My Life as an American Patriot

Incorporate Digital Time Travel Into Your Child’s Learning


Studying history is an essential way for us to better understand ourselves and the world around us. The good and the evil that have emerged since the beginning of man have been chronicled, and as we learn from the successes and failures of our ancestors, we can improve our lives and society as a whole. As adults, we have lived long enough to recognize the patterns as they repeat throughout the decades, but how relevant do most children think that history is to their lives?

Our children have been born into a world with computers, electric appliances, telephones, Internet, cars, airplanes, and more. It is hard for them to relate to a society that did not have electricity, motorized vehicles, or even indoor plumbing. It can also be hard to imagine the challenges of living in the desert when someone was born and raised on the rocky seacoast of Maine or be able to connect with the trials of living in the remote mountains of Tibet growing up in urban Chicago.

We can read about those faraway times and places, but the best way to make connections with history is to visit! Until reliable time travel is developed, students can utilize our current technology to travel anywhere by placing photographs of themselves into scenes from anywhere in the world, from any point in history. As they look at themselves in a scene, history becomes relevant and they start to make connections with the people and the environment they have joined.

The Revolutionary War is a wonderful subject to introduce this new teaching and learning strategy. I created my sample project as a scrapbook. This boy, my son Tim, will be present at some of the most pivotal moments of our War for Independence. After researching those periods, he records his observations and impressions in the first person. The finished scrapbook is a great chronicle of his time travel and a project that expresses his unique creativity, as well as a wonderful keepsake. Children of all grades can do this project, with older children expected to show greater detail and demonstrate greater insight through their work.

For our sample project, I chose four important topics from the Revolutionary War: the Boston Massacre, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, crossing the Delaware River with George Washington, and meeting Marquis de Lafayette. Each scrapbook can be as long and detailed as you and your children want it to be. As they begin to research the war, they may find that they want to place themselves in many scenes once their curiosity and creativity begin to flow.

I found two photographs that I liked for this project. The lighting was good in each, as were Tim’s expressions. He has always liked to play dress–up, and we happened to have a photo of him in a tri–corn hat. (It has been a well–used purchase, since it is perfect for playing pirates too!) As I began to gather facts about the war and decide upon the topics that I wanted to include, I searched on the Internet for photographs and illustrations that captured those moments in time. To create the scrapbook pages, I used Graphics–Toolbox software. The easy–to–learn–and–use image editing tools allowed me to cut Tim out of one photo and place him into another, resize Internet images, create my own scrapbook layout, add photo corners, embellish with fancy borders, and incorporate detailed text. The following images show the finished product. To learn step by step how to do it yourself, watch the tutorial video at www.greatsoftwaretools.com/mavista/upload/american_patriot.mp4.

These scrapbook pages were designed to be 8 inches square, so that they could be printed on a home color printer. If you have a wide–format printer, you can create larger layouts. I also used card stockweight, double–sided, photo–quality paper and printed on both sides, so that the final pages could be bound like a book.

Images that we find on the Internet are generally low–resolution or very small in size. The resizing function in Graphics–Toolbox is excellent for enlarging photos and maintaining the best possible image quality. Most Internet images can be enlarged to create 8–inch layouts in an acceptable print quality.

Research about the Boston Massacre 1shows that the illustration by J. E. Taylor, used in Scrapbook Page 2, is not the depiction that Paul Revere chose to publicize in the newspapers. He altered many details in the scene in order to dramatize the event and further incite anger among the colonists. I included Revere’s propaganda illustration on Page 3 with the journaling of the event. Tim’s entry reads:

Whoever would have thought that my trip to Boston in March of 1770 would have made me witness to one of the most famous events in history? On the evening of March 5th, I was walking home from my uncle’s house and I saw an angry crowd gathered in front of the Customs House. Tension was high between the colonists and the British soldiers and the rumor is that some young boys began teasing the soldiers and a large crowd formed. I heard them challenge the soldiers to shoot, but the scene was very chaotic and before I realized what was happening, shots were fired and a black man was dead on the street. More shots were fired and in the end 6 colonists were dead. It was terrible and very frightening to witness.

What was very confusing, however, was the picture that appeared in the Boston papers over the next few days. Paul Revere created an engraving of that terrible night, but it was very different than the event that I witnessed. He shows it to occur during the day and the soldiers are lined up shooting into the crowd. The first man killed appears to be a colonial man, when in fact it was a former slave named Crispus Attucks. The image in the papers enraged the colonists all across New England and it seems like they may never be satisfied to live under British rule again.

Imagine being surrounded by the Fathers of American Independence! When Tim can actually see himself in that scene, it helps him imagine what it would be like to be part of that historic event. After more research, I decided to highlight three of those participants on the opposite page.

