Have you ever noticed that most United States history courses tend to study the same people, over and over again? While there’s usually a reason we learn about those particular historical figures, learning about only those players in history tends to leave us with a lopsided view. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to remedy this, no matter how you supplement homeschool history in your home.
Yes, really. No matter your chosen methodology — textbook, unit study, literature-based, hands-on, or an eclectic combination — this one simple tip will
- enrich understanding of history,
- infuse library trips with purpose, and
- launch an exponentially-advancing quest for discovery.
Most enrichment ideas lengthen your to-do list, don’t they? Some can even unravel an organized timetable. But my favorite way to supplement history isn’t about creating more work. Even if you already follow a specific publisher’s history curriculum or book list, this method will still work.
Here it is — the easiest, least-stressful, most simple way to supplement homeschool history:
Embrace the rabbit trail, check out more library books.
That’s right. And that’s it.
Check Out More Library Books
Lots of history book lists assume an internal dialogue something like this: “My history curriculum is teaching about George Washington this week, so I’m going to head to the library and check out several more books about George Washington.”
This might work if you’re really, really into George Washington, but there’s a whole big world out there, too. Give yourself the freedom to run away with curiosity.
- Who else lived during George’s time?
- What else was happening?
- What can we read about next?
During George Washington’s life, Johann Sebastian Bach died. Louis XV was born at Versailles. Captain Cook arrived in Australia. Tennessee became a state. Napoleon Bonaparte came to power.
Wow! (You can read all these, and more, on the Mount Vernon website’s fascinating timeline “People and Events During Washington’s Time”, from which I excerpted the above points.)
Extend Homeschool History by Asking, “What Else Was Happening?”
Thinking about history in terms of “what else was happening?” arms you with so many ideas for your next library trip, doesn’t it? Instead of reading five more picture books recapping the same basic highlights from George Washington’s life, your kids can spend their next free-time independent reading session exploring
- Bach’s music,
- Versailles’ architecture,
- Australia’s geography,
- Tennessee’s culture, and
- Napoleon’s exploits.
Remember, this isn’t about creating more work for you. You aren’t supposed to now come up with more lesson plans and more art projects to go along with these library books. Simply
- ask questions,
- follow the rabbit trail, and
- check out more books.
You’ll be widening your kids’ perspectives in history and culture, and making every library trip count. You can maintain a steady pace with your curriculum — never getting off schedule — while also enriching your kids’ free-reading time with layers upon layers of marvelous history.
Supplement Homeschool History by Asking, “Who Else Was Living?”
And thinking about history in terms of “who else was living during the same time?” broadens perspectives, too.
Nearly every early-American history booklist, for example, will include biographies of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), inventor and author of Poor Richard’s Almanac. But what about Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), an African-American, who was also an inventor and almanac author? Our library has lots of books about him! Exploring stories of those who lived during the same time periods — but from different frames of reference — adds additional facets to our understanding of history.
Most of us probably learned — rightly so — about courageous women like Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. When reading about them, we might ask, “Who else impacted medicine in American history?” Questions like this lead us to fascinating discoveries. We can then read about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to graduate from medical school, or Civil War-era Mary Edward Walker, the United States’ (and Army’s!) first female surgeon.
Enrich Homeschool History by Embracing the Rabbit Trail
There’s a curious side effect of choosing to supplement homeschool history this way too; you’ll find the enrichment grows exponentially. Embrace the sidetrack effect! Remember, you don’t need to feel any pressure about staying on track with timelines, since your library-day literature explorations aren’t mean to bear the burden of chronology, but enrichment.
For example, after reading about Benjamin Banneker, you might find yourself fascinated by the wooden clock he built. This might pique your curiosity on timepieces, leading you to seeking out more books about clocks next time you go to the library. Your rabbit trail might land you on the other side of the ocean prior to Banneker’s life, learning about John Harrison’s incredible sea-faring clocks. While reading Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude, you might find yourself curious about the book’s use of the term “long-case clock”, since the illustration clearly shows a grandfather clock. Wholly unrelated to Harrison and the pursuit of accurate cartography, you might then discover the term “grandfather clock” didn’t enter our collective lexicon until the song Grandfather’s Clock in 1876, which was sung again nearly 100 years later by Johnny Cash. And then listening to Johnny Cash sing Grandfather’s Clock might lead you to G. Neri’s book Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, where you’ll hear about not just American music, but also the Great Depression and the Dust bowl. All because you decided to check out a book about Benjamin Banneker while you were studying Benjamin Franklin!
Expand Homeschool History on Your Own Timetable
Oh, there’s such wonder to be had in the side-tracked trails. Be free to explore, to learn, to obsess…
- tumbling down the most marvelous of rabbit-holes,
- connecting seemingly unrelated pieces, and
- building a terrific knowledge base of cultural and historical literacy.
Time for a library trip!