When we first began homeschooling more than 12 years ago, I imagined myself a more classical homeschool mom, teaching history chronologically, from the beginning of the Bible until modern day. The 4-year history cycle was all the rage, and our bookshelves were stocked with a popular series of history texts that would lead us through it, cycling through 3 times during the course of grades 1-12.
Then reality hit. And I soon realized that is not the homeschool mom I would be (mostly because that’s not the kind of kid I was teaching). Thankfully, it became clear early on that using a timeline was going to be key for us.
Teaching Homeschool History with a Timeline
So, did you know that teaching homeschool history with a timeline is a real game-changer? Why? Because if we just give our students a book about a person, it seems like just a book about a person. Or if we give them a textbook, it seems like disjointed facts. And when we use unit studies, it can get confusing really quickly. Even when studying history chronologically, it’s easy to gloss over interesting connections or miss out on random, fascinating tidbits. Especially, if you homeschool the way we did, jumping around history, following rabbit trails, a timeline is imperative to making all of those connections.
So let’s spend a little time looking at different timelines and how you can go about teaching history with a timeline in your homeschool.
No Two History Timelines are the Same
One of the cool things about history timelines is that they’re different for each family. Sure a lot of it depends on the curriculum a family is using. Each curriculum may have your students learn about a different variety of people. And some may put more emphasis on some famous people. Plus, each curriculum likely covers some key events in history, but not others. But your family has the ability to add other individuals and events to your timeline when you branch off and learn more just because you want to!
Know what else? There are different kinds of timelines to choose from.
The Book of Centuries
This is Charlotte Mason inspired. It’s like a timeline within . . . well, a book. Specifically it’s kept within a 3-ring binder. As the title indicates, each section covers one hundred years. You can print a simple timeline, 3-hole punch it, and create your own book of centuries or buy one. We have used the one that is part of our Productive Homeschooling membership for years.
The concept is simple. Whenever you read about a person or an event in history, you flip open the book of centuries, and add the information to the proper place on a timeline page. You can use cut out pictures or simply write the information in. I personally prefer when pictures are added to timelines. Typically anything visual helps things stick all that much more. Students can cut and paste images to their timelines. Or they can sit down and sketch images that relate to their area of study. These can be drawn directly onto the timeline. Or a more “safe” approach—depending on the age of the child—may be to draw on a separate paper and cut and paste their drawings onto the timeline. Another fun aspect to this route is that students can color in their graphics.
A Wall Timeline
In comparison to a book of centuries, a wall timeline goes on a wall. Or walls. It really just depends on how carried away you get with your studies! You can use the same “century” concept with printables, but instead of putting them into a notebook, you’ll use a wall. Some families will laminate pages with main events and hang those on a wall. Then they’ll hang minor events and individuals under each major event that take place about the same time. You can get pretty creative, but the downside is you’ll need a lot of wall space to make this work. I have seen some pretty impressive pre-printed wall timelines though. So for those of you who prefer to have all the work done for you, check those out. The Adam’s Chart of History is a great example.
Index Card Time Line
I’ve seen some pretty elaborate timelines using index cards. One of my favorites combined the concept of the wall timelinke and index cards by tacking string on a way and then using small clothespins to attach index cards to the string. This makes your timeline pieces movable, which is pretty cool. It also gives room to use both pictures and words for your historical narratives.
Down, Across, And 45 Degrees
This has kinda been touched on above with the wall or index card timeline, but it’s a bit of a variation to the straight across the page “century” methods. These timelines are vertical. So if you don’t have much wall space for a horizontal timeline, this is a suitable option.
While other timelines are horizontal across a wall or a 3-ring binder, historical facts can be entered going straight down from the dates.
Or another option is to have events and people added down a 45 degree line off of the main horizontal line. This allows for sub dates off of a round number year to be added.
For example, the 1800’s is marked on a horizontal line. Add a person/event here. And then drop down and go to the right just a hair and you can jot down 1828—marking it for when expansion via the Pioneers begins. Of course, directly under that you can mark the publication of Webster’s 1828 Dictionary coming into existence.
Here’s an idea of what I mean:
- Expansion via Pioneers
- Webster’s 1828 Dictionary is Published
- Beatrix Potter is born
History timelines make connections. As you’ve likely gathered, timelines are a great way to help students make the connections of people living during or around the same time. And also to see the order of events that those people lived through. If you have not incorporated timelines into your study of history, you are likely missing out on some pretty amazing connections.
For homeschool moms, there’s a bit of a sentimental touch in relation to keeping a timeline. Because each year as your students add to a timeline or start a new one, there’s a record of how they’d draw their pictures or of their handwriting. And who doesn’t enjoy looking back at past drawings and writings from their children at different stages?
If creating a timeline isn’t your cup of tea, allow me to recommend another fantastic resource that can help bridge that gap for you.
A Useful Timeline Tool: History at a Glance from National Geographic
National Geographic has just released a beautiful book, History at a Glance: Illustrated Time Lines from Prehistory to the Present Day.
Beautifully illustrated, History at a Glance displays a chronological timeline of history, beginning with the first societies, traveling through to the modern day. It features more than three dozen maps, hundreds of photographs and illustrations, and a comparative timeline that covers all seven continents, nine eras, and five topics (Politics and Power, Geography and Environment, Culture and Religion, Science and Technology, and People and Society). History at a Glance also includes essays highlighting the events of each era.
More than a simple timeline, this comprehensive tool is perfect for the homeschool family who prefers a pre-written reference guide, rather than creating a timeline of their own. Even if you do want to make a wall timeline as you study different periods of history, your family will love pouring through this book. My favorite thing about it is learning what was going on in each part of the world at the same time. For example, did you know that during the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth, Virgil was composing his Aeneid, and Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide? Things like that fascinate me.
A book such as History at a Glance will inspire some interesting study and reading that your family may otherwise miss while learning world history and geography, even while creating your own timeline. Imagine learning about the culture and religion of the Middle East as it relates to the science and technology of the Americas during the period of time 660-700. Your kids will be busy for hours at a time finding these interesting connections. I think this is a must-have tool for every family, especially for those who wish to teach homeschool history with a timeline.