The other day, I was wandering around Barnes and Noble as I often do. I had just got my Educator Card qualifying me for a 20% discount with every purchase (which you should get, by the way! Use your HSLDA card as your teacher ID as a homeschooler) and was itching to use it. I headed over to the children’s section to see what I could find to include in our curriculum.
I made quite a startling discovery. While there were innumerable stories, workbooks and other imaginative books for children I realized the collection of real stories – history, biography – which I love to teach and learn – stopped with early readers.
Does that surprise you? It certainly surprised me. How do children learn history, then? I found myself thinking. Through heavily regulated textbooks, which zap all the fun and character and life out of it? And who controls what goes into them? And when they do, how insipid is the end result?
A Different Way
I have written in the past about how I teach history. But that has changed a bit since the children have gotten older. As of today, you could say that our love of history has deepened.
Not only do we prize studying it, we also use it as a springboard for other things in the curriculum. To cite an example, since we currently find ourselves in the ancient world in our cycle of history, we try to relate geography and much of our literature on the same period.
I find that this kind of layering gives all of us a deeper appreciation of the times we are studying. Imagine my surprise then when stores keep books upon books of imaginative literature and nothing that is real.
Some Inexpensive Resources
Here are a few things we use to deepen and enrich our experience of learning.
A good timeline
When Dr. Jay Wile (who has recently written a Science curriculum for homeschoolers from a historical perspective) was teaching his daughter, he said he started with a timeline and simply went over the most important events of those years and had his daughter research them. He still believes those simple assignments were what got her into the college of her choice. But I digress.
I like timelines because they put everything into perspective not just for me but it also gives the children mental hooks on which they can now begin placing details and events. I have a huge timeline I bought from Amazon or some such place years ago. Imagine my joy then in seeing the children poring over it.
The great thing about living books for history is that they are almost always inexpensive. Since most are not politically correct, they are relegated to the far reaches of electronic media and are not to be found in print. Check out Google books, and my personal favorite Heritage History for great living books to use along with your timeline.
Documentaries and Other
I love a good historical documentary, even if it is not accurate. History is fraught with problems and its retelling can be notoriously biased toward the teller. I want my children to know this from an early age, so I will usually stop the documentary to tell them what I know and why the information presented is inaccurate. They are not in the least bothered by this.
However, to be able to do so, your perspective has to grow as well. For this, I unequivocally recommend Susan Wise Bauer’s History books. These are written for adults. There are three thick volumes, encompassing the history of the ancient world, the medieval world and the Renaissance. I also pretty much recommend every historical documentary that captures your interest. The more you know, the more you retain.
Finally, a caveat. I had been firmly against memorizing in the past, but I’m beginning to see the beauty of it. I didn’t see the need to memorize dates, but as I’ve introduced some to the children and they’ve started to memorize them, I see them trying to establish relationships between them.
While this skill won’t be perfected and used until their later years, I like giving them the tools to form a definitive guide in their minds, so that unlike me, they don’t have to look everything up. There is plenty to learn but it’s nice to have mental pegs to hang information picked up along the way; the more mental pegs, the more information.