By Chelsea Muzar
History can be one of the most difficult subjects to teach. Not because it’s overly complicated, but because it’s massive. The story of humanity is vast, with recorded history spanning over 5,000 years! For any homeschool parent, teaching history can be intimidating. With thousands of years to review, where do you even start? And how do you make sure your child retains the information and learns the valuable lessons that history can teach us?
Radical Method: Ditch Ancient History (At First!)
Starting at the beginning of history means you’ll have to cover ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, India, China, Japan, and more, which leaves you back at square one. What if I told you there was an easier way to introduce history?
I can’t emphasize this enough:
Start local, and I mean local. Examine the traditions and history of your family. Share family recipes, holiday customs and folk sayings (common phrases you or your family members use to describe a person or situation). Encourage your child to participate in and investigate each of these customs.
Find Family History
To get your children really involved with learning, assign them the title of historical investigator. Their task is to trace the origins of something specific to your family. For example, where is the source of grandma’s award-winning sugar cookie recipe? Which country is the origin of your family last name? How far back can they trace their family tree?
One Step at a Time: From Family to Your Country’s Founding
Learning about their family’s history will help your children connect with the larger scheme of history and understand the importance of studying the past. Once you feel comfortable, you can expand your lessons to the history of your town or state, then of your country. For those of us in the United States, that’s studying our founding, the American Revolution, and onward.
That’s not all…
Now that we know where to start, that still leaves a few questions. Namely, how do you teach history, and how to do you keep your child engaged with the work?
1. Find Great Homeschool History Curriculum
Find a good, well-rounded curriculum. Many curriculums are out there, so picking the right one can be daunting. Some only provide you with a textbook, while others also include a teaching schedule, lesson plans and activities. Some provide videos, some are paired with games and some are entirely online.
How can you make things easier?
Do a bit of research to find out which one is right for your family. You can even have your child (or children) provide their opinions about which curriculum they like best. Here are a few curriculum suggestions to get you started:
Of course, there are many more curriculums you can explore, but those are some popular choices.
Once you find a curriculum that works for you, review any teaching guides, schedules, activities or lesson plans that came with the curriculum. If your curriculum doesn’t come with activities or lesson plans, you can find many suggestions online.
The best activities are the ones that get children involved with learning. Try to reenact a scene from the past or make historical foods and listen to historical music. You can also pretend to live in that time period and write a journal entry about an ordinary day.
2. Simplify for Students
Keep things simple. Start your dive into history by providing your students with a general idea of what they’ll be learning. It can be easy to go too narrow too soon. Summarize the time period they’ll cover and highlight the major events and people. Use an introductory activity, like a map or broad timeline to introduce topics to your students.
3. Make it Stick With Stories
Focus on the stories. History lessons can get bogged down by dates. Understanding the chronology of history is critical, but sometimes we focus so much on the dates that we forget many of the important events that happened.
To help your students remember these events and people, tell them the stories of history. For example, it’s nice to know the dates when General George Washington was born, when he became president, and when he died, but that doesn’t tell the story of who Washington was and what he accomplished.
4. Accent Learning With Activities
I love writing. So I don’t mind an essay about the crucial role women played during the American Revolution, but your students might not think it’s so great. Tailor your activities to fit your children’s likes and needs.
Are they artistic? Have them draw a political cartoon about King George III from a colonist’s perspective. Are they into games? Set up a board game that reviews important historical figures. Do they like sports? Have them try the drills of the Continental soldiers while you teach them about Baron von Steuben. These experiences are what your child will remember about the historical era you’re reviewing.
5. Help History Hop off the Page
Historical sites like national parks or museums are full of engaging activities that are fun and educational. The people who run historical sites are very knowledgeable about history. From what people wore to how they lived to the influences they had, all your questions can be answered by visiting a living history museum!
If you can’t visit a historical site, don’t fret! The internet can be a wonderful resource, and there are plenty of videos online that provide you with walkthroughs, history lessons and valuable information that you can watch from the comforts of your home.
6. Focus on Film
Use films! That’s right, good old movies can help your children learn about the past more than a lecture. It provides them with the visuals, audio and story to keep them interested and excited about history. And don’t fret about these films being too much for young viewers, there are services for that! Companies like VidAngel can remove offensive materials from film and television.
But what about the accuracy of some of these films? If you don’t want to risk misinformation, then stay away from historical fiction and watch documentaries.
Afraid your child will get bored hearing historians being interviewed? Then check out some historical cartoons! Liberty’s Kids is a wonderful cartoon about the American Revolution that tells the story from both sides. There are plenty of film, television, cartoon and documentary resources that you and your children can explore.
7. Review Facts and Relics
There’s so much going on in history that it’s easy to forget what you’ve already learned! It’s important to review information with your students. And no, I’m not talking about constantly testing your children.
Reviews can be a number of different things. They can be games, projects, or, my favorite, stories! Having your students retell a historical event in their own words will really show you how much they’ve learned from their lessons.
These tips are only the beginning of your journey to teach history. The more you teach, the more you’ll learn about what works for you and your children. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to join online communities, forums and newsletters, and to have fun!
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Chelsea Muzar works as a content writer and editor for Historical Conquest. She has her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Students retain 10 percent of what they learn in lectures, 20 percent from reading, and 30 percent from audio and visual learning. Historical Conquest has been reported to help students retain around 70 percent of information they receive from their products.