In this enlightening episode of "Parenting in the Digital Age," we sit down with Barbara Ann Mojica, a seasoned educator, historian, and author, who brings the past to life for children through her charming Little Miss History series. Barbara shares her wisdom on how historical knowledge can empower modern parenting, offering a treasure trove of insights on nurturing informed, critical-thinking young minds in an era saturated with digital distractions. Join us as we discuss the pivotal role history plays in understanding our present and shaping our children's future, and uncover practical tips for integrating timeless lessons into everyday learning. Whether you're battling screen time, seeking conversation starters, or simply looking to inspire a love of history in your family, this episode is a must-listen for parents navigating the digital landscape with an eye on the past.
Hello parents and welcome to Parenting in the Digital Age, the podcast where we delve into the unique challenges and opportunities of raising children in today's fast-paced tech-driven world. Each episode features conversations with experts and thought leaders who provide actionable insights and practical guidance for navigating life as modern parents. In today's episode, I'm excited to welcome Barbara Anne Mojica, a renowned author, educator and parent, whose work uniquely combines history with children's education.
Barbara has dedicated her career to inspiring, entertaining, and educating youth using history as a cornerstone. With her whimsical Little Miss History character, she makes learning about the past a delightful adventure and firmly believes in the importance of understanding history to make sense of today's world.
Barbara, welcome to the show. Tell me, just start off by telling our listeners a little bit about what you do and what you are passionate about.
Barbara Mojica (00:10.334)
Okay, well I am a parent. My two children are now grown. I am a grandparent. I have six grandchildren. I am a teacher. I spent 40 years in education, started teaching at the age of 20, and I spent many years working with kids in the general population in elementary school, and then I
became aware of slowly over time, and I probably should have gotten out of it even sooner, but I became more and more aware that so many kids weren't being reached and that they needed a different kind of education tailored to their needs. So I went back to school, masters again, and went into special education.
And from there, I taught special education, both one-on-one and with small groups of children, very, very severely disabled children, autism, crack cocaine babies, physical disabilities. And then eventually I became the director of a special ed school, and I began to coordinate the actual curriculum and programs and wound up
a school district administrator in a very large school district in New York City. And in that case, I was actually developing the programs for special needs kids. So I kind of achieved my ultimate ambition of tailoring education specifically to a child's needs. But I think that needs to be done in the general education system as well.
And right now here in the States, we have the Common Core curriculum, which is kind of a one size fits all. We teach to the test, you meet an arbitrary standard and that does not take into account so many of the learning styles of kids, the cultural needs of kids, the language needs of kids. So I think we have to do a lot more in giving parents
Barbara Mojica (02:32.802)
the ultimate control over what their kids need, whether that be public education, homeschool, charter schools, vocational schools, whatever that be, I think parents need to have more control over it and not the government or not worrying about where the money source comes from. And then that determines the form of education you get.
Well said, there's so much to unpack there, Barbara. And particularly this notion of tailored education, something I strongly believe in and our listeners will know that, this notion of teaching A before B and B before C in this linear approach does not work for all kids. And I guess the challenge is how do you integrate that into the larger program? But it's funny, we'll have clients come in and...
the last question is like, yeah, but do you teach to the Australian curriculum? And I kind of say like, why would I teach to the Australian curriculum? It's designed to get a nation up to a minimum standard. Like we want to play up here with our curriculum. We want to help kids become leaders, innovators, critical thinkers, problem solvers. So I'm 100% with you on that. Let's talk for a little bit about how your journey as an educator led you to create your book series, Little Miss History Character.
Barbara Mojica (03:52.914)
Well, when I finally retired and decided I was going to get out of the formal education nine to three kind of system and even though I had been doing some individual work with children, seeing special needs children on a one-to-one basis, I wanted to relocate so I
that was part of my decision. So when I retired and moved from a city setting to a more rural setting upstate, I decided I, in about two weeks, that just sitting home was not gonna work with me, that I still wanted to be involved with kids.
