“But how do you teach history?”
“Do you mean you don’t use a curriculum at all?”
These are common questions I get when I call myself an unschooler. But, but, but… I have to remind the people asking – I’m a classical unschooler. There’s a difference.
The difference is I see the benefit in some memorization. I let my children explore and learn things that interest them on their own. They are not bogged down with busy work. I let them be bored. A lot.
But perhaps nowhere else is our style more obvious than when it comes to the study of history.
This is how.
I insist that we get a good framework established. This means learning – yes, memorizing – a good timeline. As Susan Wise Bauer writes in The Well Trained Mind, it means beginning at the beginning of written history, not in the middle. History is a narrative, after all.
In the elementary years, we spend time singing and memorizing key historical events. I’ve found the Classical Conversations CD indispensable for this. We simply listen to it in the car in bits and chunks. For those of my children (hi, middle child!) who do not like to sing, we use the flashcards.
Once the timeline is established, we color it in.
It took us about a year to memorize the entire timeline. The next year, we broke it up into chunks. It was time to delve deep into it now. So we began reading A Little History of the World by E. M. Gombrich.
While reading a few pages at a time, I pull out world maps and a paper timeline we have as well. The more connections the children make, the more mental hooks they have to remember and to make sense of the world.
And after this? I leave them alone.
They can explore whatever they want in the library. Because no matter what period they pick up, they know where it fits. They can make sense of the narrative.