Homeschooling History… forget the dates and tell me a great story   1 comment

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  This is a cute little ditty many kids have memorized to help them remember this date in history.  But the purpose of remembering it isn’t to really learn something interesting about history – but to be able spit it out for a test.  I think this is why many kids over the years have disliked learning history – it’s presented as a list of dry dates and facts about wars, presidential terms and discoveries. 

History, in our 15 years of homeschooling has been learned mostly through books – real books, not textbooks – that tell the stories of people’s experiences throughout history.  I don’t require memorizing dates – if they need to know the date of the Boston Massacre they can look it up.  But they can learn about what it might have been like growing up in Boston during its occupation of British troops, by seeing it through the eyes of a young boy who must get through the mobs on the streets to bring help to his aunt who is enduring a difficult labor.  Now that’s history.  Instead of learning dates and the sequences of invasions during WWII, we’ve read great stories and watched excellent movies about the people who lived through it.  The Endless Steppe – about a family exiled to Siberia, Number the Stars – about a Danish family in 1943, Return to Auschwitz tells of the experiences of a girl and her mother who survived Auschwitz – these are just a few of the many books we’ve enjoyed.  We’ve supplemented our learning with great movies such as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas which have given us great insight to that time in history. 

I can’t tell you the exact date of the Louisiana Purchase, I do know the time frame is the very earliest years of the 1800’s – and I don’t require my kids to know it either.  To be honest, unless you’re going to be a history professor or write a book about it, who cares.  But watching Lewis and Clark by Ken Burns on PBS a few years ago, brought their amazing journey through this newly bought land to life.  We learned about whom these people really were, clues to their personalities, what their journey meant to America and Native Americans alike.

We may not know the dates of presidential terms – heck – I’d have to think a second to remember when Obama became president much less try to remember when Benjamin Harrison was president.  But I do know that Benjamin Harrison was in office when the White House was wired for electricity – so that must put his term somewhere in the later 1800’s.  Good enough.  A fun tidbit is that he and his wife were so afraid of getting shocked by the light switches that they continued to use gas lanterns.   Reading that Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four sons – but that three of their sons died at the ages of 3, 11 and 18 years, brings to life his humanness and that he was more than just a great president, but a father who lived with great loss.   That’s what brings presidential history to life, learning what made them real people, not just the formal events that are recorded in textbooks.  

What is history after all, but people’s perception of what was experienced.  Learning American history is more complete if you read it from the viewpoint of white settlers and Native Americans.  The World War II experience on the American home front is very different viewed from the eyes of a Japanese American in an internment camp compared to the experience of a mid western housewife heading to work in the factories after being inspired by ‘Rosie the Riveter’ propaganda posters.  A greater understanding is gained when we see history through the eyes of more than one type of people. 

In homeschooling history, we may not be able to tell you many dates – but we can sure tell you some great stories about some great people, some not so great people, some everyday people – rich and poor and how they experienced the world and the events of their time.


Posted February 19, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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One response to “Homeschooling History… forget the dates and tell me a great story

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  1. Love it!

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