I still wanted to be involved with parents. I still wanted to be involved with teachers. So I decided I was going to write a series of history books for children because history today, at least here in the States, is really not even taught until you get more or less into the high school level. And then it's very minimal, you know, a course in world history, a course in American history.
which is really just a bunch of dates and facts that kids learn to assimilate to pass the test and then forget about five minutes after they leave the testing room. So I wanted to make books that would entertain kids, that would inspire them and help them to think critically to...
use their brains to think about information, not just assimilate useless facts. So that's what I did and I wanted to make them
Barbara Mojica (06:03.65)
something that kids could see themselves in. So I decided to write a series of nonfiction books. Some of them are about very familiar iconic places here, all over, but a lot of them are in the States, places like the Statue of Liberty, which of course have a world focus as well, Mount Rushmore. But then I also included books that were more multidisciplinary.
like books involving national park sites. So I have a book on Sequoia National Park. We talk about the wildlife, we talk about the geology. We talk about the groups of people who settled there. The Native Americans were first and then other settlers came and explored. So I include in my books different focuses. So there are science.
There's geography. I have a book on the North Pole and that talks about climate. It talks about the explorers. It talks about people that were not widely known that went to the North Pole. Different minority groups that were ignored. It talks about the eight nations that claim land in the Arctic area. It talks about the animals. So again, we're hitting on all different focuses, but we also talk about problems.
in each of the books. And I asked the kids what they think and how they think some of these problems could be solved. So there's always that element of critical thinking. And how did the books come about? Well, you know, I wanted to write them and I wanted to make them fun. So my husband, who is an artist and an illustrator, developed this cartoon character.
little miss history who is based on a younger version of me and she kind of guides kids through all of the books. She is funny, she's quirky, and she kind of represents the typical kid. So they kind of, I believe, see a bit of themselves in her. So that really draws them into the experience.
Barbara Mojica (08:29.246)
And by developing this character who has a very optimistic view of the world, she wears these rose colored sunglasses and she always sees the glass half full. So I want kids to have the motivation to think that they can solve problems, that they are important because we are all a part of history. We are all characters in history and nothing happens in a vacuum.
The first questions that kids ask are, who am I and where did I come from and who is my family and where did they come from and what did they do and how did they live and what did they think? So I want them to become a part of that and that in turn develops the critical thinking in terms of their family, in terms of their friends, and in terms of their community.
the larger setting in which they learn as they grow that they are a part of and need to become action takers in that community. And then eventually, of course, as a part of the whole world. And I hope to give them some of the tools that will help them become thought leaders. And eventually...
they will become the leaders of tomorrow. So we want to give them a framework. And by studying history, we learn to understand how we got to where we are today. And then hopefully, by using critical thinking, we're going to be able to develop some kind of plan or framework for how we can do things better in the future. No, not saying, okay, we have some failures, but we have to teach children.
that failures are very important because we learn sometimes more from our failures than we do from our successes.
I love that. I think it's so important how you've incorporated that critical thinking element into your history narratives. And I don't remember who said it, but education should be about teaching less about teaching kids what to think and teaching them how to think. You know, that that.
Barbara Mojica (10:47.458)
how to think exactly. And that's what I feel public education today is largely failing at. I mean, I know here in the States, our standing used to be at the very top in terms of world educational systems. And now, we're well below number 20. And all of the effort, all of the time, all of the pressure and...
the increased emphasis on testing and the increased emphasis on administration. We now have more administrators, a lot more administrators than we do teachers. And these administrators, you know, aren't able to get into the classroom and understand the individual child and what that child needs.
And the teachers are kind of caught in the middle to a large extent. They're told, well, you have to teach this and you have to teach it this way. And, you know, they are very frustrated because they spend lots of time doing the paperwork and walking the walk, but they're not seeing the results. So that's why I believe we see an increasing number of teachers leaving the system because they're...
