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New way to turn youngsters on to history

History is interesting, sure. But, from a kid’s perspective, is it really fun? Taught as a muddle of dates, tangled with the names of people long dead, is there anything for youngsters to connect to, to keep them coming back for more?

Norman Scherer, a stay-at-home dad with a background in standup comedy and a knack for spinning unusual approaches, thinks there can be.

To that end, he has been working, for the past several years, on developing a take on history that is intended to make even the most video-jaded kids sit up and take notice. And, now, Scherer’s strategy – which began as a Manhattan-based program that connects the geography of that borough to its storied past – has a Brooklyn angle.

This fall, Scherer will launch an after-school Brooklyn history program for second and third grade students at Packer Collegiate Institute, 170 Joralemon Street, in Brooklyn Heights.

Rather than proffering tables of dry-as-dust data, Scherer, whose two kids will be attending the school, will turn the borough’s history into a series of games which, in turn, will be the basis for a new website, Kids Brooklyn, based on his current website, www.kidsnyc.com.

“I’m trying to make history interesting,” explained Scherer. “Most schools don’t give history a shot till later on.”

To that end, Scherer said, he will be utilizing such non-traditional teaching tools as historical action figures and stuffed animals as, with the kids’ assistance, he tweaks a standard curriculum into something kids will not only accept but crave.

Among the games he has planned, said Scherer are crossword puzzles, word searches, multiple choice quizzes, a board game and likely one of the most enticing, a game utilizing Google maps. In the latter, said Scherer, kids will follow characters associated with the same locale – but from five different time periods – and try to make their way through the game’s various levels.

Another game planned by Scherer is a live scavenger hunt. He will be premiering one in Woodbridge, N.J., this summer as part of a kids’ history project he is doing there, and he intends, he said, to hold one in Brooklyn Heights as the grand finale of his autumn course at Packer, which itself will become the prototype of a class that can be offered at many educational institutions in the borough.

What’s going to be included in the lessons? The history of Coney Island, for one thing, as well as the history of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. But, it may take some time to get to that point.

“I’ll start off with prehistoric times then move to the Indian tribes and the Colonial Dutch influence, then to the British,” Scherer explained. Then, it’s on to the Revolutionary War – a particularly appropriate subject, given the borough’s central involvement in the war’s early stages, specifically the Battle of Brooklyn.

“I’m going to dig up fun, interesting things about Brooklyn,” Scherer promised. “The kids are going to be really jazzed up to jump in.”

It could take three to four years, Scherer estimated, for his Brooklyn Kids website to be completed. Students in the Packer after school program, he said, will assist in creating the games. By the time the website is up and running, he said, he should also have a walking tour that takes in the entire borough, utilizing mass transit to make connections between neighborhoods.

The project will be a learning experience for him as well as for the children, noted Scherer, whose mantra is, “Everyone is a kid when it comes to history.”

He explained, “I’m learning how to research. I’m learning about history, and it’s fun, and I’m teaching myself.”

The weekly Kids Brooklyn history classes will be held from September 25, 2008, through January 22, 2009, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Packer, and will be open to between seven and 12 second and third grade students. The cost is $410 per student.

For further information on the program, or how it can be applied to other school settings, contact Scherer at 917-757-3345 or by email, to norman@kidsnyc.com.

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