Timelines bring the world into perspective. When I first started memorizing a timeline with my kids, I marveled at how history came to life for me. While I see the value of keeping a timeline in your homeschool, often times I have a hard time fitting it into our schedule.
original photo credit, used with permission :: Embark on the Journey
Most of the time I struggle because I’ve over-complicated the matter. It is as if I assume that if the format or aesthetic of the timeline isn’t perfect, then somehow the timeline won’t be effective. I’ve learned that more often than not, simple works much better than nothing. Here are five ways I try to make things more difficult than they need to be:
1. Timelines Don’t Need To Be Beautiful
I know that Pinterest has some amazingly beautiful timelines out there made by creative kids, but the function of a timeline is intended to help one relate events in time around the world, not be a fine art piece in your school room. Focus on the function.
If you happen to have creative kids that want to make a beautiful timeline, that is wonderful. However, if it doesn’t fit in your plan, don’t force it. Keep timeline making about making timelines. The beauty will be drawn out in their observations and insights. That’s what really matters.
Let them write in the timeline—even if their handwriting is hard to read and they are prone to misspelling. There are so many ideas for making fun timelines, but it can even be as simple as a pocketbook timeline (I love this idea).
2. You Don’t Have to Include EVERY Event
It is so challenging to not get timeline happy. You know the struggle, right? If every date you run across in all of your studies was added to a timeline, you would have an incredible resource. That would also add precious time of study to every subject in a day. You might not get the laundry done, or dinner on the table, but you’d have one robust timeline of facts.
Keep it simple by just adding the (affiliate) main events. When you keep it simple, you build a manageable framework with which to relate any other event. You don’t need to record every event because that isn’t the purpose of creating a timeline. That, and there isn’t enough paper in the world to record every event that has ever happened across the globe.
3. You Don’t Have to Include EVERY Historical Figure
This idea follows the previous one. What really makes someone a “historical figure” anyways? If we say that it is someone who lived in the past, then we would need to write down everyone. We might narrow down our definition to only people who have made significant contributions to wars, science, or ideas.
Keeping your list of characters simple will also keep your timeline manageable. It is okay if not every timeline has the same characters on it as another. Each timeline maker (your family) will resonate differently with certain heroes of history. Put meaningful people on your timeline, and your timeline will be meaningful.
4. You Don’t Need to Make a New Timeline Every Year
Unlike other subjects that you might start afresh each year, a timeline can be a tool that carries over from year to year. It doesn’t matter if one child was too young to understand the events you placed on the timeline when it was first created. Eventually you’ll fill one up and you can start again at that point.
By using the same timeline over the course of years of study, you will integrate the studies. When ideas start to connect, like how in 1789 George Washington became president of the United States and at the same time the French Revolution was underway, the world starts to be a unified whole. This observation helps students understand that there are consequences to ideas that can effect more than just their little bubble, but can send ripples throughout the world.
5. You Don’t Have to Work on It EVERY Day
Consistency doesn’t necessarily mean constantly. I consistently go to the dentist, but I’m not there every day. Some fields of study, like math, require daily practice for mastery. Others can survive and thrive with the occasional nod. Timelines are a perfect example.
If you’d like to create an elaborate timeline, jot ideas down in a little memo pad as you run across events or characters you’d like to add to your timeline. Then once every month or six weeks, devote time to adding those elements to your beautiful creation.
The purpose of developing a timeline with your kids is first of all to build a framework of history, but it is also to give them the idea that you can’t study any area of history without putting it in context. Creating timelines is a concrete way to demonstrate that principle.
When you keep your studies simple, you’re more likely to follow through with them, or at least I am.
How do you keep your timeline making simple?