They're just so frustrated that they can't do the job that they want to do and achieve the outcomes for the kids that they want to achieve.
Yeah, yeah, it's definitely frustrating for talented and passionate educators in systems all around the world. How do you think understanding history can shape a child's perspective on current events?
Barbara Mojica (12:38.954)
Well, they can compare and they can contrast. I think when you study history, and again, this goes to critical thinking, someone who studies history has to be aware we want to apply critical thinking. So we want to focus on a problem or a situation. And then we want to...
look at the primary sources. So this is something that again is in sometimes direct contradiction with our social media today. How have primary sources changed? Well, a hundred years ago, primary sources consisted mostly of letters and journals and newspapers and things that could be verified as genuine to that person and that period.
And then of course, we had the connections, the people that they were connected with. And in the past, we could directly go to those people and we could study the sources and we could study their letters, their writings. But what do we have today? With social media, we largely have children and adults who are doing research.
go to the internet, they go to the internet, they type in a question. And when they type in that question, Google or Bing or whatever search engine it might be, spits out an answer. Now, generally, the child will take the first answer that they see on page one and say, oh, this is the answer to my question. Now having...
come from old school when I had to get my information from books, I had to go to the library, I had to get those primary sources, I had to compare them, I had to take notes, and then I had to go back, reread, study my notes, and put all of that information together to get some kind of conclusion. Or sometimes I wouldn't get one answer, I'd get many answers.
Barbara Mojica (14:59.03)
But that doesn't happen today. I mean, children, they go to the internet and again, some adults do the same thing. Oh, there's the answer. Now, of course the internet has the algorithms and they will present the information that is not unbiased. It may be skewed to a particular perspective, whether that be a political perspective or a corporate perspective, whatever that angle might be.
So we're not given genuine authentic information. So the communication part, and that's one of the things that historians study, they study the content, they study the context. What else was going on at this time? Well, that's not necessarily done with social media because we're given part of the picture. If we go on a social media outlet, the algorithm,
will determine what we see or don't see. And what our friends click on is going to be reinforced because we click on what our friends are saying. So it's kind of a snowball that keeps rolling and rolling and rolling. And we're constantly getting one side of the story.
with media, television.
Barbara Mojica (16:33.298)
news today isn't objective news because when we turn on the television we get panels of journalists who give their opinion on a topic. Sometimes we only get one opinion on the topic and again if you constantly watch the same kind of media outlet you're going to get the same kind of perspective.
So what happens? Eventually, you can't tell the difference between facts and opinions. And that's another very important thing that we have to reinforce with children. Teachers, but parents as well, have to teach children the difference between a fact and an opinion. Okay. And it's okay.
to see more than one side of the story. It's okay to have a different opinion. Even if your friends don't agree with you, you don't have to agree with your friends. And of course, so many kids feel pressured to agree with their friends because they want to fit in, they want to be popular. And in some cases, they might even be bullied if they have an opinion or their culture.
wants them to act differently from the majority of their friends. So it's really a dilemma. And in a lot of my, not only in my books, but in a lot of my teaching was I do have a YouTube channel and I bring kids information on critical thinking and things like this, you know, what's
What's a fact? What's an opinion? How can you tell the difference? I do many teaching lessons in different subjects, but I also do a lot of work on critical thinking and how they have to learn to distinguish these things. And if they want to become independent thinkers and they want to eventually be successful in any field, they're going to have to learn.
Barbara Mojica (18:56.302)
to think for themselves and not to be swayed by what one, what common popular trend is of the day on that particular subject.
It's interesting. Actually, I was just looking at the cover of your book here and thinking that make great cartoons as well as books. But I guess it's leading me to my next question is, we've got this whole generation of young kids who almost preferred digital media and many parents are finding it hard to get their kids to connect with books. What strategies would you recommend or what thoughts do you have on making history as well as other subjects more engaging for kids who prefer digital media?
