Don’t Know Much About History Resources (2011 Curriculum Fair)

Written by Simple Homeschool contributor Amida of Journey Into Unschooling

Ages of my children: 12, 9, 4, and 5 months
Educational Philosophies I Pull From: Unschooling, Eclectic

History was never my strong point. I blame it on all the instructors who pretty much killed the subject for me, like elementary school teachers who had us read and respond to the social studies textbook questions without a single explanation on how it related to the rest of world chronology.

Plus the grad-school student-teacher who had us studying Machiavelli’s The Prince for a whole semester in high school because that was her dissertation work. And although she was totally enamored with the subject, it just didn’t rub off on me.

Thankfully, there were two teachers who did bring some light into those Dark Ages, and both had one thing in common — they told stories and they told them with enthusiasm.

On days when we probably should have been reviewing declensions, our Latin teacher, egged on by students who knew his weakness, would spend the entire period telling us stories from Roman history.

Another instructor acted as our tour guide to all the must see Wonders of the World — from Pyramids to the Taj Mahal, he shared with us the stories behind all these architectural marvels as we zipped through different time periods in history.

For my own part, I avoid history textbooks like the plague and try to engage my children in ways that they will respond to through books, games, and projects.

I credit series like Horrible Histories and You Wouldn’t Want To Be for my son’s love of the subject. I wish someone had pointed out these books to me, that made history fun and engaging. I never would have sought them on my own, crippled, as I was from history-phobia.

In their younger years, my chidren made Cartoon History Books in which I read Story of the World aloud and they illustrated their favorite parts. We’ve filled out accordion-style time-lines, which could be unfolded for a “walk through history.”

During their Spy-phase, they wrote up Profile Pages on historical figures, events, or inventions. I find unit studies to be helpful in studying history, especially when tied together with a historical fiction and final art project.

As they get older, their studies also intensify. For my middle-schooler, we raid the library for inviting books on a subject, fill out an outline on the specific period, do a write-up on one key topic, draw symbols representing the period, and scour the Internet for pertinent games.

I once received a message from a reader suggesting that, because I “unschool,” I couldn’t use curriculum of any sort. I disagree.

While I do avoid packaged complete curricula, I think we should be open to all options and pick the ones that work best for our family at any given time. If there was a history curriculum that my children worked well with, I’d definitely use it.

Fortunately, instead of fitting them into a generic history curriculum, we have found our own ways to design a curriculum around them.

Hopefully this will give my children a more positive experience than I had, and leave them with fond memories of their travels back in time.

What have been your favorite history resources?

About Amida

Amida is the mom to three darn kids. She used to stress about state standards and test scores but has since come to her senses and enjoys blogging about her family's journey into unschooling.


  1. My daughter and I have really enjoyed Bob Jones Heritage Studies this year. I will be purchasing the 2nd grade set for next year.
    Jenny’s latest post: Wordless Wednesday

  2. We do love Sonlight here, and I’ve been loving The Prairie Primer with my little one. I’ve been looking at different World History courses for 10th grade next year, so I’m looking forward to seeing some other comments here.
    Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s latest post: Mini Homekeeping Book for Girls

    • Sarah Bradbury says:

      How long have you used Sonlight? For what grades and subjects? I am thinking about using them but still undecided

  3. My boys LOVE the You Wouldn’t Want to Be series. We were just at the library on Wed. and we searched for 2 hours for all of the ones the library had, about 25 or so. I was actually planning on writing a post about them tomorrow. How funny.
    Rosemarie’s latest post: memories of me

  4. We’re unschoolers, too. My kids really love the Magic Treehouse series. We read each book in the series together and I find as many books, DVDs, activity books and other resources as I can on the topic. Then we deleve into that for as little or long as we want, however long it holds our interests.

    We’ve also really liked DVD series such as Liberties Kids. I’ve seen some episodes of Drive Through History that I think would be great, too.

  5. We love the History of US and Story of the World series. I just let my kids play Legos or do puzzles while I read, but I think I might need to have them draw instead. Thanks for the great ideas!
    Heidi’s latest post: Homeschool Curriculum Reviews

  6. My students LOVED the Horrible Histories series! When we’d study a new ancient culture, I’d read a fun fact to start off class. Most of my titles went missing — a sure sign of a hit.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: In the Name of Research

  7. i had a history teacher who taught by storytelling. to this day i still think he was the most brilliant educator i’ve ever had.

    i am curious to see what comes up here (in addition to what you’ve already shared, thank you!), as i struggle a bit with pulling together a history course of study that i believe in. i may be in the minority, but i have real concern about the inaccuracies (history being written by the victors) that can be prevalent in this area.

    right now i have my eye on the american vision through oak meadow for next year. i’m going to take a ride up to their office and check it out. i’m curious that it is partnered with national geographic.

    i also like anything written by howard zinn. in particular (for our current purposes) his – young people’s history of the united states.

