The effect of experiential teaching approaches on youth interest in learning American frontier history

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


The traditional history education methodologies of lecture and reading the textbook often leave students uninspired and disinterested in social studies. Historical knowledge among youth is often below the proficiency level is U.S. history according to national performance measures. Research suggests that an experiential approach to history education that allows for hands-on activities, group work, use of creativity, role playing, and self-directed learning can positively influence youth interest in history. This study investigated the effects of participatory living history methodologies on youth interest in the history of American frontier. The program utilized in this research was the 4-H Western Heritage Project in Montana and Missouri where youth become living historians through period dress, skills, activities, and mannerisms. A post-test/retrospective pre-test survey was used to measure changes in interest among 4-H members after at least one year of participation in the 4-H Western Heritage Project compared to their retrospectively recorded perceptions before participation. Respondents also rated the primary experiential teaching methodologies found within the project. A paired samples t-test was conducted to determine any significant differences between the mean scores of 4-H members before and after participation. The calculation of descriptive statistics reported ratings of primary experiential methodologies. Positive and significant differences were found in levels of interest from before participation and after at least one year's participation in participatory living history methodologies. Self-directed learning, hands-on activities, group learning, the use of creativity, and role playing through historic character development were each identified by survey respondents as beneficial to learning history. This research suggests that participatory living history methodologies increase youth interest in learning American frontier history. Results may be applicable to museum education programs, living history sites, history camps, and potentially the traditional classroom.




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