Barbara Mojica (19:43.11)
Okay, well, I think that parents have to be the example here because of course, children learn what they live, right? So if the parent is on the phone 24-7, checking email, being, you know, on social media, it's kind of hard for them to expect the child to not to do the same thing and to say,
Well, you have to do your homework and then you can spend the rest of the night on social media. I think parents should be an example. Parents should let their kids see them read. Parents should read with their children. No matter how old a child is, reading aloud is a fun activity and that also promotes...
the opportunity for parents to ask those open-ended questions. A lot of parents are very busy. They're trying to juggle work and home and kids, but they don't realize that they're not using little opportunities to engage with their kids. So for instance,
By open-ended questions, I mean, never accept a yes or no answer, which is what kids say. What did you do at school today? Nothing. Yeah, yeah, it was good. Yeah, it was bad. Nothing. Ask them open-ended questions. And there are a lot of ways you could do that, like a couple of key words, like favorite. You can always ask them.
What was the favorite part of your day today? What was the favorite thing that you did with your friend? You know, what's your favorite book? What's your favorite holiday? What's your favorite time of year? Why? And you know, just giving them little nuggets of the opportunity to open up and things that they're interested or.
Barbara Mojica (22:05.858)
you know, what makes you feel happy or, oh, I noticed you have a frown on your face. What's making you feel sad today?
Barbara Mojica (22:18.646)
things, little things that you can do. You could do this when you're having a meal. You could do these kinds of things when you're in the car. You could do these kinds of things when you're at the store. You can look at signs or billboards and ask the child, well, what do you think about that? Do you agree with that?
You disagree with that. You know, make them express themselves. And kids just love to open up if you give them the opportunity to do that. And so many times parents are in such a rush that they don't. And it would take just as much time, you know, two minutes to ask them.
Barbara Mojica (23:14.754)
what was the favorite part of your day instead of saying, did you have a good day at school today? Were you gonna get the yes or the no? And setting those boundaries, like just starting with something simple, like maybe 20 minutes or a half hour a day that everybody puts their phones aside and just sits and talks.
And then gradually extending that, you know, and making it a little bit longer. And just having kids involved instead of being in their own little world, and social media kind of encourages them to do that because they're so used to being on the phone or on the computer clicking on something.
They're no longer socially engaged. They've lost so much. Of course, COVID did a lot to start that isolation with a lot of kids, but getting them involved with their passions, you know, whatever a kid is interested in, try to get them involved to do something outside of themselves, whether that's a sport or whether it's...
some other interest like music or art, but something that they can develop that will engage them with others. Maybe they'll learn a musical instrument and then they'll want to play at a school function or be in an orchestra or, you know, just getting outside of that kind of silo of, you know, well, here I am and...
I'm a part of a family, so I need to interact with these members of my family. When you take the child outside and you're walking around in the community, you could do things like encourage them to notice. The child's in the park and they see his broken swing. You could say to them, what do you see there as the problem?
Barbara Mojica (25:40.466)
you know, that's broken. Is there something that we could do about that? Could we write somebody and ask them to fix it? You know, or you see something that's been neglected and needs to be fixed. Even parents, as far as taking them with them to go to a meeting. If a parent goes to a meeting for a local town function or...
or even a school function, and the parent wants to speak about something, bring the child with you, and let the child see the process, and understand that they're just as important as the adult. They can be involved with issues like that, because today so many people are so uninvolved. Again, they're...
They just think that they're so busy, but we have to get back to that. We have to get ourselves to acknowledge, no man is an island. We're all part of this family. We're part of our local community. We're part of the local world. And if we want problems fixed, we can't rely on other people to do everything for us. So parents need to teach responsibility to kids, whether it's...
Thanks for watching!
