Begin where you are! Have your kids learn a little local history about your city/town, your county, and your state. Visit your town hall. Research the deed to your house. Or just use Google. Over the course of a year our Homeschool History Club, which I’ll describe later, took us from our own house and town, from county-to-county and borough-to-borough clear across Long Island, New York.
I concur with Renée, the official grandparent interview (and written report!) is a MUST for every child. Ideally they will be able to do four of them but of course that’s not always possible. If a grandparent is recently deceased they can certainly be researched by other means. Interviewing another older relative, family friend, or neighbor works fine for this exercise too.
Talking to my grandfather (who turns 101 next month!) always felt like a vivid history lesson. He was a pilot in the Polish Air Force; he escaped Hitler and wound up in England where he met my grandmother. I had known the basics of his story for years….but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I came across an amazing book – that essentially told his personal story.
Our children’s grandparents and great-grandparents all have rich personal histories interwoven with the events of world history. Help your children discover their own personal connection to the past and in the process they will forge tighter bonds with loved ones.
We planned a family trip to Hawaii last year….and what did my wife do? She Googled “Hawaii Unit Study” and found all sorts of books for our kids to read on Hawaii before we got there. A little foreknowledge will not only make a trip more interesting, more educational, and more memorable….but it will also help you justify the ridiculous costs!
Our Hawaii trip got cancelled because we decided to move to London. When informed of this my son lamented, “Oh great, now Mom is going to make me read a bunch of books about London!”
And she did…
Audio-guides and Audio-tours
Museums can be hard on visiting families. Sometimes the kids are too young and bored out of their skulls….and they end up torturing the rest of the family who is trying to take it all in. But almost all the major museums today have interactive audio-guides, often for free and often even “child-friendly” versions of content. We’ve found that our children LOVE them. Audio-guides really ramp up their level of engagement and consequently decrease their level of parental torture.
In the same vein, I highly recommend narrated or audio-guided tours of cities. They are everywhere now, very affordable, and a great way to get the lay of the land when visiting an historic city (or Seattle!). We’ve done them now in Paris, Amsterdam (river cruise), Edinburgh, and just this week we enjoyed a terrific “hop-on, hop-off” bus tour in Liverpool. Definitely do them on the first day of your arrival.
History in Homeschool Groups
I already alluded to a History Club that we partook in for a couple of years. Each month had a theme (planned well in advance) and the children would spend the month preparing an oral presentation of their choosing. Some kids read written reports, others used PowerPoint, some dressed up, made illustrative artwork and handicrafts, brought in artifacts, etc. It was a terrific experience for many reasons including its low cost, relaxed nature, varied presentations, and, importantly, it introduced the kids to public speaking.
Another great idea is to do what one of my local New York groups did. Each month they invited a person, native to a foreign country, to come and speak to the kids about his or her homeland. These meetings were complete with food from the speaker’s country, story-telling, and props to make the experience come alive for the kids. The families all chipped in something nominal – like a $2 donation as an expression of gratitude.
Our homeschool groups on Long Island also put on a terrific “Historic Costume Ball” where the kids, obviously, dress up and try to play the part of famous figures from the past.
And in Manhattan we have loved our annual History Fair where the kids go on stage and offer clues as to who they are….while the other kids in the audience try to guess their identity. Here’s my son a couple years ago as….well you’re going to have to guess!
Parents are always asking me how I “teach history”. Of course I explain that I don’t teach it. Other than the hacks you are reading here, my wife and I mostly just throw books at the kids. History is primarily a “content” subject as opposed to something like math which is really a discipline. Ideally your children will accumulate a whole lot of historical facts and ultimately understand how they weave together and inform the present and future.
So we’ve thrown a small mountain of books at the kids over the years and really any book set in a distant time period falls into the category of Historical Fiction. My daughter is keenly interested in the Depression, slavery, and the Holocaust BECAUSE of the novels she’s read – not because she’s been assigned chapters in a dry history text.
Just research the book lists of Ambleside Online and The Well-Trained Mind. Have your kids read all the Newbery Award Winner books. Librarians can certainly give great book suggestions as well, of course.
It almost goes without saying that the older the book….the larger its inherent historical component. Project Gutenberg has a good deal of the old ones, for free. Are you using it yet?
You might think this is out of reach….but you are wrong.
It was years ago that I first read about homeschooling families traveling to exotic locations all over the globe – spending winters in Florida, months in Italy, China, or driving across America in an RV. Back then it was seemingly impossible for us too.
But where there’s a will, ultimately there’s a way. In all likelihood, no matter what you do, there will arise a work opportunity or a missionary opportunity through which you can take your family abroad. It doesn’t take much time Googling to learn about families who’ve traveled extensively on shoestring budgets either. (Or send your kids away as foreign exchange students.)
Why should you travel?
Because it’s, by far, the best way to make a study of history truly come alive.
I can honestly say that I feel like, despite years of school, college, and reading small mountains of history books….that I truly didn’t know ANYTHING about Europe until I moved here 8 months ago. It’s one thing to read about history, but it’s quite another to experience it.
A couple days ago we were exploring Liverpool and I came across a statue of the Duke of Wellington. Wondering who he was I asked my 9-year old son and he said to me, like I was a blithering idiot, “Dad, he destroyed Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.”
And note this is hardly the first time I’ve been condescended on like that.
Clearly, the way my kids are learning history….is far superior to the way I learned it!