I love timelines. I have a bookshelf dedicated to books of timelines. I have a timeline on my website with hundreds of printables tied to specific dates and events. I just have one problem with them. Has a scenario like this ever played out in your homeschool?

You complete your history textbook reading for the day and assign your child his or her written work. As they finish and you get ready to transition into science, you remember the activity assignment—add the dates you’ve just discussed to your timeline. Quickly, you remind them to do that. They pull out a notebook, add a few dates, close the notebook, and move on to science.

And therein lies the problem—not with creating a timeline, but with not stopping to take the time to think and reflect on the countless stories and realities it presents.

One of the most important things you can do when building a timeline with your children is stop and ask questions. How did what happened come about as a result of what took place before that event? How did it affect what happens next? How did the people living at that moment in time view the events?

Here are just a few of the explorations this sort of questioning can lead your family on:

  • On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first controlled flight of a machine that was piloted, power driven, and heavier than air. The flight lasted 12 seconds. They made three more flights before the day was done, the longest of which covered 852 feet (260 meters) and stayed in the air 59 seconds.
  • On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in Apollo 11, and man walked on the moon for the first time. They had left Kennedy Space Center four days prior, on July 16, and returned on July 24. Their flight lasted eight days and covered hundreds of thousands of miles.

How was such a major milestone reached in the span of less than 66 years? What allowed or caused aviation to advance so rapidly? What changes in technology allowed for such an advance, and how have these advancements impacted us today?

Here’s a second example. In 1642, explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman became the first European to reach the island of Tasmania off the coast of Australia. It’s the same year Sir Isaac Newton was born. How did explorers navigate thousands of miles in extraordinarily dangerous conditions in a time when gravity, one of the most fundamental laws of science, had not yet been discovered?

A closer look at the life of Sir Isaac Newton uncovers still more questions. He was born not long after the English Civil Wars, when there was great tension between freedom of expression and the need to avoid stirring up old hatreds. There was a struggle to find the balance between a yearning for stability and the desire for a brave, new world. Censure and discrimination still abounded. Yet, men like Edmond Haley, William Harvey, Robert Boyle, and Sir Isaac Newton were able to meet freely and explore scientific theories that would change the course of modern science.1

The English Civil Wars are not simply dates for a timeline. They impacted the political and social climate in England in very real, deep ways. How were these men affected by the climate of the time, and how did it help or hinder their work? How would life today be different had they not been able to explore, discuss, and publish their theories?

I’ll highlight one more example to get your creative juices flowing. The Pilgrims landed in what would one day become the United States of America in 1620. The first university in the colonies was founded only 16 years later, when Harvard was established in 1636. However, the first library in the colonies did not exist until 1638, and the first English-language book in the colonies was not printed until 1640. How did a university come into existence in such a short period of time? Why did the early colonists put such importance on learning? How did the students learn and conduct their studies before a library or printing press was even established in the land?

No matter what period of history you are exploring, you must stop and ask questions. Ask historical questions that bring life and context to what you are studying, and don’t forget to ask spiritual questions as well. Everything in history from Creation until Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection pointed to His first coming, paving the way and putting each piece in place. Everything that has happened since that time is pointing to His Second Coming, when history as we understand it will end.

How was God’s plan of salvation slowly unfolding before the time of Jesus, and how has what happened since paved the way for His return? What part in this history do you and your family have? If you seek the answers to these questions, you’ll never look at timelines, or history, the same way again.


  1. For a much more thorough exploration of this topic, please see Magna Carta Unlocked, the video documentary hosted by Philip Quenby and available from https://www . visionvideo . com/dvd/501718D/magna-carta-unlocked.

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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