Barbara Mojica (27:10.146)
you know chores in the house, things need getting done and we should all be a part of getting those things done or whether it's bigger than that outside in helping out with other members of the family or helping with other people in the community, volunteering, taking kids out and showing them how they can volunteer.
to help other people who have less than they do, or to help somebody who's in need, teaching them empathy, teaching them compassion for other people, and showing it yourself and giving an example for the child to follow.
So many important points in there. The one thing that really stands out to me is asking great questions. And one thing I learned many, many years ago is the quality of the question determines the quality of the outcome. You know, if you ask great quality questions and open-ended questions and curious questions, you get better answers, right, which is what you said. But asking those questions of our children or those around us teaches them to ask great questions.
And to me, that's one of the things that separates the innovators from the rest of the world. You know, the creators from the rest of the world. They just ask better questions. And that whole notion of the quality of question determines the quality of your outcome. Parents just need to get good at asking questions. And if you're not, I think there are books on asking great quality questions. But if nothing else, your advice on just asking great open-ended questions is a skill that will benefit kids as much as critical thinking.
So that's a point well made.
Barbara Mojica (29:01.354)
Yes. You could start with the basic, you know, who, what, when, where, and why, and how. You know, and another thing I like to do with kids is to give them wondering questions, like just noticing things and saying, I wonder, like going past an old house and saying, oh, I wonder who used to live there. And I...
I wonder if they ate the same things I did, or I wonder if school was like school today, or I wonder how they traveled from one place to another. I wonder what kind of clothes they wore. I wonder.
what the people they engaged with were like. Just giving them, again, the opportunity, wondering always kind of opens up kids to thinking about new possibilities.
I wonder what they did without social media. There's a question. Ha ha ha.
Barbara Mojica (30:14.298)
They didn't have it. I mean kids have a hard time even imagining what it was like not to have television, let alone, you know, you could 200 years ago, go back 200 years ago, no telegraph, no trains, no planes. It's like to them, it's like mind boggling.
Yeah, it's not that long ago in our history.
Barbara Mojica (30:44.73)
No, not that long ago. If you take like, even my grandparents, the changes that thing went through and now what's happening, the changes.
10 times faster than they were even 100 years ago.
Yeah, but the advancement of AI and quantum computing, I think we're living through the next, you know, something special at the minute. It has a potential to go many different ways, but it's a lock into the next industrial revolution or next technological revolution. Let's talk for a quick minute on how you see the future of history education or future education for that matter, evolving with technology. So it's a great segue for us, you know, like you're writing.
Barbara Mojica (31:23.776)
books which have a really important place. You know, how do you see the future of the classroom changing to perhaps give more tailored learning experiences? Do you see AI playing a big part or what tools are teachers likely to adopt? What's your view on all this technological advancement and how can it work with education?
Barbara Mojica (31:56.598)
Well, AI is definitely going to play a big part. Already, schools are using smart boards, and they're using all kinds of media technology. And that's one reason that I do the YouTube channel and have the visuals.
A lot of children do learn best with visual learning. And then again, a lot of children learn very well with auditory learning. So with the videos today, you have the ability to combine those two venues. But there are so many kids that are kinesthetic learners or that learn by...
Barbara Mojica (32:49.094)
sensory processes as well. So I think you know AI of course is going to be important but the danger is if the AI is not used as a secondary tool to enhance the critical thinking and the problem solving. If children become so
dependent on it that they just think that they can, you know, go into AI and get the answer they need to solve their homework and then copy it, we're going to be worse off than we are now. So we're going to have to put limits on it and it's going to have, it's going to be up to largely the teachers and the administrators to learn how to do it.
use it as the tool and not lose sight of the critical thinking. And we're going to have to develop a lot of controls on it. It's going to be very difficult because I can see it already snowballing and not that it isn't a great tool for providing different directions in critical thinking. You can
Barbara Mojica (34:17.782)
still have the ability to ask insightful questions and then taking additional information to use in developing your research and comparing and contrasting and getting different opinions. But you have to be very, very careful to screen to make sure that information is accurate. And when people just
go to AI and then take it, copy it, and paste it without checking the accuracy of that information because sometimes it isn't accurate. It's just taking bits and pieces of information from different places and putting it together. And the way sometimes that it's put together may result in some inaccuracies.
