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Doomed to Repeat It? Learning from History’s Stories

Guest post by Jaron Pak.

How many of us have crammed for a test in the past? We might have aced it, or maybe we passed it by the skin of our teeth. But who remembered all of the information a week later? How about a month? A year? I think we all know cramming information into our heads is not a genuine way to learn something. And yet when it comes to teaching history, memorizing dates, names, and facts in order to pass tests has been the standard practice for a long time. Far too long, if you ask me. The time has come to break the mold! We need to stop teaching plain facts and start teaching real history! The focus needs to be moved from the facts to the life lessons, the choices, and the consequences. We need to do more than just learn the history, we need to learn from history. History isn’t just another school subject, it is a unique way that we can learn from the past in order to improve our future – both individually and collectively.

Doomed to Repeat It? Learning from History's Stories @hsbapost


How often do we, as human beings, make mistakes, learn from them, and then improve our behavior? The way we can adapt and improve ourselves is one of our greatest attributes. But learning that the stove is hot by getting burnt is very different from oh, say learning that violence is bad by fighting a war. The former involves a brief period of pain and healing, while the latter involves months or years of destructive and deadly behavior. It’s O.K. to learn that the stove is hot by touching it a couple of times. It is not O.K. to learn about the horrors of war by fighting a couple first. Learning our history is a vital way to avoid many of the more serious poor decisions and accompanying consequences in life. It allows us to see how those in the past faired when they were faced with similar choices.

Many of us living in the modern world – this small, technological, instant-gratification world – are always charging forward trying to get to “the next thing.” The call needs to be made to slow down and look backwards for a minute. I’m not saying let’s all become Luddites, but if we don’t take the time to slow down and learn from those who have lived full, meaningful lives in the past and have made similar choices that we’re faced with, we are going to find ourselves making the same mistakes in the future. I think we’ve all heard the classic saying by Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

And this idea of learning from history includes recent and local history as well as the big picture stuff. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my elders as I grew up and decided to learn from their decisions and consequences, particularly the negative ones. I didn’t feel like I needed to go out and make the same mistakes they did myself before I could learn the lessons. It was right there in front of me, if I chose to learn from it. And I do realize that some things simply need to be experienced to be learned, but I think that mindset unchecked often leads us into more trouble than good. Sometimes we can take a look at the past and say, “Yeah, if that’s what happens then I’m just not going to go there.”

So consider this the call. We need to do more than learn the names and dates. We can recite the facts until we’re blue in the face, but if we don’t take the time to learn from the choices – and the mistakes – of the past, we are most certainly doomed to repeat them. Not only that, but of course we are often inspired by the good choices and decisions throughout history. Some of my best role models, inspirations, and heroes are rooted in the past. History, recent, ancient, and everything in between, is simply a massive compilation of the most important decisions and consequences that human kind has ever made.

So, if possible, try to stop worrying about making sure your children are ready to pass all the tests. The real job of an educator, when it comes to teaching history, is to teach the stories, and create that spark of interest in the past that will grow over time. It’s time to make history-time story-time!



Jaron Pak - Home School in the WoodsJaron Pak is the chief researcher and writer at Home School in the Woods. He is also heavily involved in marketing and sales for the company. He has a passion to bring history to life for young students, and considers history to be one of the most vital subjects we can teach our children. You can contact him at



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Teaching History to Hands-On Learners

All three of our children are hands-on learners. They also have short attention spans. It seems like it wouldn’t be a good combination for teaching history. Am I the only one that thought history was boring when I was young? Based on my impression, that is what I thought teaching history would be like as well – reading long text and hoping they actually absorb some of it. I’m glad to say I was wrong!

Teaching History to Hands-on Learners

Don’t limit yourself to text books when it comes to history because history is all around us! Hands-on learners don’t have to be limited to listening to or reading text and answering questions. History can (and I venture to say should) be hands-on! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Arts and Crafts

The great thing about homeschooling is that we don’t have to limit ourselves to always keeping subjects separate. We love combining them! Arts and Crafts are a great way to make history “come to life!” Projects can be as simple as drawing a picture related to what you are learning to crafts related to that event or time frame.

Are they learning about Native Americans? Build a teepee! This can be done on a small scale with popsicle sticks and construction paper or on a larger scale with long sticks and sheets! Gathering the materials can be part of the fun!

Learning about Christopher Columbus? Build boats or make a paper mache Earth to depict the discovery that Earth is round.

Teaching Biblical History? Make scrolls, bake bread with and without yeast, create pottery, make tablets with the 10 Commandments. The possibilities are endless really!

Hands-On History - Pottery

Acting and Costumes

Who doesn’t love to dress up? Older kids even like to dress up once in a while! Dressing up and acting out scenes in history can instill an appreciation and really make it “real” to hands-on learners. Hands-on learners really need physical interaction to make lessons “stick,” and what better way to learn about history than putting yourself into someone else’s shoes – literally!

You don’t have to buy expensive costumes or props. Simply make the most of what you have around the home. Letting your children come up with the props and clothing is a great way to really get them to see and take in the difference between what they wore then versus what we wear now as they try to adapt their clothing and materials to look like those of that time.

Historical Locations

I never thought I’d say I miss living near Washington D.C., but the historical locations there are amazing! Of course, Houston doesn’t lack in great locations. Museums offer a great experience for learning history. Many museums have homeschool days that include more than just a tour but hands-on activities as well. Don’t limit yourself to History Museums. Art Museums, Children’s Museums, and Science Museums all offer pieces of history!

One of our favorite places in Houston is Space Center Houston. They offer a lot of hands-on activities and, of course, amazing historical information regarding the space program and history.

Hands-on History - Space Center Houston

Some other ideas for hands-on history is to go to a cemetery and do gravestone rubbings. If you live near family members’ graves, this is also a great way to learn your own history. It’s a different way to learn the history of the area in which you live, too. View the dates and research information. Be sure gravestone rubbings are allowed as they are not permitted everywhere. Here is more information about tombstone rubbings.

Above all else, have FUN! Hands-on learners really enjoy the experience of learning hands-on. Don’t feel like you have to weigh it down with questions. Let them explore in the ways they understand and learn best!

What are some hands-on history activities you have done with your family?


Emilee Roberts (4 Posts)

Emilee is happily married to her best friend, Joey, who is a 2x cancer survivor and Disabled Veteran. She is a full-time, homeschooling mom to their 3 special needs kids who amaze, inspire, and humble her every day. In addition to blogging she is a freelance writer and mompreneur with a crafting/sewing business with the same name as her blog Pea of Sweetness.

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Homeschool History Hacks



Local History

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.

Family History

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!

Historical Fiction

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?

World Travel

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!


Dan (6 Posts)

Husband to Inez. Father of John and Christine. Homeschool Coach, Accelerated Math Teacher. Former derivatives trader and future scratch golfer! Follow our learning adventures at

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