January 4

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Chronological History…or Not?

By Carol Henderson

January 4, 2020


Homeschoolers often wonder why there is so much emphasis on teaching chronological History from year to year. Is it necessary to plot out blocks of years so you’re always cycling through world history every 4 years?

It’s a valid question. And where did this emphasis come from? Let’s start at the beginning.

Several years back, one of homeschooling’s earliest pioneers published a book about classical education. Susan Wise Bauer was one of the first graduates of the first generation of the homeschool movement. And she was someone we could be proud of in many ways.

So when she partnered with her mother/teacher to describe their journey in The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, the rest of us devoured the book as soon as it hit the shelves. For many of us it was a whole new world—a whole new way to look at the process of educating our children.

Roman Soldier, Chronological History

And what a solid resource it was. Amidst all of it’s good advice, it was one of the first times many of us heard the idea of teaching chronological history.

What is Chronological History?

Instead, chronological history was a whole new method. We were to start with the beginning of time and read and learn about how our world developed from then until today, weaving US History into this picture along the way. And when we were done, we were to repeat the process.

Furthermore, we were told not to zero in on US History, and only US History, for years and years in elementary school.

As a result of this new idea for teaching history, Susan then authored the Story of the World series to meet the demand that followed.

After reading her first book, homeschooling parents wanted a resource to teach chronological history from beginning to end. And since that time, there are now several other good series on the market that meet the need as well.

Most of these, like Susan’s series, are built around a 4-year world history study. And most encourage the homeschooling parent to teach history chronologically to all their children, no matter what age.

Is it the Best Way to Teach History?

But have you ever stepped back to think about this for a few minutes? At what point is your early learner ready to learn chronological world history? You would readily agree that at some point, early is too early. You wouldn’t start this at age 2 or 3. So when?

While teaching history in a large homeschool co-op, I soon began to be uncomfortable about teaching chronological history to my younger classes. I sensed that a lot of this seemed to be going over the heads of the kids in the early grades.

And then I ran across several articles along this line by Cheryl Lowe of Memoria Press. Finally, someone was validating what I was feeling. Cheryl is a classical educator with credentials that far exceed my own. And she, also, is not a fan of a chronological approach to history in the early grades.

I love her statement, “We must fit history to the child, not fit the child to history.” Is that not powerful?

Let’s not let our methods distract us! Cheryl’s view is that a K-2 child is not developmentally ready to master the concepts of chronological progression. So instead of trying to swim upstream, why not enjoy your moment in the sun?

History for the Younger Child

If your child is not ready for a chronological curriculum, what should you teach for history in the early years?

My gut reaction is to say, “whatever you want”! Isn’t that freeing!

But, of course, a little planning will make the world of difference. In your search for K-2 topics, here are some ideas for early history at home. And in no particular order.

American History

Personally, I enjoy highlighting the major people and events in American history for at least one of those years, if not more. Nothing intense. And no chronology required. But introduce George Washington. Abraham Lincoln. Our flag. A general view of the Revolutionary War. The Liberty Bell. You get the idea!

I used the book The Complete Book of United States History* as a guide. I did not read every chapter. At the beginning of the year, I charted out a once-a-week lesson, picking and choosing my topics with the help of its Table of Contents. Then I made sure to have picture books from the library on hand for every topic when that week came, finding those with the help of A Book In Time.

World History

For another year, you could try doing the same with World History. Let your kids know that kings and queens and castles were a real thing. Build a pyramid together just for fun. Read about Vikings, the Great Wall of China, or the Eiffel Tower.

For this, I used The Complete Book of World History as my guide. We did not read the entire book. But the Table of Contents helped me pick out the topics for the year. Sometimes we read their chapter, sometimes we read only our library books, which we picked out from the recommendations at A Book In Time.

History and Faith

A third idea is for a family of faith. You could use a year to learn the history found in Bible stories. Read lots of them and incorporate pictures of what the world was probably like at the time. For instance, when you read about Moses, look at pictures of what Egypt might have looked like when he lived there. See pictures of the Roman soldiers that occupied Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the Bible and history are intertwined.

Planning is Key

For any of these ideas, chart out your year before it starts. Jot down your topics for each of the weeks of your school year. Assign one topic per week. It’s easy when you use your book’s Table of Contents as a guide!

Write in the page numbers you will read from the book(s) you will be using. Add the names of picture books or other library books that relate. Pencil in field trip ideas. You get the picture. Your planning is minimal, but necessary. Don’t skip it!

In all of this, keep your learning enjoyable. Print coloring pages from the internet (or other resources). Go on field trips. Read as many picture books as you can. As you go through each year, chances are you will find that you are learning a lot of new things yourself along the way. Enjoy the journey!

And when we learn about great methods or ideas in any subject, let’s be ready to adjust and adapt them to the ages of our children. Yes, teaching chronological history is a great idea. But give your child some space before you go hard core! Maybe teaching the big ideas of American history (or your own country, if not the US) in the younger grades isn’t such a bad idea after all.

*Note: Sorry, but Amazon wouldn’t let me link to this book for some reason. If you want to find it easily, click on the link for the World History book in the next paragraph, then scroll down to see related products. It’s put out by the same publisher.

Article originally published March 31, 2016

Carol Henderson

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