If you’ve ever considered putting together your own literature-based history curriculum, I want to tell you that it’s possible and well worth your time. (Read to the end to see what packaged curricula are similar, in case you’re just not ready for the DIY method.)
Studying history can be fascinating, overwhelming, exciting, daunting, and never-ending. The history of the world includes peoples, civilizations, maps, battles, kingdoms,governments, science, art, literature, religion, music, and so much more. There is no single right way to teach it (but there are definitely some wrong ways!).
Many adults today admit that they don’t remember much history from school, or that they didn’t pay attention because it was so boring. I pity those adults, because everything we have and do and know and think is from history. I have always loved history, and I teach it to my children in a way that they love it, too.
In my very early years of homeschooling, we read some basic stories of history, without much of a plan. At some point, I began using Beautiful Feet Books, and then The Well Trained Mind, and eventually Sonlight. Along the way I would include extras, such as field trips, hands-on activities, movies, and costumes. But I wanted to do more. The more I added, the more I began to make executive decisions about what we might NOT use from these programs, and our custom curriculum was born! (All of these are great programs, and I still draw from them for my own curriculum.)
What it includes
As I said above, history includes so much more than dates and kings. So when I say “History Curriculum” I include World History and American History (taught simultaneously), geography, science, government, economics, literature, religion, art, and music. We study the history of the world in chronological order, beginning with Creation in Genesis 1 and working our way, over several years, to modern times.
Example: The Pilgrims settling in America were a result of strict religious rules by King James as head of the Church of England; the Church of England was a result of King Henry VIII’s desire to divorce his first wife (when the Pope would not grant that divorce) and was perfectly timed with the Protestant Reformation; the Protestant Reformation was a result of the Bible being printed and distributed in the German (as well as the English) language; this was a result of the invention of the Printing Press. This is a very simplified explanation, but when you read world history in chronological order, you see the really BIG picture. No single event in history stands alone; each event is one chapter in the history of the world.
So, in our homeschool we don’t study composers, or literature, or explorers, or inventors in a stand-alone unit. We learn about each person, event, invention, book, and discovery as they naturally happened.
Science is studied (as much as possible) in conjunction with historic times and events. Biology fits perfectly with creation and biblical/ancient history. Physics can be introduced (even on a very elementary level) in the 17th century with Isaac Newton. Inventors all throughout history made profound discoveries for their times, and understanding those times brings the discovery and the scientific laws and theories to life.
The Essential Ingredients
There are a few necessary components to a good history curriculum. They are
- Facts – names, dates, places
- Stories – this is the actual history, and everyone loves good stories
- Hands-on or in-person activities – field trips, craft projects, food, and other fun stuff
How I Create the Curriculum
I like to plan one century at a time. This is much easier done after the Ancient World is covered, but it works for the entire world history. There are some basic books I use as a spine:
The Story of the World (and corresponding Activity Books)
Usborne Internet Linked Encyclopedia of World History
The Usborne Book of World History
A Child’s History of the World
Children’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos
Adams Synchronological Chart or Map of History
These are all wonderful overviews of history, told in a fun way for children (and their parents!). I take note of the sections covered for my century of choice, and then explore other resources for additional studies. These include:
Veritas Press Catalog
Usborne Books Catalog
There are other books and series I love, depending on the time period. These include:
G.A. Henty novels
Genevieve Foster history books
Sower Series Biographies
The Light and the Glory series
The Story of Christianity
History of Britain and Ireland
History of the English Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill
Usborne History books (all of them!)
Magic Tree House books and website activities
Draw and Write Through History
Mathematicians Are People, Too
Classic Starts Series
Dover History Coloring Books
Once I have a general list of people and events from these sources, I search for the fun stuff: books, stories, movies, art, music, food, and costumes. Now, I don’t do all of these for every single event, but if we’re studying Ancient Rome, we will read a couple of good books (Eagle of the Ninth, Beric the Briton), find a movie or documentary, recreate a Roman feast, and probably make costumes. (I like to sew; you may not. It’s totally okay!) All of this is done in conjunction with the history books (in the case of Rome: the New Testament, Story of the World, History of England, History of the English Speaking Peoples, Usborne History Books, and Augustus Caesar’s World).
