The elementary years are a perfect time to begin your study of history by introducing your children to the significant events and famous men and women of the past. Step back in time and look closely at how these men and women lived and what they accomplished. Children often find it fascinating to imagine what it was like to live long ago or in a faraway country. What did people eat? What kind of celebrations did they have? How does our life today compare with the way people long ago spent their time?
When studying the whole of history, it is often beneficial to start with the creation of the world and follow with ancient, medieval, and renaissance history, continuing with the story of this country—colonial America, the American Revolution, the Civil War—and concluding with the modern era to the present day. Our family considered history as a continuous story, focusing on the important events, while learning about the significant people of each time period through their biographies.
How do we create a study of history? We plan, read, narrate, and illustrate.
The first thing to realize is that your child has several years to study history. Many people believe that memorizing dates and other details can be saved for a later time, when your child has more of an understanding of the passage of time. Timelines are a wonderful tool to visualize the passing of the centuries. I also found it helpful to focus on the key people of the past and read about their accomplishments and failures. Knowing who George Washington is and why he is important will be used by your children in the future, as they discover more about his achievements and how they influence us today.
Make a list of the important men and women you would like to include in your study. They may already be in your chosen history curriculum, or you may choose to add them, including their biographies to supplement your reading. (See the sidebar if you need some inspiration in creating a list.) There are many lists on the Internet that can help you identify the important figures from various time periods. In addition, The Well-Trained Mind includes several lists of important people to cover in the various time periods of history. Taking the time to plan your year will make it easier for you to gather any supplementary books when they are needed.
With so many biographies and history books available—and little time to read them all—how do you choose the best ones for your children? If you have already chosen a history curriculum for your family, you may find individual chapters in the book that cover famous people or recommended books selected to accompany their studies. Since I enjoyed exploring more than one approach to teaching children, we had a lot of fun with reading and hands-on projects.
As you read through your history book, or biography, ask your child to recite back to you what you have just read. You may want to record their words on a digital voice recorder and write them down. Help your child remember the key points if they forget. If your children are older and able to write, have them jot down a summary of what you have read or what they can read themselves. Your fifth grader could write a one-half to one-page summary of their studies from your curriculum or any biographies read. Using memorization along with narration in your history study reinforces your lessons and helps your children remember important facts and people. Memorize the US presidents, the first ten emperors of Rome, the Ten Commandments, parts of the Constitution, or the Gettysburg Address. You may also have your child memorize important facts about each person he studies and have him (or even a puppet held by him) recite them to you.
Depending on the creativity and level of interest, you could have your child color a picture related to the lesson or have them illustrate what was taught. You may also include geography in your history lesson and locate the area you are studying on a wall map, a globe, an atlas, or a paper-sized black line map. There are many map programs available. National Geographic has a free online map-making program that allows you to pick regions and customize a map for your studies. Your children may color important regions, locate natural landmarks, or identify other points of interest on their maps.
As you explore the lives of historic men and women, your children will gain an appreciation for the past and an understanding of how our country and other cultures have developed over time. They will see examples of courage and dedication while also learning from the tragedies of the past. Discover the historic events and people of the past with your child today.
Famous Figures of History
Narmer (also called Cheops), Khufu (also called Menes), Hatshepsut, Sargon the Great, Hammurabi, Moses, King David, Ashurbanipal, Tutankhamen, Nebuchadnezzar II, Cyrus the Great, a Greek Hoplite, Qin Shi Huangdi, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, Jesus, Paul, and Constantine
Augustine, Justinian I, Theodora, King Arthur, Mohammed, Charlemagne, Leif Eriksson, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Edward the Confessor, Alfred the Great, Genghis Khan, Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, and Joan of Arc
Johannes Gutenberg, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Nicolaus Copernicus, Ferdinand Magellan, Isabella I, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Henry VIII, Sir Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth I, Tycho Brahe, William Shakespeare, Galileo Galilei, and Mary Queen of Scots (Mary Stuart)
Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, Daniel Boone, George Washington, John Adams, Molly Pitcher, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, Eli Whitney, Tecumseh, Sacagawea, Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Susan B. Anthony, George Custer, Samuel Clemens, Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Neil Armstrong
Pre-Modern and Modern Europe
James I of England, James Cook, Alexander Graham Bell, John Milton, George III of England, Oliver Cromwell, Charles I, Rembrandt, Louis XIV, Robert Boyle, Catherine the Great, Louis XVI, Napoleon, Johann Sebastian Bach, Peter the Great, Isaac Newton, Ludwig van Beethoven, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Otto von Bismarck, Karl Marx, Queen Victoria, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Vladimir Lenin, Albert Einstein, and Margaret Thatcher
Copyright 2016, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print Book 2016 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.