    and finally, a resource that is more for current events, but of course that easily leads to topics in history, i use the new york times learning network often!

    oh! i should mention that my daughter is 13 – middle school/early high school is where we are.
    heather’s latest post: this moment

  8. I’d not heard of Horrible Histories or You wouldnt want to be-but they are on my list now. Thank you for letting us know about them.
    Our Country Road’s latest post: Weekly Wrap Up-Letter N

  9. THANK YOU!! This is a FANTASTIC post!!!!!!!

  10. Reading about the teachers who were inspirations to you caused a flood of warmth as I remembered the first teacher that made me WANT to go to class. She taught Western Civilization by leaning against her desk and telling stories. She’d sometimes walk to the board to write a date down but it never interrupted her flow of the tale. I’d leave the class with pages of notes I never remembered writing. Today, my kids’ favorite subject is history. We use The Story of the Word and love it. The kids say it is like story time and that is exactly what I am aiming for.
    Jennifer’s latest post: Auditions

  11. I really like the idea of incorporating art with history! I think my tomboy would like the Horrible Histories. The fold out timelines are wonderful too. Thank you for sharing!
    Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith’s latest post: WW- The First Peony

  12. I had a similar experience except it is with science and not history. It is a great opportunity to dive into a subject that left us weary as adults and become students ourselves alongside our child/ren as we learn and have fun.

  13. We are using (and loving) Story of the World as our spine, but adding in many many books on the subjects. We use the activity guide of SOTW as a start, but usually come home from the library with more than that.

    We love the You Wouldn’t Want to Be… series. They are definitely fun. In fact, my ds has started just reading them on his own – which I love! They are one of the first things he pulls out of the library basket. Sometimes they don’t make it home before he dives in!

  14. I loved this line, Amida: For my own part, I avoid history textbooks like the plague and try to engage my children in ways that they will respond to through books, games, and projects.

    I am right there with you! When I hear people say that they or their kids don’t like history, I feel a little sorry for them–and I wonder if they’re limiting themselves to textbook learning. History has always been one of the highlights of our homeschool life.

    I’ve always simply asked the kids what era they want to explore, and then we dig in. I get every good book on the topic I can find in our library system, including everything from comics to biographies to original documents to mythologies to fiction set in the time… We read many together, but the kids also read them on their own, and often wind up knowing so much more than I do on any given historical topic! I search out movies, documentaries, music, websites, games and we just immerse ourselves. My kids have always come up with their own creative projects: models, stories, essays, costumes, meals…whatever!

    And tying in with the last post: history has always been an area that we’ve explored together as a family. We’ve done lots of reading and creating together, but each kid also delves into their own books and projects, according to age and interest.

    I’ve never worried that we’ve learned history in any sort of order, or even that we’ve “covered” it all. Because we’ve dwelled on fewer time periods, but explored them deeply, my kids have really learned about the nuances of these periods–not just a bunch of facts. They make all sorts of insightful connections between them.

    My older son opted to go to high school as a junior, and my daughter went this year as a freshman. I’ve had two different history teachers comment on my kids’ knowledge and interest in the subject. One was pretty shocked to learn that my daughter was homeschooled until now; he didn’t mean it in an insulting way–but I think we gave him a new perspective on homeschooling!
    patricia’s latest post: talking literature

  15. My son who just finished 1st grade. Loved history. Whenever he was asked by someone while we were out and about what he likes about school his answer was always “History is my favorite part”. He has learned through stories. We do use a curriculum, but we don’t sit down and read through a whole textbook, we also have activities that go along with history that he has really enjoyed. The curriculum we use is from
    Suanna’s latest post: Momories

  16. loved your ideas! maybe I’m truely an unschooler……

  17. Sammy Beuker says:

    In my homeschool, we use Tapestry of Grace for our history guide. I love the ability to focus most of our assignments around the history that we are learning. To that end, my favorite resource has been (and promises to conitue to be) some historical activity books. We have worked our way through Old Testament Days: An Activity Guide and Classical Kids: An guide to life in ancient Greece & Rome. For next year we already have similar books on Mideval times and colonial times.

    These books are great as a secondary resources as they give ideas for a lot of hands on activitys, including crafts, costumes, games, recipes, and other stuff set within their historical context. My Kids are 7, 6, & 4 and they all love the activities. It gives them a better idea of what life may have been like back then.

  18. We use a classical approach and are going to start Story of the World with my first grader next year. I also teach at a classical program one day a week and use Mystery of History, which is a great option if you are teaching from a Christian worldview, especially if you are teaching multiple levels (she specifically includes info on how to translate activities and such across levels).

    Also, NEVER underestimate the power of great historical fiction novels in teaching history. Sonlight’s catalog has a lot of great ideas and you can talk to your local librarian and just peruse different titles. Pulling kids into the context by using great stories is invaluable. I love history!
    Paula’s latest post: Plea from a Pastor’s Wife

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