When I think of History books, I often think of dry dusty tomes that take forever to read, might be one-sided and don’t bring a lot of adventure to the imagination. Even the very best history books can’t give you everything about a particular time or place in history. So what is a homeschooler supposed to do? Luckily we have the means and time to supplement history books with living history, living books, museums, outings and activities that relate to history and make it come alive.
When studying a particular event in history, say WWII, you can branch out from books and go find hands-on activities that help cement the ideas of the time and put action into stories from books. There are websites devoted to soldiers retelling of events, museums that house artifacts from the war, reenactments and period dress and costume events, lectures and field trips to historic places that are connected with that time period. Go to the local Veteran’s cemetery for a ceremony or just to walk among the headstones and talk about what life was like for soldiers and their families. If you are studying Native Americans, go to a local pow-wow, sleep in a tipi, and visit a museum to see ancient artifact. If you live close to a reservation, visit it and ask questions of the elders there. People are usually very willing to talk about their culture and history with inquisitive visitors.
Never underestimate the amount of learning that can happen at a festival or fair.* We have talked to mountain men and fur traders on the Santa Fe trail. A gold panning 49’er taught us how to pan for gold and what it was like to live in the mountains in the winter. We have listened to Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and other historical figures at festivals and events around town. We learned some Italian and stomped grapes at the Italian festival, we danced to African drums and heard stories of the underground railroad at a Black arts festival, we watched Greek dancers and learned some Orthodox history at a Greek festival and more. By participating in cultural events we have learned about people and places that are very different from us and sometimes far away, but we have also learned about their place in history.
Don’t overlook History by osmosis (or watching history on the computer or TV.) You will be amazed at the amount of learning that can happen when you watch a documentary on Roman emperors or a show about military weapons in wars. If you don’t have a cable channel like BBC, History channel, National Geographic, you can find their sites and videos on-line (and you can always check out historical videos from the library.) We have studied Ancient Egypt by following the adventures of an archaeologist on a show, we have learned about the history of airplanes and Japanese internment camps by watching documentaries. We learned about the Russian revolution, WWII and the Holocaust through videos, interactive websites and shows. No matter what time period you are studying, there is probably a video, movie, documentary or website to supplement your lesson.
As far as books go, we use the History of US by Joy Hakim for our history, I like her style of writing and she has lots of interesting facts and pictures in the book. But, that is not all that we use. Recently I wanted to add onto a lesson about explorers and I found a great book called Exploring the New World: An Interactive Adventure. I don’t know if you remember those old choose your own adventure books, but this book is like that. You can choose to go on a boat with Columbus or be a Native American and follow that path. There is a whole series of these books to go along with lots of history: The dust bowl, The Titanic, Westward expansion, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and more. I love them because they weave fact and fiction around events and make reading about history fun. You can expand your history by reading biographies, finding books about the region you are studying; anything that unfolds history and makes it exciting.
Finally, you can explore history and remember what you studied by creating a journal, lap-book, map, poster, brochure or slide show presentation about it. We have lap-booked Mayan and Aztec culture and history, New world explorers and the history of Picasso’s life and art. We have created maps of trails and sea routes to new lands and we have taken state maps and marked trips and hikes. My girls have a history journal where they write things that they thought were important in a lesson. They have created posters of events and timelines for history relating to a specific time period. One thing we have not done in awhile is create a brochure. If you were studying Ancient Egypt you could make a brochure that show how to make a mummy or a travel brochure that spotlights various monuments in Egypt. The point is to have fun with history and make learning stick with hands-on activities.
I hope you have seen that history does not need to come from a book, that it can be exciting and interesting to learn about places, times, cultures and people from the past and present. History is a great subject to use hands-on learning for and learning about the past can help us to unravel the future.
* Are you in the Denver area? If so here are some events that can help you with history:
1830's rendezvous at the Fort - 9/15 10-5pm
Experience a Day in the Old West with fur traders and mountain men.
19192 Hwy 8 Morrison
Adult $6/student and seniors $3/under 12 free
Denver Oktoberfest - German heritage 9/21-30 - Free
Denver's Historic Ballpark Neighborhood, Larimer Street between 20th and 22nd
People of the wind reservation 9/27 7pm $10/$5
Mr. LoneBear, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, will share his knowledge of the history and traditions of the Northern Arapaho people living on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, including stories of the near-loss of the Arapaho language and recent efforts to revive the language among tribe members.
Native American Rights Fund
1506 Broadway, Boulder
Autumn heritage day at Walker ranch 9/30 10-4pm - Free
Costumed 19th century mountain men and women. Vintage baseball game.
Walker ranch homestead, 7701 Flagstaff Mtn. Rd., Boulder