How NOT to Teach American History
I do not teach my kids “women’s history” or “black history” or “church history” or even (stay with me here) “American history.”
I teach them HISTORY chronologically, in context, and with plenty of conversation. The history of the world, all nations, all peoples, all events, all religions, and all in their place on the timeline.
So when people ask me for a recommendation for American history, I don’t usually have the answer they are looking for. I don’t just teach American history as a stand-alone class.
Each historic event builds on the ones before it, and explains so much about WHY it happened.
The example I give people when they ask about this is: The Pilgrims settling in America (1620) 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 (1440). 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.
America is a very young country, as countries go. We have almost 250 years under our belt, which is not much in the big history of the world. And we are a melting-pot of people, beliefs, and cultures whose ancestors came here from many places and for many different reasons. It’s a very unique story, but one that is not complete on its own.
American History is World History
I prefer to teach my children the story of America as it evolved from world events. So when we’re making our way through ancient history, we’ll see how people from Asia migrated over a landbridge to Alaska and generally trickled down through North and South America, and became the “Indians.” While we’re reading through the first century A.D., we will read about Viking voyages to North America. When we study the Magna Carta in 1215, we’ll note how it eventually influenced the Declaration of Independence. When we get to the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries we’ll see Columbus, Vespucci, Cabot, Hudson, Drake, Champlain, and many more; not because we’re doing a unit on “explorers,” but because we encounter them on the long, connected timeline. Each explorer had different reasons, politics, and origins for their journeys.
Timelines are such a sensible way to teach history. I always have my children create one, or we do it as a group project. Sometimes it’s on the wall, sometimes in a notebook. But it is THE most important part of teaching history, in my opinion, because it puts every person and event in its proper place.
See my Instagram post below for just a snippet. Follow me on IG for a more day-to-day look at our homeschool.
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Part of today’s history lesson: timeline work and drawing the Model T Ford. We use Draw and Write Through History every chance we get! The kids drew these while listening to me read Rascal by Sterling North. . #homeschool #homeschooling #anyonecanhomeschool #americanhistory #texashomeschoolers #history #charlottemason #historyclass #largefamilyhomeschooling #mombloggers #homeeducation #backtoschool #homeschoolblog #homeschoolcollective #christianhomeschooling #notbacktoschool #homeschoolers #backtohomeschool #momofboys #historic #back2school #homeschoolmom #historia #heritage #homeschoollife #kidsbook #momofgirls #historical #kidsactivities
So, how do you find a homeschool curriculum that weaves world and American history together? There are actually many, and I’ll share my favorites here.
Story of the World
I like Story of the World for this very reason: it covers events all around the globe, including people and places and happenings that many traditionally-educated Americans have never heard of. It’s truly the Story of the World.
It is not a Christian curriculum, but I use it because it is very thorough for timeline events. I highly recommend using the Activity Guide that accompanies each volume, and making liberal use of the suggested reading in each chapter. To me, SOTW is meant to be a spine, or a basic guide through history. The real fun is in the living books in those lists.
The other gem in the Activity Guide is the maps. THIS is how I teach geography. Kind of like the other things I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, I don’t teach a stand-alone geography curriculum. (More on that another time.) I think maps are so much more beneficial when they apply to people and events. So we make use of every single map in the SOTW Activity Guide.
I have used Story of the World with my kids of all ages. As I said, it’s a good spine or guide, so it can be adapted to kids from elementary to high school. Since it only takes about 15 minutes to read a chapter (I read this aloud to my whole family at once) I assign different things to different ages, like an accompanying book to read, copywork, or other project, depending on their ages. (If you want a higher-level version of SOTW for your high schoolers, though, the author, Susan Wise Bauer has written a similar series for adults.)
Mystery of History
I love this curriculum because it is a Christian curriculum. But the drawback for me is that it is not a comprehensive world history curriculum like SOTW. So I combine them, primarily using Mystery of History and adding in the short sections of SOTW that are not covered.
The author, Linda Harcour Hobar, addresses the events in a bit deeper way, which I love, and also teaches from a Biblical worldview, which is very important to me. Just check out the sample lessons from Volume 1 if you want to see what I mean.
Again, I utilize the maps and additional reading lists, and sometimes the suggested activities that accompany Mystery of History. They are what make it a complete curriculum. I also use this for all ages in my home; the curriculum is designed with multi-level reading and activity suggestions.
Visit the website to purchase the curriculum (including the audiobooks!) or to sign up for live, online classes.
I love this company, although I do not use their complete curriculum. That’s only because I already love what I’m using. But if you want a truly “open and go” set up, I highly recommend Veritas Press. In their catalog, you can see the books used, and they are wonderful titles (many of which we use with Story of the World and Mystery of History).
Visit their website to find out all about their curriculum packages or their live, online classes.
How we do it
You’ll notice that all three of my recommendations are based on reading lots of books together. I cannot stress how important this is in a history curriculum! Classics, biographies, journals, and historical fiction are the backbone of a history curriculum that kids will remember for their whole lives. They need to connect with the people in the history books, and memorizing dates and kings just doesn’t make that happen.
So make use of real stories in your history lessons. Follow a chronological sequence of events and sprinkle in the stories that your kids will remember. Along the way, look for good movies about these people and events, too.
I teach all of history to all of my kids together, no matter what age they are. You can read more about that in a couple of the posts I share below. It takes 1-2 hours for our history lessons, and that is usually 2-3 times per week. It really includes so much more, like geography, literature, and science.
I think my favorite books for this type of blended world/American history are the “world” books by Genevieve Foster.
- The World of Columbus and Sons
- The World of John Smith
- The World of William Penn
- George Washington’s World
- Abraham Lincoln’s World
In an easy-to-follow fashion, she tells the story of events around the world at the time the title person lived. There are beautiful line drawings all throughout the books. The first time I read these books I was hooked!
My other favorite recommendation is The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel (and the two follow-up books). They are available in the original version (suitable for high school/adult), a junior version that’s easy to read aloud or for your younger kids to read, and a children’s activity book for the really young ones (harder to find, but you can search eBay). I have used all three at a time because I combine history lessons for all of my kids.
- The Light and the Glory
- From Sea to Shining Sea
- Sounding Forth the Trumpet
I love these because they are focused on our Christian heritage. The authors did meticulous research, and the books are based on original writings, documents, journals, and speeches. I first read The Light and the Glory when I was 14, and have read it multiple times in the years since. Highly recommended!
I hope you will enjoy this “big picture” method of teaching American history in your homeschool!
Knowledge Keepers Series
I have begun taking old, out-of-print history books and bringing them back to life in my Knowledge Keepers book series. These books are the kind that tell firsthand accounts of all the great events in our history, including colonial settlements, the Revolution, pioneers, the Indians, and more. They include:
Visit Knowledge Keepers Bookstore to see all the titles available!
Here are several posts I’ve written with book suggestions, sample century lists, and my own thoughts on history education.
- How to Teach History Without a Curriculum
- 19th Century World History with Story of the World and Mystery of History
- 17th Century World History Study
- World War 1 History with Story of the World and Mystery of History
- American History Through the Life of George Washington
- The French and Indian War
- Homeschool Government and Civics
- Six Great Children’s Authors on History
- Homeschooling Multiple Ages Together
- Making History Fun