I take notes, and then type it up more neatly, as I go, including the books we will definitely read, the books we might read, the activities we will probably do, and links to videos we may watch.This planning process happens over a few weeks. I also have a Pinterest board for each century, which I add to all the time. If I see a good link anywhere (web surfing, Facebook, Pinterest) I save it to the appropriate history board. When the planning stage actually begins, I’ve got lots of good stuff already saved up.I start putting it together before we finish the century we are on, in whatever spare time I can manage. : ) These notes (transferred to a binder), and a huge stack of books, sit in a pile wherever we have school,
What it looks like at our house
I have five children (one has graduated) ranging in age currently from 5 to 19. The remaining 4 students learn all together. Since their ages and abilities vary widely, they will not all do the same work. However, since most of our history (remember- that’s a loose term for many subjects!) is read aloud by me, they all sit and listen.
Read-aloud time generally includes a selection of our history book, and a couple of chapters from whatever story we are reading — classic literature or historical fiction. (The stories are what hooks the kids — historical fiction is KEY to helping your kids love history!) This time generally takes an hour, but can also vary from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the day. The kids are allowed to do something with their hands while listening. I provide liberal amounts of drawing instruction and coloring pages from the current time period to keep their activities relevant, but they may also build with Legos and blocks, and my oldest does a lot of crocheting and knitting if she’s not drawing. Most of the read-aloud time takes place in the living room (or outside in nice weather).
Besides read-aloud time, we will include mapwork, drawings, and occasionally other printable activities. Sometimes lapbook/notebook activities are included. We may move to the dining table for these.
There are also reading assignments based on subject and reading ability. The older kids have a reading assignment every day, and the younger ones do a couple of times per week.
These aren’t really extras, because they are the most fun! I try to include hands-on activities and these can be all over the spectrum depending on the subject. Art, crafts, food, costumes, etc., all fit in this category. I don’t have a scheduled activity day; it happens when it happens. Hands-on learning is the second-best history teacher, after historical fiction, in my opinion. Kids remember what they DO. Don’t forget to take photos!
Two other fun activities for teaching history are movies and field trips. Depending on your subject, you might have more options than you can use or may find nothing at all. But when the opportunity presents itself, by all means, have fun with it! History re-enactments are the most exciting field trips, but museums and special traveling exhibits are fun, especially when visited at the peak of your study.
For visual learners, video is a must! Movies, documentaries, mini-series, and YouTube are a homeschooler’s dream when it comes to history. The list is never-ending, and every family has their own opinions on content, but you can start with my Pinterest board Homeschool: Media. You’ll also find links for music and audiobooks.
Speaking of audiobooks— there is nothing more entertaining to our entire family than a great book read by a great narrator. This is especially true for non-readers, beginning readers, and those who just hate reading. We have been using Audible for about 7 years now, and have built up quite a library. Every member of our family uses the app on a smart device and enjoys classics, historical fiction, and non-fiction. That means that several of our history books are in our Audible library, and the kids do some of their “reading” this way. My readers can join for free with 2 audiobooks to start by clicking on the link in my sidebar. TWO FREE!
Soak up the culture
Look up children’s games and activities for your time period, fashions, music, dances, home life, foods, etc. Wear costumes to re-enactments or museums; create an authentic feast at the end of your study; search YouTube for music and dances and try them. All of these “extras” will cement the learning for your students.
Look at the History of Shoes and The History of Fashion
Have you ever considered the Politics of Men’s Hair in Chinese History? There’s no end to the fascinating rabbit trails!
If you have family history/geneology information, add it to your studies. We are fortunate enough to have some information going back to the 14th century on one side of our family, and the 16th century on another. Imagining our ancestors living during great events makes our studies even more personal. Ancestry.com is a great place to research.
As you go, document your study. A timeline is a must, and there are lots of great ways to do this. Take photos of projects, color in maps, and create a notebook of papers and activities.
There are some great options to round out your history studies with Language Arts, as well. Many companies produce themed grammar and writing programs to coincide with your history studies. My two favorites are Institute for Excellence in Writing and Total Language Plus. My two boys generally do grammar together, so during our Medieval study we worked through The Whipping Boy from Total Language Plus.
If you’ve reached the point in your homeschool where you feel confident enough to build a curriculum, I hope you’ll just dive in and have fun with it. There are thousands of options out there to supplement what I’ve shared here, so you can personalize a study just the way you like it. As I type my plans up, I’ll share them here. Feel free to use, share, and ask questions; most of all, HAVE FUN WITH HISTORY!
Visit my Main History Page and check out these specific history studies:
We love to make History Smashbooks for hands-on activities.
(Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for new history posts!)
Hi! I’m Nicki! Welcome to my blog! A little about me? I’m a 9th generation Texan living on a nine-acre homestead in North Texas with my husband and five children. I write about homeschooling, history, freedom, my faith, homesteading, reading, and quilting. If you want faith-based encouragement, be sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and subscribe to my blog!