How to help your kids fall in love with history

how to help your kids fall in love with history
Written by contributor Kris Bales of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

History is boring!

Okay, not really, but that’s definitely how I felt when I was in school. Now, history is my favorite subject to learn alongside my kids and one of their favorite subjects, as well.

What’s made the difference?

In large part, it’s due to learning history through historical fiction and biographies, rather than a textbook. Nothing puts a reader in a particular place or time better than getting engrossed in a great story.

Biographies allow readers to learn history through the lives of men and women who lived it.

Biographies show, rather than tell, the reader what it was like to live during the events that make up our history. You can experience the uncertainty and wonder with which the subject lived without the benefit of today’s hindsight.

One of my favorite parts of reading biographies is the ability to make connections that could easily become lost in a textbook. In a textbook, you might learn that Robert E. Lee married George Washington’s great-granddaughter.

However, after reading biographies of both men, you realize that the great-granddaughter Lee married was the daughter one of the grandchildren that Washington and his wife raised after his step-daughter’s death.

Biographies help us make connections about the people and events that affected history.

When learning history through biographies, you start to make the connections about whose lives intertwined and role the economy, geography, and world events played in our history.

For example, Samuel Morse started thinking about how great it would be if information could be transmitted rapidly after getting stuck in England during the War of 1812. He was reminded of this when he didn’t find out for several days that his beloved wife had died while he was in Washington D.C. This led to his invention of the telegraph.

Just recently, we learned that Thomas Edison was hired by Western Union to make improvements on Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Western Union had declined to purchase Bell’s patent.

By the time they realized what a mistake this might have been, Bell had already started his own company to produce the telephone, a move that looked very threatening to Western Union’s telegraph operation. The only way they saw to rectify the situation was to create a better telephone.

Historical fiction lets readers see what it might have been like to live through an event or during a period of history.

We love historical fiction, too. Some of our favorites are books like Johnny Tremain and Across Five Aprils that dump the reader right down in the middle of the action.

Really good historical fiction is true to the events in history and the main players while allowing readers to view the action through the eyes of someone to whom he or she can really relate – in our case, this is usually a teen or tween from the time period.

You may wonder how students can really learn history without memorizing facts and dates, but when biography after biography, along with some good historical fiction, continually weave the events and the key people together, you start absorbing their stories as your own and the dates and facts become part of of your story.

And, isn’t that what history truly is?

What biographies or historical fiction have made a lasting impression on you and your kids?

About Kris

Kris Bales is the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest voice behind Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She and her husband of over 25 years are parents to two amazing teens and a homeschool grad. Kris has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. She also seems intent on becoming the crazy cat lady long before she's old and alone.


  1. Even though I went on to teach history and write historical fiction, I have to confess I sometimes felt history was too big to grasp as a kid, that I wasn’t smart enough to get it. Historical fiction was my way to enter into history’s story — for it to become real and personal and memorable.

    Great post!
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Why We Read

  2. We use Story of the World and my kids and I absolutely love history! We are in our second year of the first book and still won’t finish this school year because the kids want to do all of the activities, read all of the extra books, etc. We love it!

  3. It really is a bummer that kids everywhere think of history as memorizing names and dates. It’s so shallow and sooooo boring. I’m really excited that my kid are getting old enough to really dive into history. We’re starting A Living History of Our World vol 1 (about early America) next year!
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: testing. testing.

  4. Kris is so right! The way to make history exciting to kids is to take it out of textbooks and bring it to stories. Historical fiction is great, but the actual history is just as exciting as the fiction. I’ve been teaching a class recently in which we learn the actual history one week and then watch a Hollywood version of the history the following week. Inevitably the kids all wonder why Hollywood changed an already exciting and memorable story.

  5. Yolanda says:

    My 7 year old is loving The Boy and The Pyramids…also The American Girl Series…Addy in particular. From these great stories has grown a love and longing for more knowledge of these time periods. Great article…but aren’t they all 😉

  6. Heather says:

    We live in Philadelphia, and history is everywhere. My daughter loved Laurie Halse Anderson’s book “Fever 1793”, which chronicles the yellow fever epidemic of that year. It kickstarted a love of history in her that was far greater than any amount of storytelling on my own. She was 7 at the time, and three years later we still take frequent romps around old city, imagining what life was like during the colonial period, marvelling at what has changed, and appreciating what has remained the same. With history especially, one never knows which author will really speak to a child, or what will fire their desire for knowledge. Thank goodness there are so many resources from which to choose.

  7. Karin Fulgham says:

    We love to read books! I would like to incorporate some biographies into our curriculum. We are studying American Heritage & Old World History. Let me know of any specific titles that you enjoyed with your family. I feel like I need to be more intentional when we visit the library.

  8. We are HUGE biography fans! Last year, Sarah read biographies of Neil Armstrong, Sitting Bull, Jim Thorpe, King Tut and more. And historical fiction – oh, I love that too. Alchemy and Meggy Swann was her recent favorite, but we’ve enjoyed a TON!
    Joan’s latest post: 10 “toys” that have lasted into Sarah’s teenage years

  9. Julie D says:

    My eight year old is really enjoying the Little House series right now. She specifically asked to read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s biography and is thoroughly enjoying that as well.

  10. My daughter has loved the series of Who Was (FDR, Edison, Goodall, Beatles, etc) and now What Was (March on Washington, Gold Rush)… a simplistic way to grow the joy of reading about history.

  11. I think it is easy to forget that history is a story of people from the past, and we get lost in the dates, timelines and places and forget the fun in it!

    I love using historical fiction and biographies!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: When you are thinking of quitting homeschooling….

  12. I wish I had read more biographies as a child and young adult. But it’s never too late to start, right?
    Julia’s latest post: DIY Memory Stone Pen Holder for Father’s Day

  13. I was exactly the same way! I HATED history growing up. But I love it now and so do my kids. We use Story of the World which has made all the difference but the biggest thing is the way the information is presented. Biographies are great – my kids love to read the Who Was…. series and even Kingfisher’s Encyclopedia of History. When it is their idea they get so much more out of it.

  14. Sue Humes says:

    Would love to find a list of historical fiction and biographies. What do you use? My kids are 5th & 7th grade. Thanks!

  15. I love the way that biographies bring history to life. And when it comes to regular history books, I find that books with a social history slant, telling about the average person’s life, work much better for a lot of kids than the type of textbook that focuses on wars and presidents.

  16. I think the most irritating thing about taking history throughout school was tests. I got the history, enjoyed learning it, but the instructor would come up with the most irrelevant questions to put on the test. It was as though they just skimmed through the entire textbook and pulled out whatever random fact they happened to come across. For instance, “Which New York senator made this statement during the 1896 elections: ….” Wait, what?

  17. I’ve always loved reading history and biographies. My daughter is now starting to ask a lot of questions about things that happened a long time ago. I love your point about how biographies help the reader make a connection that could get lost in a regular textbook. I think it’s time for me to find another good history book that I can sink my teeth into.

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