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Pros: An impressive collection of materials can help kids with personal and academic genealogy, historical, and other research.
Cons: Kids may find the amount of information overwhelming; searching isn't always easy if you don't have a defined topic.
Bottom Line: NARA's website wasn't designed for kids, but they can definitely use it to research and learn about history, genealogy, and the U.S. population and government.
It's possible for fourth-graders and up to use the site, but older middle and high school students will probably get the most out of it as they build serious research skills. A section for teachers features visuals that can be used to describe key historical events in classroom presentations, such as education-oriented YouTube videos on topics like the Civil Rights movement. Historically based images, videos, and audio files that are tied to Google Maps can be used to give students a view of the past and present.
The site offers creative classroom activities, such as topic-based ideas to teach the Constitution and document analysis worksheets that teachers can use for student group work. Teachers and students can also download and distribute ebooks on topics like the history of baseball and access online exhibits that provide a detailed look at historical documents and eras. A blog in the Teachers' Resource section also provides updates on new teaching tools, field trip ideas, and professional development workshops.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website features legal and historical records, documents, and other materials from the federal government, which students can use for personal or academic research. Some, such as microfilm holdings, have to be viewed at a physical NARA location; however, kids will get immediate online access to many informational items, ranging from census records to presidential executive orders.
They can learn about specific archive-related topics, such as preservation programs, and find out how to conduct genealogy research by looking up family members' military service records and other notation. They can also obtain historical documents, like the Constitution, and items that relate to key historical events, such as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Many pages contain an FAQ list with search tips or other information.
The site wasn't necessarily created with kids in mind; you won't see bright colors or other elements that make it feel like it was designed for younger users. But its content can be used to help kids learn about history, the U.S. population, government, and genealogy, among other topics, and kids can use the site to conduct research for papers, reports, and other assignments. It's also exciting for kids to see that this is the way the U.S. catalogs its info, and that they can access really important documents.
NARA's site isn't really structured in a way that makes it easy for users to roam for random facts. You have to enter a search term to find information in many sections, so it works best if you know what you're looking for. However, even if kids aren't trying to track down a specific document, they'll still find plenty of interesting reading material, thanks to NARA's blogs, genealogy research, and other additional resources. Teachers will, too; NARA's site includes a Teachers' Resources section with lesson plans and other classroom materials.