Making History Come Alive

Making History Come Alive: Using living books to teach homeschool history.

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Making History Come Alive with Living Books for All Ages

If you want to make history more meaningful to children, teach them that it is made up of real people, places, and events. Instead of making facts and figures the focus of their lessons, make history come alive for them.

Sure, it is important to have a sense of when events happened. But, rather than memorizing the dates of World War II, why not read a real book about it, or better yet, learn from a real person who experienced it?

“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.” — Corrie ten Boom

In our homeschool, history has become the core of everything else we do.

Not having the benefit of being home educated as a child, I was subjected to the textbook (boring) method for most of my school years. I never appreciated how interesting and important history is until I started learning it again with my children.

Determined to make history a living experience for my children, I’m using primary sources, literature, and oral histories, along with field trips and hands-on experiences, to immerse my children in different time periods and make history more interactive and memorable. By integrating history this way, my children also learn many “habits” or virtues, like attention, compassion, courtesy, gentleness, kindness, respect, and tolerance.

Making History Come Alive: Using living books to teach homeschool history.

Here’s a look at some things we’ve done to learn more about the World War II era. You could use these ideas to apply to any time period.

Literature, poetry, and primary sources. With different ages to teach, I assign some things as independent reading, while some are done as read-alouds:

Newspapers and magazines from the era, some found in online archives, and some actual copies from my grandmama’s attic.

Timeline. My children record notable events in their timeline books, including invasions and battles, world leaders, and important people like Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom.

Art and Culture. We look at pictures of artwork from the period, like Picasso and Japanese woodcuts, and then we create some artwork of our own, including abstract paintings, propaganda posters, folded origami, and kokeshi dolls. We listen to music from the era, which includes big band swing and cool jazz, and we listen to recorded “in the moment” radio broadcasts. For even more hands-on learning, we’ve planted our own victory garden, though we have yet to produce a crop abundant enough to learn how to can!

Film. Riveting movies such as Empire of the Sun, Casablanca, The Great Escape, and Foreign Correspondent move and engross us.

Field trips and artifacts. We visit art, history, and war museums, war memorials, an airport and aviation school, and take virtual tours online of places like Anne Frank’s Secret Annex. Family members provide “show and tell” items, allowing us to touch coins, medals, and weapons from the era. These experiences bring us face to face with history.

Oral history. He had a glimmer in his eye, and the memory was so vivid we could almost reach out and touch it. Tears welled as his voice choked at the recollection of his “boys” being shipped out, most never to return. The experience of listening to a veteran’s firsthand account as he shared his soldier’s heart with us was life-changing. Many people want to share their stories, and they are there for the asking. We’ve visited with veterans, a holocaust survivor, and people who experienced life on the home front.

Narration. After any or all of these activities, the act of discussing and “telling back” what they’ve experienced reinforces these learning experiences in my children and builds family bonds.

As we create our own memories and learn from the past, these activities combine to make history more exciting and real.

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Comments (12)

  1. An Almost Unschooling Mom

    Sounds like a good method to me 🙂

    Reply
  2. Jenny

    Do you have a blog post about their time line book?

    Reply
    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      I do, and I’m currently updating it. I’m planning to have it back on the site in a few days and will link it in this post. Thanks, Jenny!

      Reply
      1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

        My article about teaching with timelines is at this link: http://www.mylearningtable.com/teaching-history-timeline/

        Reply
  3. Ann

    Awesome tips.

    In college I took a class about the Vietnam War in Film and books. And it was so immersive. There’s no way I could leave that class not being familiar with many details and points of view from the war.

    Reply
    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Immersive learning is wonderful!

      Reply
  4. Valarie Budayr (@JumpIntoABook1)

    This is such a great list AND a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Thanks so much, Valarie! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Cee Lee Reed

    It’s great how you are so hands on with each of your kid’s lessons. I think it’s a big issue in traditional schooling that the kids get so bored when the teachers are overwhelmed and cant find the time to create such exciting experiences. Kudos to you for providing them such stimulating ways to learn.

    Reply
    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Thank you so much, Cee Lee! I spent a lot of time feeling really bored with school, so I am trying to keep things ‘alive’ with my boys.

      Reply
  6. Emmy

    Oh thank you! Definitely pinning this, always needing new things for my son to read

    Reply
    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      That’t great, Emmy. Thank you! 🙂

      Reply

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