Merdeka Day is just around the corner. During this month, we may see many reminders around us about Malaysian history and the events that led to Malaysia’s independence from the British in 1957. What about our children? What do they understand about the significance of this day? How can we help them learn more about our history?
Like everything we would like our children to learn, we should first and foremost make sure that it is fun. We should also impart knowledge through experiential learning platforms that can help kids link history to their real lives and make it relatable. When we do that, they will want to learn more.
Exploring the past
My daughter was presented with this learning theme during her Social Sciences Unit of Inquiry, and was asked to interview family members using these questions:
- Did the city where you live change a lot compared to the past? What has changed?
- Did your mum and dad have a cell phone or laptop when they were your age?
- What was their favourite game to play?
- Has your mum or dad visited any ancient sites in their home country or abroad?
She was asked to do a short presentation in school based on our responses, as well as online photographs that she found showing Kuala Lumpur, then and now. It was fun to personalise history by sharing our childhood memories, discovering together how things have changed today.
Embarking on a heritage walk
Now that they are a bit older, my husband and I thought that a heritage walk with Free Walk Kuala Lumpur Unscripted would also be a great way to bring local history alive for our 9-year-old twins.
To paraphrase their website text, you just need to “put on your comfortable shoes to take in the city’s charming sites with local guides, engage with the city’s living heritage and rediscover stories of the old locations that we see around us daily.” These great tip-supported walking tours of the city are a part of the privately sponsored “Keeping Kuala Lumpur’s Heritage Alive” initiative that will run until December 2024.
Every Saturday (Chinatown Culture Walk) and Sunday (East West Connection Walk) morning, a team of experienced tourist guides with over 15 years of experience each will guide you through the quaint streets, lanes, and back alleys of the city. They are led by Jane Rai, an award-winning tourist guide who has been conducting walking tours of Kuala Lumpur since 1993.
What’s in store
Participants will learn how and why people migrated to Kuala Lumpur and its surroundings, as well as about the city’s origins, East-West connections, past heroes, villains, forgotten pioneers, historic architecture and much more. We did the Chinatown Culture and East West Connection Walks with our children on two separate weekends, with tour guides Stevie and Marie respectively. My husband and I had also previously done the Chinatown walk with Jane Rai. The commentaries and anecdotes shared by all the guides were informative and entertaining.
Our children enjoyed the walks for the most part – until the heat and fatigue got the better of them towards the end! They especially liked comparing the old pictures of Kuala Lumpur to the actual sites we visited during the walk. Strategic stops in between helped to boost their energy and encourage them to keep going.
What made the walks fun for kids
During the Chinatown walk, we had ice cream, locally-made chocolates at the Beryl’s Lot 18 shop and took lots of Instagram-worthy photographs with the murals and mosaic sculptures at Kwai Chai Hong . We also had tasty old school snacks and “Air Mata Kucing” drinks at Petaling Street.
During the East West Connection walk, our kids enjoyed playing inside the fun, interactive weaved tunnel art installation (inspired by the human brain) near the River of Life Waterfront area and looking at the engaging wall comic (by local artist Nova Shin) about the story of Yap Ah Loy. We wrapped up our walks with appetising lunches at these recommended restaurants housed in heritage buildings: Kafei Dian (pork-fee) and LOKL.
However, as the walks can cover quite a distance and take a few hours, they may be more suitable for older children that are 9 years of age or older. Check KL Unscripted Walks’ Facebook page for their latest walking tour dates. For younger children, short trips to these other historical sites might be a better way to start.
Why history should matter to you
If you’re considering taking a heritage walk through our city’s streets, it might also be helpful to reflect on why we should teach history to our children in the first place:
- History gives children a sense of identity. It provides our children with a context within which they can learn about themselves and where they sit in terms of their culture and larger community.
- History helps children to understand the world today. To understand what is happening in the here and now, we must investigate the past and its events.
- It gives parents an opportunity to discuss morals and ethics with children on a more objective level. History shows us models of good and bad citizenship. Discussing historical events or the actions of historical figures, as well as our viewpoints about these, provides a platform for parents to share our personal world view with our children – our beliefs and moral convictions, as well as the impact and consequences of right or wrong behaviour.
- Knowledge of history helps our children to understand references. People, literature, and media sources frequently refer to famous historical figures, locations, and events when describing something.
- Studying history can give our kids perspective and help them reflect on their own responses. Children often get worked up over small things. The reality is that many of the issues we encounter today are similar to issues people have faced in the past – from plagues and pandemics, to floods and famine. We can study how people have responded to past situations to craft better responses to the same problems today.
- History can inspire children to do great things and ignite change, as they learn about heroic individuals who have changed the way we live.
Other helpful resources
To start and continue the conversations at home, we also read these books with our children:
- History of Malaysia: A Children’s Encyclopedia
- A Children’s History of Malaysia by Tunku Halim – you can watch some online storytelling sessions by the author here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
- My Place by Nadia Wheatley – an amazing Australian children’s picture book that depicts the history of a particular piece of land in Sydney from 1788 to 1988 through the stories of the various children who have lived there.
- A Street Through Time: A 12,000 Year Journey Through the Same Street, A City Through Time: From Ancient Colony to Vast Metropolis and A Child Through Time: A Book of Children’s History– insightful reads by DK Books that convey history in an interesting child-friendly way.
We hope that these ideas and suggestions will help you to spark an interest in local and general history in your little ones! Selamat Hari Merdeka, #makchicmumsquad!
By Li-Hsian Choo
Li-Hsian left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role. She is also currently the co-facilitator of the Art Discovery Tours for Kids and coordinator of children’s programmes at the ILHAM Gallery in KL.
To book a heritage walk with Free Walk Kuala Lumpur Unscripted, contact them at 019-6992668 (WhatsApp) or drop them a message at their Facebook page. The walks are free of charge, but tipping the (very hardworking!) guides is highly encouraged.