Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Teach History (my way)

We are starting our homeschool on Monday.  (My oldest is going to public school part time this year and that starts tomorrow, but that's really beside the point.)

I know I haven't shared much about homeschooling on this blog.  It really hasn't been as high a priority as it should have been the last several months. (It's amazing how much kids learn even when there isn't much formal education going on... also beside the point.)

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to share some of my thoughts and ideas about how I homeschool.  I'm not trying to convince anyone to do it themselves; I've just found that a lot of people are curious about how it works.  I've been homeschooling for going on 10 years now (wow, really?) and if I'm not an expert on the subject... well, I probably never will be.

So, I thought I'd start with my favorite subject- history.  I know, I know, for most people that's near the bottom of the list.  It's a miracle I don't hate it.  I probably had the worst high school history teachers in- well, history.  Except one, I can't remember his name but he was the football coach at New Plymouth High School.  I loved his history class.

Anyway, I digress (again).  History is one of the easiest subjects to teach.  Why?  Well, because all it is is a bunch of true stories all strung together.  It's the textbooks and the teachers that make it boring.  Be honest with me, is it really that important to know the exact date Columbus reached the Americas or would it be better to know why he was out there wandering around in the ocean.  Of course, it's important to know a general timeline for major events- it's probably a good idea to be aware that he sailed in 1492 and not 1942.  But isn't it the adventure, the excitement, the wonder of the event that a child will remember?  They can learn the dates later, when they've got the stories down pat.

Have you figured out where I'm going with this?  The best way to learn history is to read about it.  And get this:  The books you read don't even have to be non-fiction!  Of course, you have to be aware that the historical fiction is not completely factual but in most cases, the people, places, and events give a pretty good picture of what that time was like.

The first of the Tennis Shoes books.
  I read this for the first time when
I was about 12.
Most of you have probably never heard of my favorite historical fiction writers because they are both LDS (Mormons, which I am).  One is Chris Heimerdinger and he wrote a series of books called the "Tennis Shoes" series in which characters travel back in time to various Book of Mormon and Bible locations and times.  They meet incredible people from history and witness events that we can only dream about.  The first book is for 11-12 year olds and each book in the series is a little more advanced reading than the previous. By the 11th one (so far), they get pretty deep.  I understand many of the scripture stories way better than I ever would have had I not read those books.

My point here is not necessarily to sell you on Chris' books (although I highly recommend them) but to illustrate just how great an impact good historical novels can have on one's understanding of history.  Of course, reading some of the non-fiction is a good idea as well, just to clear up any question about whether certain events really happened.

Now, all of this isn't to say that I just pick up school books that take place in another time at random.  There actually is a series, written for homeschoolers that we use that took me 8 years to find.  It's called "Story of the World."  The history of the entire world has been broken down into 4 years worth of lessons.  Each year is broken down further into major events, and those are broken down into individual stories.

We are studying Ancient Times this year...
A couple of times a week we read aloud one of the stories together.  They are easy enough for the youngest kids to understand but have enough "meat" to keep the older ones' attention.  I check out books from the library for more about the time period/place we are studying. (Everyone reads those on their own time.)  We have activities for the little kids, supplemental (required) reading for the middle ones, and research assignments for the older ones.

Of course, my enthusiasm for the subject probably helps a lot with being able to keep their interest but all in all, I think we've finally found what works for us in history.  Now, if I could just learn to love science...

I hope this wasn't too long-winded and that you were able to get something out of it.



  1. Great info! I will check out the books. Sons are montessori-ed, not homeschooled, but every resource helps in the end. Thanks

  2. Thanks! I think this info could help anyone who wants to improve their child's knowledge of history. The subject doesn't seem to be a very high priority in most public schools.