Five Fun Ways to Learn History Outside of a TextbookLeah Courtney
I’ve been studying American history this year along with my younger children in fifth and sixth grades. It’s true that we can open a textbook and read about history, and I do use a textbook as the spine of our learning. But I also like to expand what we’re learning and use other methods. I’ve found that this combination of reading a portion in the textbook and then incorporating other methods and ideas can really cement the learning we’re doing.
Read Living Books
Although I do believe that textbooks can be useful, too much textbook reading often becomes dry and tedious for us. And I find myself reading off lots of information that just doesn’t stick with my children. But when we incorporate living books that have an interesting story line and are rich with details and descriptions, we all pay more attention and learn more.
Well written historical fiction that takes place during the time period we’re reading about can really make the time period come alive. It’s one thing to read facts about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims from the textbook. But when we pick up a historical fiction story about children who lived on the Mayflower, we now have context for the information we’ve been learning.
Check out Illuminations for literature rich history lesson plans.
Besides historical fiction, primary sources make great reading to add to the textbook reading we’re doing. When we learned about the Mayflower Compact, we read a portion of it. We’ve read essays written by people who lived at various times in history or poems that were written during a war or a battle. Reading these primary sources give us a glimpse of the time period from someone who was actually there instead of just reading words in a textbook.
Showcase Your Knowledge
I have found that my children learn the most when they are preparing to showcase their learning in some way. A test with multiple choice or true/false questions isn’t a very interesting way to showcase what they’ve learned. But when I let them choose a more active way to demonstrate what they’ve learned, they usually put more effort into it. There are so many possibilities for letting kids show learning through a project. The best fit usually depends on the interest of and abilities of each child. Here are just a few of the ways we’ve used to let kids show what they’ve learned.
- Write and produce a scene or short play based on an event in history that we’ve been reading about.
- Draw a picture of a historic event.
- Create a diorama. Use a shoe box as a backdrop to create a scene from history.
- Write a newspaper. Pretend you’re a reporter at the time period you’ve been reading about. Write an article that will tell the major events that have been happening.
- Create a LEGO reenactment. Use LEGO figures and pieces to create and act out a scene from history. (If you really want to get creative, film the LEGO figures using a stop motion technique.)
- Make your own museum. When we studied Pocahontas in American history, my girls each made a variety of things using items we had around the house to represent events in her life. We set these items up around our dining room table like a museum, and the younger girls were tour guides for the older siblings, telling them about each display.
Cook Around the World and Through Time
I will be the first to admit that I’m not a great cook. But, even with my limited abilities, we’ve enjoyed using cooking as we’ve learned about different people groups or time periods in our history studies. We’ve taken recipes from various countries that we’ve studied. For instance, when we studied people of the Middle East, we made flatbread. We’ve also toured the United States making well-known recipes and favorite foods from various states.
Cooking from a different time period can also be fun. When we studied the Roman Empire we looked up information about popular foods and recipes that the Romans ate. We prepared a whole Roman feast complete with costumes and invited grandparents over to share our feast.
Use Arts and Crafts
I think one of the most fun hands-on ways to study history or cultures is to use art and crafts from the time period or place you’re studying. Even kids who aren’t particularly creative naturally can learn much from arts and crafts that correspond with an area of study. Often I simply search for projects online based on the time period we’ve been studying. I can almost always find some creative arts and crafts projects that we can do.
One of my favorite resources for finding arts and crafts for different peoples and cultures is the book Global Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Jean Potter. This book is divided by continent and has several different projects for people groups that live on those continents.
Take a Field Trip
One of the great benefits of homeschooling for our family has been the freedom and flexibility to travel or even to take day trips when costs are less and other people are in school. Field trips can be an excellent way to learn first hand about a historic event or place. There are big field trips- such as trips to Washington D.C. or Williamsburg, Virginia-that can make for a fun family vacation. But you can also check out your local area for trips to living history farms or nature museums that might have information about the history of your area.
Recently I came across an awesome resource for learning American history with trips to historic places. The National Park service website offers a Teaching With Historic Places site. It’s a wealth of information that will help you choose great places around the United States to visit when you’re learning about different historical events.
A textbook can be a good beginning source as we learn about history. But when we combine other fun methods with our textbook reading, we often learn even more.