True confession time: I love history. I love history so much that I have a degree in it! The majority of the books in my personal library are historical studies, biographies, or historical fiction. I drool at historical sites and always work at least two into our vacations. And, I took over 50 hours of history classes in college and loved every minute (except the US Civil War, yuck!). So, when I started homeschooling, I was sure my history love would have passed directly to my children via genetics, exposure when they were young, and a little luck. No dice. Out of my three children, only one loves all things historical. My other two are science and math lovers and don’t get excited or passionate about studying the past nearly as much as they are when I say the words “experiment” or “equation.” That’s why I developed my hands-on history approach, to unlock the world of the past for my history lovers and leavers alike. If you’re wondering how to make history fun for your homeschoolers, look no further. This proven method will have your students begging to study the past in no time!
5 Steps to Making History Fun
Step 1: Take a readers approach. We start each history or social studies unit with our noses in a few good books. Choose fiction and non-fiction alike based on what you’re studying. Giving your students a familiarity with what you’ll be studying is a great way to get them on board and excited about learning more. I always start off with fiction because it draws my learners into the topic without them knowing it (mom win!). I like to move on to biographies and autobiographies once we are well into the unit to give a human element and experiential understanding. I like to end with reflective essays, poems, etc. written during the period or just after. This encourages critical thinking and leaves the door wide open to literature lessons based off of our historical studies, a variable two for one! This is my go-to list for historical fiction based upon the time period. I could spend hours just finding books for my kiddos to dive into!
Step 2: Focus on broad concepts and themes, not dates and time periods. As a child, I thought I hated history when I was in elementary school because all we seemed to study were events and dates. It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I discovered my love of history at the hands of, you guessed it, a gifted teacher. My 6th-grade history teacher focused on the people and themes of each era we studied, making the topics and people easier for me to understand (and memorize!) and more interesting. If we want our children to love history and to make history fun, we should teach it in a way that will engage their minds and their hearts. We do this by making it about people, about thoughts and ideas, about choices and consequences, not about dates and events! When I teach history, I focus mainly on the concepts and themes within the period and less on the small facts and minutia. What’s more important, that your students understand the causes and outcomes of WWI, or memorize every battle, general, and important event? By the time your learners get into the middle and high school, they will be able to identify the major themes for you if you’ve taught in this manner. This level of critical thinking will serve your children throughout their entire educational career.
Step 3: Make history active. At the start of each unit I remind my children of who we are, we are history explorers, navigators, and conquerors. Our goal is to explore how we, humans, behaved during the period we’re studying. Why? Because who doesn’t want to be an explorer? And, history is about human beings; our choices and feelings, our food and dress, our literature and hobbies. Study all aspect of human studies when you’re doing a history unit and your lessons will be so much fun! Insert cooking, art, poetry, dancing, biographical studies, maps, and more to keep your students busy and engaged. And DO what you are studying! If you’re analyzing poetry written by the Greeks, try your hand at writing poetry in that style. Are you studying the Renaissance? Be sure to visit an art gallery and then create paintings or sculptures inspired by your favorite artists. Make food from each region and time period you tackle. Dress up and put on dramas based on the historical fiction or biographies you’re reading. History comes alive when you live it!
Step 4: Ditch the curriculum. You heard me right, throw that curriculum right out of the window. If you want to make history fun, you most likely won’t be using a textbook! Find a history overview book as your guide for each unit and then focus on unit studies, allowing your students to dive into the topics that interest them instead of being bored by a textbook. I love Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer for younger students. Older students can choose a guiding reader from the library (just remember to discuss bias) or from the “Spines and Overviews” section of this great list. Start with the creation and move forward studying each time period, maps, and civilization with all your children at once using your overview book as a guide and then exploring the topics that interest each student in unit studies. You won’t need the textbook if you’re using your library card, the internet, and your local area. Find museums, historical sites, and historians near you that can shed light on topics. Trust me when I say you’ll be so thankful not to have a textbook or curriculum to tie you down when you’re exploring history!
Step 5: Don’t try to cover it all, but explore what matters to you. Studies show that we only remember the parts and pieces of history that interest us. So, feel free to focus on what interests you and your students! If you’ve adopted step 4 and ditched the curriculum, it will be easier for you to let go of the need to cover everything in a unit. This way you’ll be exposing your students to the important concepts, events, and people through the guiding reader and allowing them to chart their own history course through unit studies. This will give them deep pockets of knowledge, yes, but who says that should be a bad thing! When your students reach high school, you may choose to use a curriculum but, even then, resist the urge to focus on dates and events and get through the entire book. Instead, choose to allow your student to read through each chapter and then pick a focus that interests them to explore. They’ll learn to love history because it will be about what matters to them and you’ll be thankful for the easy-going attitude you’ve adopted.
History is a word that should bring a smile to everyone’s face. As a history teacher and lover, I truly believe it is possible for all our students to love history and want to dive into each unit with joy and excitement. Follow these steps to create lifelong history lovers and explorers in your home! For some history lessons you can teach at home, view our first blog in the series: What in the World?