By Kimberly Miller
Two young boys, heads upturned, eyes wide, looked on with rapt attention at the older man sitting before them. This older man, their own grandfather, was carefully recounting life as he remembered it, over the previous three-quarters of a century.
“Tell us again, Grandpa, about when you were a boy on the farm during the Great Depression. If you didn’t have any money, what did you use to buy things? What was it like growing up during World War II?”
These two boys are my own sons, the older man is my own father, and the scene I have described has taken place many times. I count these times as homeschooling at its finest. Soaking in all the wonderful tidbits of information, my sons are doing much more than simply listening to stories. They are reliving, along with the storyteller, a time in the past—their own past. They are gleaning wisdom and insight into a time gone by while at the same time getting a better understanding of who they are and where they have come from.
My children have been very blessed to have had opportunities to learn history from many first-hand sources. Their grandmother grew up in Germany during World War II. Their other grandfather (my husband’s father) served in the military during both the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Hearing first-hand accounts of these pivotal times has made history become much more than dates and names and battles. It has become to them about real people in real places who experiences real events.
First-hand accounts, though, can only take us so far back. That is why I have made an effort in our homeschool to be sure my children are learning from well-written, idea-rich, interesting living books, the kind of books that capture the imagination of the reader and carry him or her away to another time and place. Historical novels, biographies of important historical figures, and factual tellings written in story form have all been an essential part or my children’s learning.
Because of this, history is not a dry, dusty, boring subject to them. Rather, it is a wonderfully exciting story of the people who have come before and how God worked in and through their lives to bring us to where we are today. It is the living ever-moving story of God’s hand guiding the affairs of men and women.
Both my husband and I have always been students of history. When we began homeschooling our children, we felt it was very important to pass on our passion for history to our children. As a result of that desire, we have through the years come up with creative ways to stir their curiosity and peak their interest in things of the past. Living books, first-hand accounts, living history museums, and even accurate audio-visual presentations have all been used to present history to our children in a way that will fascinate them and ignite in them a desire to learn more. And so far, it has worked beautifully.
A homeschooling parent who wants his or her children to love learning about history need not look far. Homeschool curriculum catalogs abound with wonderful resources to make the study of history a joy. Some of our favorites have been Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World, V. M. Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, Genevieve Foster’s wonderful series (Augustus Caesar’s World, George Washington’s World, etc.), as well as the Landmark books and historical novels like The Sign of the Beaver and The Golden Goblet. Of course, the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder has been well-loved by our family as well.
Living history museums (such as Plymouth Plantation or Old Fort Western) are excellent options, especially here in the New England area where they are many. Most homeschooling families also have in their acquaintance at least a handful of people who have lived through important events in history such as the Great Depression of the 1930’s or World War II. Many homeschooling parents themselves have interesting stories to tell of personally experiencing exciting happenings that “made history”.
In homeschooling, history can come alive for our children in a way that makes them hungry to learn more—far beyond what they will learn in the few short years they spend in our homes. We can give them a broad, yet detailed view of the panorama and scope of times past and a better appreciation and understanding of where they came from and how God has worked throughout time. That is a goodly heritage to pass on to them, one that will stand them in good stead throughout the rest of their lives.
Kimberly Miller is the homeschooling mother of five children. She is the editor of The Heart of HOME newsletter. In addition to this, she and her husband Gilbert are also HOME’s Regional Representatives for Franklin, Oxford, and Androscoggin Counties.