So the overall product might be kind of a cut and paste conclusion. So, you know, we have to be very, very careful with that. And especially with higher education, when you have people going into graduate school, it's going to be very tempting for them to...
just use AI to get all sorts of information, which the professors who are evaluating that are going to have a difficult time determining is all of this original or are they just
homing the internet for lots of research from different people and then putting it together to come to the conclusion that they want to form. Should we take the information at face value and then evaluate it? Yes, but if we're just taking that information and then trying to tailor that information to something that we want it.
Barbara Mojica (36:32.718)
to say, some conclusion that we want it to draw, then that's what I see is the real danger in using AI.
Yeah, it's a real multifaceted problem for educators. And we were in a school recently doing an incursion. And you can see the enthusiasm of the educators, they're really wanting to adopt the technology, but it's difficult. We've created an AI student companion tool for our own learning centers. And it's easier to do for something like mathematics, because we've programmed the AI to not give an answer, but to help them break down the problem.
Barbara Mojica (37:03.381)
We've programmed the AI to respond to certain inputs. So it teaches students to ask the right questions, to dig a bit deeper. And that's building their problem solving skills in those critical faculties. It's probably harder with something like literature or history. Anyway, it's gonna be interesting to see where that certainly evolves, but there's no question it'll play an important part. The question is positive or negative. We'll see how that unfolds. Now.
We're running really short on time and I really enjoyed our discussion today. But there's one question that I love to ask all of our guests as we wrap up the podcast and might be particularly interesting to a history teacher. If you had a time machine and you could go back to your younger self, Barbara, maybe to your 12 year old self, what is one piece of advice that you would share with your younger self?
Barbara Mojica (38:07.566)
going. I was always very into school, very into reading, very into studying. Not so social. And I think even though now I would consider myself very much social in terms of networking with people that I have never met before, being very open, being very willing to share with them.
I think I didn't do that as a child. I had only a couple of friends. I was kind of afraid of trying new things in terms of sports or you know developing new skills and I think I should have done more of that as a child and not that I don't do it now because
I'm very willing to try all kinds of different things, but I wasn't then. So I think in that sense, I narrowed myself. I was a little bit too academic and a little bit too much of a loner.
great advice and advice that many could take themselves. Where can our listeners find your books or how can they follow you on social media? Give us a few of those sites and we'll include them in the show notes.
Barbara Mojica (39:30.902)
Well, yeah, the best way to contact me is just to go to my website, which is www.littlemishistory.com. Little Miss History is the narrator who brings the children on the historical adventures. So if they go to that website, I have links that connect to everything there. So from that website, you can go to all my social media channels.
I have an extensive Pinterest board with all kinds of curriculum and resources for parents, teachers, and authors and children. I have a very active blog. I review children's books and help to find things that children are interested in. I also have tips for parents and teachers and authors on there.
They can click on YouTube and they'll go right to my YouTube channel and they can see all the different videos and resources that I have on YouTube. So I also have a direct chat there so they can click on chat and reach me directly or contact me through email. So the website is kind of like the one stop. They can see previews of the books. They can see where to obtain the books. They can see reviews of the books.
It pretty much has everything that they might be interested in, whether that be the books, the curriculum, advice, or resources.
Wonderful. We'll be sure to include that in the show notes. Barbara, thank you so much for your time and sharing your wisdom with us today. I hope we cross paths again in the future. Cheers and bye for now.
Barbara Mojica (41:18.502)
Okay, thank you so much. I enjoyed our conversation and I hope your listeners find something of value.
Likewise, take care.