History is one of our favorite subjects because it is so interesting to learn about the past and the people who lived then. Also, history is effortless to teach if you let your children read lots of biographies and good historical literature. This section focuses on tips for teaching history.
The foundation of our history study is The Narrated Bible (paperback version called The Daily Bible). This is a NIV translation arranged in chronological order. The Child’s Story Bible is another help, because it sets the stage historically for each of the Bible stories. As we follow the biblical account, we branch off into different historical periods as we come to them. Once we finish the Bible, history study can be continued by correlating the different time periods with church history. Sketches from Church History is an excellent interdenominational view of church history that clearly explains the effect of Christianity on different nations of the world. Another wonderful history source is Streams of Civilization. It correlates the study of world history with the study of the Bible and church history.
Studying history as we read through the Bible allows us to leisurely study different time periods. We don’t have to cram 4000 years of history into one year. We can spend weeks on Egypt as we read about Joseph and Moses, or spend a whole year on the Roman Empire as we work through the New Testament. Another benefit of this approach is that all the children study the same historical period at the same time, each at his or her own level.
Don’t feel that you have to teach history chronologically, however. Since young children don’t have the big picture anyway and they are constantly receiving information about different time periods, you can pluck out any time period on which you want to focus. In our home, we feel free to modify our overall study of history when opportunities arise to have a first-hand encounter with a historical site. One spring we went to a book fair in Boston and visited Plimoth Plantation, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty on the way home. We would have been foolish to stolidly stick to a chronological study of history when we had an opportunity to let the children learn about the Pilgrims and the wave of immigration in the late 1800s by actually being where it all happened. The children don’t get confused as to where these events fit into the scheme of history if we use a time line. Studying history through travel makes a time period “come alive” in a way that books cannot do.
How to Study HiStory
If you like the idea of leisurely following history chronologically, then the beginning is a great place to start, and the Bible is the best textbook. The Bible events in Genesis and the first part of Exodus flow very naturally through the period of early mankind. We read aloud from The Narrated Bible. Most children will understand the NIV version when it is read aloud and difficult words are explained. Maps can be just as important a visual aid as a timeline. A good Bible mapbook is a must when studying the Bible. Another helpful book for this early period of history is Adam and His Kin: The Lost History of Their Lives and Times by Ruth Beechick. Streams of Civilization uses the Biblical method of historical interpretation starting with creation and is perfect as a core of world history before 1600.
Where do you go from there?
After children have a firm grasp of the foundations of history (creation, the fall, God’s call, the patriarchs), when you get to the story of Joseph in the Bible you can move into a study of ancient Egypt.
At this point you may continue to use Streams of Civilization and supplemental reading such as Usborne books and historical fiction or start with Greenleaf Press’ history series. The The Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Egypt organizes a course of study based on the first four books of the Bible that integrates activities, Usborne books, biographies, and historical fiction. The Greenleaf Guide is adaptable and can be used with children of various ages. Another option is the Usborne books.
Children love to study history with Usborne’s colorful illustrations. In short visual chapters each book provides the bare bones of the major developments of the world. The books look at individual civilizations and vividly describe how people lived, their discoveries and inventions, their conflicts with rival civilizations, and their contributions to our own cultural heritage. The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History gives a chronological pictorial history of the world on an elementary to junior high level.
What about biographies and historical fiction?
Emerson said “There is no history, only biography.” History is essentially the study of people and what they did. While studying a time period, a wonderful way to get a feel for that period is to read about someone who lived through it.
There are many wonderful books about interesting people in history. These books secure attention, interest, and concentration with little teaching effort. Good historical fiction can also make a period of time “come alive” and provide a fascinating window into the past.
What if I can’t do a chronological study of history?
Studying history chronologically from creation to modern times may not work for you. We have alternated our study of world history with U.S. history, studying one time period at a time. Once you get a timeline going, you will be able to place the periods of time in a chronological sequence so that your children can grasp the overall picture.
In teaching history, as in teaching science, we believe that the elementary grades should be used to lay a broad foundation and generate enthusiasm. We recommend that you read the chapters on teaching history in Ruth Beechick’s You Can Teach Your Child Successfully and Valerie Bendt’s How to Create Your Own Unit Study. They share a wealth of ideas on creating a broad foundation and promoting a lifelong interest in history.
Using Story Telling
We often tell bedtime stories with our boys as the main characters, going back in time and meeting Bible personalities or famous historical figures good and bad. In these stories the boys will help, encourage, warn, face danger, make mistakes, sometimes even sin and repent. These are their favorite story times and it keeps us thinking up new ways to get them into the past and back home again.
Genealogical research to dig up family stories is also a very effective teaching tool because you can study the historical period along with the stories about your own ancestors.