plan to divide my curriculum-unit into five sections, in each of which I will employ the use of children's literature in an effort to engage them and enhance their learning. The sections are:
Section 1: Teaching History to Children
Section 2: Button Exploration
Section 3: Comparing Buttons: Is the Newer Always the Better?
Section 4: Buttons and Fashion Through Time
Section 5: Bringing It Altogether: A Descriptive Report on Buttons