Why do your children need “Hamilton” in their lives? It’s true that the musical — a biopic of U.S founding father Alexander Hamilton — is almost three hours long and tackles a variety of adult themes: war, government, sex, deceit, murder. It’s also, however, a great entry point into American history.
While it may not be our history - the music and depth this music has is more than enough to be entertained and indulge in the history.
Listening to George Washington (portrayed by Christopher Jackson) sing “We are outgunned! Outmanned! Outnumbered! Outplanned!” can help kids begin to grasp the struggle of the American Revolution. When Hamilton and Lafayette declare, “Immigrants — we get the job done!” and high five, you’ve got a window to talk about where United States citizens immigrated from.
Start with the soundtrack
Obviously, you’re not going to spent $416 for a ticket to “Hamilton” for your seven-year-old as an introduction. If your children love music, however, there’s a song for every kid in this soundtrack. There’s “Helpless,” a sweet R ‘n’B jam that sounds like an Ashanti and Ja-Rule song.
“You’ll be Back” could’ve been a Beatles song. “Schuyler Sisters” is just begging for a Destiny’s Child remake. And, of course, the anthemic “Battle of Yorktown,” which will have your children trying to rap as fast as they can.
There are many amazing live performances of “Hamilton” on YouTube that your kids can watch.
Point out places named after the founding fathers
Names on the map came alive for my son once he heard them in the songs of the musical. Weehawken, New Jersey is one of the top three places he wants to visit because it’s where Hamilton and his nemesis Aaron Burr had their fateful duel.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t live on the East Coast, though. We live in California and he perks up whenever we come upon a street, building or city named after one of the founding fathers.
Buy Revolutionary War costumes to play “dress up”
My son’s interest in history began as a kindergartener when his school did a play on the 13 colonies. That interest had more to do with wearing a funny white wig and carrying a musket than learning actual events. However, once he started listening to “Hamilton,” he wanted a costume from the Revolutionary War so he could pretend to be Hercules Mulligan.
He would wear it every day while singing “Battle of Yorktown.” Once, I caught him play-acting George Washington and Hamilton’s song “One Last Time” using a $US10 bill and a $US1 bill, as if they were toys.
Read them interesting books on the American Revolution
Once your kids are familiar with the characters of the American Revolution, they’ll want more stories. Some of the best include the “Who Was?” series, which tell the stories of a variety of historical figures, including the founding fathers.
Also check out the graphic novel series “Hazardous Tales” by Nathan Hale, as well as a personal favourite, “Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies,” which tells the stories of female patriots who didn’t make it into the history books.
Finally, take them to the live show
I’d never seen my son as excited for a live performance of anything in his life as when we saw Hamilton in Chicago. For months prior, he had listened to the soundtrack, read books, and seen countless YouTube videos on repeat. Despite the difficult themes, Hamilton has had a really positive effect on my son.
He knows he’s from immigrant stock; he is excited for his piano lessons because he wants to write a musical; and he now has an understanding of American history that goes way beyond the printed page.
Sure, it contains explicit language and themes. (You can always skip the song “Say No to This,” where Hamilton is “lured” into having an affair.) But even contextualizing that language through the musical—and explaining why they’re for adults only—can turn it into a teachable moment.
If you’re already a fan, the best part about your kids loving Hamilton is that you can enjoy it together. Even if the musical isn’t entirely historically accurate, at the very least you can tell your children why this guy is on the $US10 bill.