Giving kids a sense of their place in history can orient them to their identity and culture. Knowing history allows us to form a mental image of when any given historical event took place.
For example, you may have never heard of the AD 17 Lydia earthquake, but if you have a general knowledge of ancient history, you might hear about this earthquake and you’ll have a sense of what the world was like at that time.
Learning the fundamentals of ancient, medieval, and modern history gives you a framework to understand the passage of time and how our world developed into what it is today.
For school-aged kids, a great place to start is with the history of their own country (which is why we’ve created a U.S. Learning Kit to help you reinforce your child’s knowledge of American history, symbols, and geography).
Read-alouds are one of the best ways to teach history to all ages. You can use series especially geared toward teaching history (like this one from Scholastic), or capture your child’s imagination by reading fiction about the time period you’re studying.
Right now, I’m reading the Betsy-Tacy series to my kids; these novels vividly showcase daily life in the early 20th-century Midwest. They’re engaging books and my kids find them funny and interesting, so it’s almost incidental when we stop to chat about things like the lack of indoor plumbing, going to the pump to get water, getting milk from the milkman instead of the store, or driving around in a buggy instead of a car. I love that they’re learning about what life was like during this period in America’s history.
For more American history read-alouds, check out this list of ideas geared toward middle-schoolers. For a list of historical fiction organized by date, starting with ancient history, see 123Homeschool4Me.
To give kids a grasp of the overall flow of history from ancient times to modern day, you can make a “history of the world” timeline. This is one of the foundations for the classical education model. You can also make smaller timelines for particular eras to add more details in a limited scope. And for a personal history project, kids can create timelines based on their own lives and experiences.
And finally, something I really enjoyed when I was growing up was looking at photographs from more recent history (since cameras were invented, that is). I recently reread Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book The Long Winter, but nothing made it come alive for me as much as seeing an actual photograph taken that same winter not far away from where Laura and her family lived.
Making history come alive for kids involves giving them an overall knowledge of the progression of events from ancient times until now, and helping them to flesh out those facts with real-life stories and cultural tidbits in the form of fiction and pictures. This way, kids will begin to understand what life was like in the past and how we’ve gotten to where we are today.
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