Stepping Away from the Textbooks to Teach HistoryAdena Foster
History was one of my least favorite classes when I attended public school because it consisted only of reading a textbook full of dates and completing endless worksheets. Boring. When I decided to homeschool, I knew there had to be a better way. I knew that my main goal — to instill a love of learning in my children — could not be accomplished with rote memorization and fill-in-the blank worksheets.
While I do not have a problem with textbooks in general, I do believe that you can adding extras makes learning more enjoyable. Whether you use a textbook or not, I hope that some of these ideas will encourage you to step away from traditional learning and engage in studying history in a way that will add an element of fun in your homeschool.
Read about History with Fiction
When my daughters were younger, we incorporated the American Girl books into our studies. We experienced the Revolutionary War with Felicity and World War II with Molly. If it weren’t for these fictional girls, my own daughters would have balked at having to study about wars. After American Girl doll books, we moved onto incorporating Royal Diaries series and My America.
When my boys were old enough to be included in our homeschool, they enjoyed series that showcased young boys. For a child, being able to relive a historical event through the eyes of another child, makes that time period relatable. And isn’t that what history is all about —being part of someone’s story? Historical fiction, also referred to as living books, allows you to experience history firsthand.
Here are some of our favorite historical fiction series (affiliate links):
- American Girls (We prefer the historical series over the American Girl Today series.)
- Royal Diaries
- My America
- My Name is America
- Magic Tree House
See History with Films and Documentaries
When it comes to watching films and documentaries to enhance your history studies, you really have to take the child’s age and attention span into account. While I love a great documentary, my kids can only sit through a few minutes before they get distracted. However, as they matured, they could glean more from them and documentaries become a good addition. When they were younger though, they would beg to watch some of the films and television shows that I allowed, not even realizing that it was “school.” While you might enjoy some of these through streaming services, I usually purchase the DVDs so I know they are always available can be taken on road trips.
These are some of our favorite shows (affiliate links):
I can’t write about how we include videos in our homeschool without mentioning You Tube. This is perfect for those with very short attention spans. It’s best to search exactly what you are looking for, and I recommend previewing each video to verify that it is suitable for your family. History Teachers is one channel we watch for the funny parody songs about famous people and time periods.
Taste History with Recipes
It never really occurred to me to include recipes in our homeschool until we studied of the states of America. At that time, I found a cookbook with a recipe representing each state. When we moved onto world geography the following year, I searched for global recipes that represented different cultures that we studied. There are also cookbooks that focus on time periods. Did you know that they made johnny cakes were made by the early settlers and carried in their saddlebags during long journeys? My grandmother told me that rice was often mixed in with scrambled eggs to make enough to feed the entire family.
Here are a few history or geography themed cookbooks to get you started (affiliate links):
- The Mystery of History Volume II Cookbook
- Eat Your Way Through the USA
- The United States Cookbook
- Eat Your Way Around the World
- The US History Cookbook
- Stories and Recipes from the Great Depression (there are five books in this series)
- American Girl Collection also has cookbooks for each of the original girls.
Experience History with Field Trips
I love to wrap up every study with a field trip if I can find one that complements what we studied: battlefields, Indian Mounds , and outdoor drama, for example.
Not every field trip has to be elaborate. Recently, we visited a cemetery. It was free, and we learned a lot. We challenged each other to find the oldest tombstone or the person that lived the longest. The oldest gravestone I have ever found was almost smooth from exposure to the elements and had the barely visible inscription, “Soldier died during Indian War.”
During our searching, we found a family in which all of the children died within three months of each other. After research, we learned there was a battle nearby during that time period. We discussed reasons for their death. Perhaps they died due to a shortage of food and medicine, or maybe they were killed by enemy soldiers.
There are myriad ways to explore history; these ideas are merely to get you started. I haven’t even touched on making period costumes or interviewing older adults for firsthand accounts. The point is to supplement your history textbook with a variety of avenues to learn.
photo credits: Unsplash