When I was in high school, one of the subjects that I found to be the most boring was History. It was all about memorizing dates, countries, battles, and names, and then reciting them in the correct order on a test approximately once every six weeks. In point of fact, I’ve never even taken a class with the subject heading History. The subjects of History, Geography, Civics, and Current Events were all grouped together under the general heading of “Social Studies” when I was in high school. And there was nothing interesting or engaging about it at all. Unless it’s a day dedicated to film strips. Those made me drool a little bit less than the others did.
Imagine, then, how shocked I was when I started homeschooling and found that all of those subjects were suddenly interesting. Fun. Even the most enjoyable part of my time spent teaching. I believe that this is the case because authors of textbooks and traditional educators are required to condense historical information into chapters and paragraphs in books. Or perhaps the authors of the textbooks disliked history themselves and believe that it is only right and just to pass on their feelings about how tedious it all was. Who could say?
My experience as a mother who homeschools our children has taught me that the most effective way to teach high school history is through the use of stories, projects, literature, food, and art. These approaches transform history from a dull and uninteresting subject into something that is both memorable and even exciting. When my children were younger, we did some research on Ancient Egypt. I remember that. We created our own headdresses, togas, and jewelry out of cardboard. We spent a week learning about different cultures by making foods, coloring pictures, writing our names in hieroglyphics, and going on virtual tours of pyramids. It was all such a good time. Did we memorize dates? Nope. Names? Not particularly, but there are some, like King Tut, that will remain ingrained in our memories for all time. Lessons that involved hands-on activities brought history to life for my children to the point where they frequently forgot they were “doing school.”
We owe the excitement that we experienced throughout our elementary and middle school years in Social Studies to My Father’s World.
But by the time students reached high school, even MFW had morphed into a course that seemed to focus primarily on reading and writing papers. Even though we will of course expect those things from our older children, I would still like for these topics to be interesting rather than merely obligatory for them to study.
After voicing my displeasure with some of the online lessons that we were completing the year before, our entire second semester was devoted to learning about World War II. All of the activities that my children participated in to gain a deeper comprehension of World War II—reading biographies, writing papers, watching films and documentaries, and playing war game simulations—were designed with this goal in mind.
We decided to use an online civics course offered by HSLDA this year, along with working in books borrowed from the library and a few activity ideas gleaned from the internet. Since Noah and Fiona are in high school now, they are allowed to watch some more mature films that their younger siblings will not. For me, films can be a wonderful tool to giving the flavor of a certain time period, and use compelling stories and docudramas to flesh out time periods and historical events.
The point I’m trying to make is that studying history does not have to be dull and dry; in fact, it never should have been like that in the first place. There are some households that center their entire education on the study of history.
How do YOU teach history to your students?