Tim’s journal entry about the experience reads as follows:

Consider these additional topics that could be used in your personalized My Life as an American Patriot Revolutionary War scrapbook:

  • What the soldiers ate and drank
  • Weapons
  • Battles, e.g., Battles of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, Battle of Trenton
  • Clothing/ Uniforms—both American and British
  • Salary
  • Landscape/environment
  • Weather conditions
  • Transportation
  • Medical care and facilities
  • American leaders, e.g., General George Washington, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, Captain John Paul Jones
  • Allies and their leaders, e.g., Lafayette from France, Von Stuben from Prussia, Kosciuszko from Poland
  • The role of women
  • Government leaders/Continental Congress

I am privileged to admit that I was part of the group of brave patriots that signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. It was an honor to be in the presence of Thomas Jefferson, 2 the author of this important document. He composed it with common sense and eloquence and I feel that it truly reflects the feelings of our citizens.

As you know, our lives have been threatened by the Crown. There are large rewards issued for our capture, but John Hancock reflected true bravery by signing his name very large and clear at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. I heard him say, “I want the British ministry to be able to read this without spectacles!” 3

Our final Revolutionary War scene shows Tim with George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette, America’s famous French ally. Tim’s closing remarks read as follows:

After our victories in Trenton and Princeton, we experienced great challenges maintaining a forceful army under difficult circumstances. The constant threat of the British was worsened by the smallpox and jaundice epidemics that were attacking our camps. The army did not have enough money to pay the men or enough food to feed them.

On July 31, 1777, General George Washington was introduced to Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobleman who volunteered to help the colonial forces. Congress appreciated his patriotism and commissioned him a Major General. He was a young man of only 19 years, but he became a close companion of Gen. Washington and rode at his side on parade and into battle. I had the pleasure of meeting Lafayette at Washington’s home where he lived with his top military aides. They showed each other great respect and stayed good friends long past the war and until Washington’s death. 4

Our last battle was in Yorktown, Virginia. We took the Redcoats by surprise; they thought our army had moved on to New York. Our French allies attacked by sea and our combined Continental and French forces on land bombarded them with our guns. The 3–week siege ended with the British commander, Charles Lord Cornwallis’ surrender on October 19, 1781.

Independence at last!

For the back cover, I chose to create a timeline of the events in the scrapbook, extracting sections of the images that included Tim and aligning them with the dates and titles of each event. Using colors from the appropriate scrapbook page, this visual aid sums up the project with a math lesson. The students mark the first and last events and calculate where the events in between would fall.

I hope that this project stimulates your children’s interest in studying history, and I hope that you will encourage them to create a scrapbook of their own.


  1. dsc.discovery.com/guides/history/unsolvedhistory/bostonmassacre/photogallery/slide_03.html
  2. www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/story-surrounding-jefferson-and-declaration
  3. www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/hancock.htm
  4. www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/washington_main.html

Related projects that are also idea for digital time travel lessons:

  • Compare a historical war to a contemporary war, e.g., weapons of the Revolutionary War compared to weapons used in Iraq, the role of women in each of the wars, and clothing worn by the soldiers of each of the wars.
  • When showing comparisons between past and present, the child can use his photo in both scenes and write from a historical perspective as though the individual was one of his own ancestors.
  • Create a timeline showing the personalized photos and dates of the selected events.
  • Study non–U.S. wars and hostilities elsewhere in the world, e.g., civil wars in Asia, revolutionary uprisings in Africa, and the Cold War.
  • Create personalized scrapbook pages after researching subjects other than wars, e.g., famous people past and present, faraway places like the Egyptian pyramids or the Great Wall of China, and places with extreme weather conditions, such as Antarctica or the Sahara Desert.
  • Incorporate digital time travel into Biblical study: embark upon Noah’s famous cruise, join Moses in his travels, and journey with Jesus as one of His disciples.
  • Use photos from field trips to create digital time travel projects.

Lynda Holler worked in NYC’s fashion industry for twenty–five years before founding Great Software Tools, LLC and developing the easy–to–learn–and–use Graphics–Toolbox software. Four years ago, her 9–year–old son asked to learn Graphics–Toolbox, and Lynda learned how valuable a tool it is for education. Lynda is passionate about making Graphics–Toolbox available to homeschool families, giving them the tools they need to learn, create, and think visually with twenty–first–century technology. You can download the free 30–day trial of Windows–based Graphics–Toolbox software from the Great Software Tools website at www.greatsoftwaretools.com. Then watch the tutorial video mentioned above to learn how to create a variety of interesting pages.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.