When you get right down to it, we are all historians and storytellers. We share with our children how we and our partner met, we detail how they came into the world and became part of our family, or we retell how the family pet joined the clan. These are our family stories―our history. Teaching history as a subject in our homeschool isn’t always as easy as sharing these memories, nor is it as mundane as simply checking a box in our homeschool curriculum. It is the retelling of someone else’s story.
When we tell our children stories from around the world and throughout time, we are providing a foundation for how they see their place in the world and how they view the people around them. This comes with great responsibility because it will shape how your child sees the world―not just today but for decades to come.
The way history is or should be taught is a highly debated topic today. As homeschoolers and parents, no one is more invested in our children, how they are educated, and how they see the world. So how can we strive to teach historical truths? Why is it important? And how do we as homeschool grown-ups do it in a meaningful way?
Reading and teaching about history isn’t a fairytale story with clear cut heroes, bad guys, and happy endings, with lots of details that are rarely clear-cut, and many sides to one story. How do we teach it without oversimplifying it, making assumptions, or forming opinions around just a few facts? In other words, we rarely know the whole story. if we aren’t professional historians, how can we teach history accurately?
The key is to think critically about what we read, ask questions, and look for different perspectives to tell the most complete story.
As homeschoolers, we are in a special position to take that holistic look at the past because we are not constrained by a school district’s perspective or a school board’s opinion. Teaching history with a complete perspective could mean researching book publishers to see what bias they may have, using a variety of sources to teach the same period of time, and/or deliberately looking for different opinions than the ones we were taught ourselves. It could mean looking for children’s book authors who are telling their own stories (or their people’s history) from their own perspective. It could also mean looking to other homeschoolers who are doing things differently than we are to gain a different view. We may even be able to use the internet to see how the same history is taught in a different part of the world.
A final, all too common challenge of teaching history is that sometimes we know what the true story is, but it is sad, embarrassing, or difficult to talk about. As a result, we become reluctant to share these facts with our children. Maybe we think by hiding these ugly truths, that we are protecting them. But the reality is that by teaching only the positive parts of history, we are neglecting entire perspectives and ignoring truth. Would we do that with math or science or any other subject? Then why would we do it with history?
Is there a way to be honest about history and be sensitive to a child’s age and emotional development? Yes! How do we start? Here are some steps to take:
Analyze your own bias.
As we begin teaching any subject, we must recognize that our own feelings come into play. (Hello, math! I hate you, but I have to learn to love you to help my child learn to enjoy you!) Take time to think about what you think you know about a part of history, why you believe what you do, and if there is a perspective you are missing. Commit yourself to learning with your child. Because history is constantly changing based on new evidence and perception, be honest with your child about your desire to learn with them and encourage opposing thoughts and ideas. Talk about your own misconceptions and how they have changed with your life experiences. Talk about the biases around you, either in your community or even in your own families. Give voice to what they likely already see and know.
Remember: What usually scares or upsets children is not information―it’s the unknown.
When teaching about a people or a country that is not your own, honor the people you are learning about.
The way we talk about people to our children makes a difference. As we learn about a new culture, acknowledge the differences and similarities. Use correct terminology when discussing people and their heritage. Don’t only talk about the past, but also help your child to connect what they learn to modern-day. Discuss a nations’ culture and people positively, including their contributions to society, both in the past and present.
Use picture books to teach history.
Picture books help children learn about past experiences, parts of history, or a family’s story in a format that is familiar and safe to them. Books prompt open dialogue, conversations, and questions, and they will help you see what your child is thinking and what they already know. You, with the help of these books, can assist your children to form opinions and shape their perspective. These stories will become their building blocks to connection, both personally and academically.
Visit historical landmarks and museums.
Visiting museums, historical homes, and landmarks can bring history to life for your child. These places will prompt questions and curiosity, which are essential to your child’s intellectual growth. They will see things that they can relate to and others that will seem foreign, and this will become the basis for deeper conversations, helping you create a learning environment and a teachable moment. Physical places help to bring abstract ideas and events to life, helping your child to picture themselves in the story and to sympathize and empathize with the people they are learning about.
Exposure your child to different parts of the world through unit studies.
All levels of our unit studies discuss history, culture, and religion in an eclectic, faith-neutral, and hands-on way. Our units use a variety of teaching sources including Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, Honest History magazine, hundreds of picture books, museum links, documentary-style videos, and much more to bring these people, time periods, and countries to life―even if your child has never visited in person.
Here at the Learn + Live Letter, we want to help you bring history to life through hands-on projects, crafts, games, and activities, and we often provide open-ended question prompts and critical thinking activities that lead to essential conversations. It is our goal to provide you with ample materials and opportunities to introduce many topics, perspectives, and time periods in history, along with dozens of civilizations and countries, all with the goal of fostering curiosity, compassion, and connection in your child and in the topic.