When I was in high school, I really didn’t like history. For me, it was one step above algebra (and I am so not a math person). It was all about names and places and random dates of things that didn’t really matter. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why we were subjected to having to sit through it. (My 9th grade history teacher actually fell asleep during his own class once, so apparently I wasn’t alone in that.)
I thought history was dry, boring, and – even worse – useless.
Boy, was I wrong!
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It wasn’t until I started homeschooling that I found out how interesting history really is – and how fun and useful it really can be, if it’s taught correctly.
Usually, the questions I get asked about teaching history are in regards to which curriculum is “best.” Which one will best prepare my child for college, which will be the least boring? Which one will be the most hands-off for me, since I hated it in high school?
Can I tell you a secret, though? Teaching history isn’t as much about the curriculum as it is about understanding the why behind it. Once your student understands the connections involved, just about any curriculum or method will work. That all depends on your preferred method and your student’s learning style.
So what is the “why?” Why is history so important, and how can it be fun?
(If you find yourself asking this, don’t feel like you’re alone…you’re not. I’ve been asked this question by certified teachers with years of experience who were suddenly reassigned to teach history.)
History is what ties everything else together.
That’s a pretty ambitious statement. It’s also true.
Literature, arts, scientific advances, languages, geography, politics, philosophy, theology, cultural development…they are all tied together by history. Biblical events really happened and passages were written in the context of history. Famous quotes are spoken or written within the context of their time – in history. Wars, conquests, and peace treaties? All are based in events and thoughts – in history.
Understanding history goes a long way toward making all of these areas make more sense. Without that understanding, many of these areas are all just filled with random facts that have to be memorized for the paper or test.
Connections in History
First, it is important to decide on the basics – what era in history you’ll cover this year, World or American history, etc. When it comes to deciding which curriculum you’ll choose, you can go one of two routes. Some families prefer to follow the scope and sequence of a curriculum they like, while others like to decide on topics they want to emphasize and then find a course that meets those requirements.
Whichever path you choose, once you have your curriculum, you’ll want to scan over it. Find out what will be taught and when. If there are events or people you aren’t familiar with, flip to the page and get a quick overview. Jot down anything that sticks out to you as interesting or new – if it’s interesting to you, chances are you can make it interesting for your student!
A resource that I have used for well over a decade is a book called “The Checklist.” It was written by a veteran homeschool mom who lives a few miles from me; this is not an affiliate link and I don’t make a cent off of recommending it. However, it is a book that has helped make history come alive for me and for my son, so I wanted to let you know about it!
This book is basically your go-to list on connections for everything. When you look up a topic, it will list just about anything else you could want to study along with it! It makes discussing history with your student much easier.
Discussing History with Your High Schooler
The great thing about homeschooling history at this level is that it does not have to be dry and boring! There are so many amazing connections to make and rabbit trails to follow, and you can teach it in whatever way makes the most sense to your child. Pretty soon, those mental light bulbs start going off like New Year’s in Times Square!
For my son, literature is the key to teaching just about anything. If there’s a story involved, he’s hooked. We honestly didn’t even have a formal history text during high school (though I did collect them for reference). He just read great literature and wanted to learn about the history behind it!
That’s where The Checklist came in. As he asked questions or brought up areas of interest, I could just turn to that topic and get a quick idea of other things that might interest him. Then, we were off! If it was something I knew about, I would explain the context and then we’d dig some more; if not, we got online or dug out books and looked it up.
One of our favorite sources for historical literature, from elementary through college, is Jim Hodges. Jim is a veteran homeschool dad and avid historian that I’ve known for years; he has recorded dozens of G.A. Henty novels and put them into both MP3 disc format and downloadable audio books. (This is also not an affiliate link, I just love Jim’s products and highly recommend them!)
For other students, a more formal textbook may be a better option, and for others, a research-based program like TRISMS works well. Still others may do better through video sources like documentaries or online lectures. For ideas, check out my history board on Pinterest. Choose what works best for your student – they all work.
Make Those Connections
Regardless of which method is best for your family, leave room for discussion. This is key! Helping your student to build the connections between what happened, why it mattered, and how it affected what came next makes all the difference. (Building those connections also matters a lot in college and throughout life!)
History really is a subject that lets you be a life-long learner. This is a great thing to model for your kids – that learning does not stop at graduation! Just because history might not have been your favorite subject in high school or college does not mean that it has to stay that way. Making those connections – and especially making them with your kids – is an amazing thing!
So tell me…what are your favorite parts about teaching history? What do you find hard about it? Chances are, you’re not the only one. Comment below and let me know – your question could help someone else!