Customize Your Own Textbook-free History Curriculum for a Wide Age Range

You can bring delight to your homeschool by customizing a textbook-free history curriculum the whole family can enjoy together. Break free from the graded workbooks and explore the adventure of history across a wide age range!

Customize Your Own Textbook-Free History Curriculum for a Wide Age Range

For many of you, your only experience with history may have been dates and dead people, dry textbooks and even drier worksheets. No wonder so many people think history is boring!

Maybe you have a desire to teach history in a different way with your own children, to take an approach full of adventure and delight. When your family has a wide age range, however, it can feel overwhelming to make the study of history enchanting for everyone in their individual time periods and textbooks! But what if there is a different way?

I’m a 2nd-generation homeschooler with 5 children from preschool to precalculus. Come with me and let’s explore a simple, delightful, multi-grade approach to history!

{I’ve even created a free Textbook-Free History Planning Sheet for you!}

Start with the Big Picture

Rather than each student studying their own thing, we will choose one unifying historical topic that the entire family will explore together. We will build on this common foundation with supplemental activities geared towards the abilities and interests of each individual child and the family as a whole.

While my own family prefers studying history chronologically, this is certainly not the only option! Choose something that fits within your big-picture homeschool vision, something that meshes with your unique family’s culture, and something that sparks curiosity in your children.

Here are a few possible ideas to get you started:

  • A particular time period such as Early American, Ancient Greece, or the Middle Ages
  • Church history, or the history of a particular religion
  • The history of a particular country, region, or people group
  • The history of a particular scientific field (such as medicine, astronomy, or chemistry)
  • The history of fashion

Choose a History Spine

Once you’ve chosen your scope of study, it’s time to choose what I call your history spine. This is going to be the core of your multi-age learning. Choose a read-aloud book that gives the big picture of the time period or topic you’re studying. It’s more important to choose an engaging, well-written book than it is to find one at a particular grade level. Remember the wise words of C. S. Lewis: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.

Look for a non-fiction book that is still narrative in style. After all, history is a story at its heart, and our history books should be entrancing like any other adventure story!

Does your history spine focus on people, or is it a collection of isolated dates and events? History is not a series of facts strung meaninglessly together. It is the story of real people with ideas and strengths and weaknesses, who loved and despaired as much as we do. This is why our family’s favorite history spines take a biographical approach.

Supplement with Reading Options

Alongside your core read-aloud title, gather additional titles that fit the unique abilities, interests, and needs of the children in your home. I have found it helpful to collect books of many reading levels and keep them in one central location. This becomes known as the “history shelf” or “history basket.”

Rather than assigning specific titles to specific children each day, I will often assign a certain amount of reading time to each child in accordance with their abilities. During that time, they have the freedom to read anything from the history shelf or history basket they desire.

Depending on the age and abilities of each child, you might ask them to narrate what they’ve read orally, illustrate what they’ve learned, or keep a simple reading journal.

Look for books in a wide variety of genres and topics related to the time period you’re studying. For example, you might look for history books in some of these areas:

  • Biography
  • Artists and Art Study
  • Scientists and Scientific Discovers
  • Inventions
  • Medical History
  • Military History
  • Graphic Novels (both fiction and non-fiction)
  • Historical Fiction
  • Picture Books (no one is too old for picture books!)
  • Philosophy
  • Fashion
  • Architecture
  • Political Theory
  • Geography
  • Music and composers

Integrate Beautiful Memory Work

When you hear the words “memory work” do you automatically think of lists of facts and dates? While those have their appropriate time and place, consider focusing primarily on the poetry, speeches, and original source documents from the history era you’re studying.

Integrating your memory work with your history studies helps your children put what they’re learning in a cultural context. This is also another opportunity to foster a shared family culture and vocabulary across a wide range of ages. All of my children of every age loved proclaiming “Ozymandias” at the top of their lungs, and it paired beautifully with our study of antiquity. Learning American history gave us a chance to memorize the preamble to the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address, among many other true, good, and beautiful things.

Check out my library of free video recitations and printables available for you!

Explore History Beyond the Page

Hands-on projects are a fabulous way to bring delight to your multi-age history studies! The whole family can enjoy a field trip to a battlefield, a historic home, or a museum. All ages could participate in a thematic party related to what you’re studying. You can even invite friends (Backyard Olympics or Medieval Feast, anyone?)! Head to the local art museum to observe art from the culture you’ve been learning about, or try your own (affiliate) art projects at home. Consider including music history and listening skills in your history routine.

You can even coordinate your science projects with your history lessons! For example, learning about astronomy (and visiting a planetarium) would pair perfectly with the study of ancient Greek mythology.

Documentaries and movies set in the time period are also sure to be a winner with all ages! (affiliate) Screen time counts as school right? I don’t know many kids who would quibble with that one!

Experiment with creative writing assignments based on your history studies. For example, you could have all your children work together to (affiliate) create a newspaper set during the time period you’re studying!

History Curriculum for Older Students

All that I have described so far is appropriate for any age, early elementary to teen. But, of course, we want to provide additional challenges for our high school students.

Look for challenging audio or video lectures to engage them at a deeper level. (Modern Scholar and Kings Meadow are resources my tween and teens have enjoyed.) Assign more difficult original sources or literary pieces for them to read alongside the family’s history spine. Expect more content in their reading journals, and provide the opportunities for further research projects.

Older students should also be thinking more deeply about the ideas and philosophies under-girding the events of history. You can even integrate your history studies with your worldview curriculum, your government and economics curriculum, and more.

Enjoy close relationships, shared memories, and delightful learning with textbook-free, multi-age approach to history. Don’t forget to print out your free history planning sheets to brainstorm your family’s fun study plan!

Tell me: what are you going to study first?

Amy Sloan

About the author

Amy Sloan is a 2nd-generation homeschooling mom of 5 who loves to share epic book lists, beautiful memory work, and down-to-earth encouragement at Humility and Doxology. She also hosts the weekly Homeschool Conversations podcast to share the wisdom and real-life perspective of a variety of homeschool moms, dads, and educators. She'd love to chat with you over a mug of strong coffee!

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