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
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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.
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. If you love Mystery of History, you can follow along with us as we study it here.
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 Mystery of History).
Visit their website to find out all about their curriculum packages or their live, online classes.
We used Sonlight for several years and loved it. It was what I had envisioned history in our homeschool to be, and what prompted me to do 2 things: teach all of my children in a group for history, and to get even more creative with good books as the main source of our history.
If you’re in Texas, you just have to give your kids a great foundation in Texas history. And I love Discover Texas for that. It’s a wonderful hands-on, all ages, all senses program. I wrote a full review of it here.
How we do it
You’ll notice that 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! Click the link below to purchase.Genevieve Foster
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!
|The Light and the Glory, revised and expanded edition: 1492 – 1793
By Peter Marshall & David Manuel
Did Columbus believe that God called him west to undiscovered lands? Does American democracy owe its inception to the handful of Pilgrims that settled at Plymouth? If, indeed, there was a specific, divine call upon this nation, is it still valid today?
The Light and the Glory answers these questions and many more for history buffs. As readers look at their nation’s history from God’s point of view, they will begin to have an idea of how much we owe to a very few–and how much is still at stake. Now revised and expanded for the first time in more than thirty years, The Light and the Glory is poised to show new readers just how special their country is.
|The Light and the Glory for Young Readers: 1492-1787
By Peter Marshall, David Manuel & Anna Wilson Fishel
Adapted for children ages 8-12, The Light and the Glory for Young Readers explains American history through the lens of the providential-history approach, showing how God intervened over and over again in history just to create a place where His followers could worship. Telling the tale of Columbus, the Spanish missionaries, Roanoke Colony, and more, learn how Jamestown’s proximity to swamps shows that they didn’t seek the Lord’s direction, how King Phillip’s War was due to God lifting protective grace, and how “this fighting was more than a war over land. This was a spiritual battle… yet, God continued to take care of His people by showing them special favor.” Study guide with questions and answers included. 186 pages, softcover. Ages 8-12.
I hope you will enjoy this “big picture” method of teaching American history in your homeschool!
Firsthand Accounts of American History
There is nothing quite like a true account of American history from the pen of Americans who witnessed it! Diaries, letters, journals, and personal narratives are the most important kind of history book that exists. From them, we not only learn about great events, but we also get a glimpse into the everyday lives of people in centuries past, such as language, transportation, dress, food, beliefs, and more.
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. And many of these books include a free study guide! All of the Knowledge Keepers books work with any history curriculum you use in your homeschool. Simply set aside a bit of extra time to dive into one of these when you reach certain people or events in your timeline.
Here are several posts I’ve written with book suggestions, sample century lists, and my own thoughts on history education.
- Excellent American History Books for Kids
- 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