Home Education: Teaching History

Teaching History in a Home School setting can be a challenge, especially when we are faced with teaching ages 11 and up through High School. Most of us learned what little history we know from textbooks that sucked the life out of the stories and bored us nearly to death. A few of us were fortunate enough to run across writers of histories who are anything BUT boring. Historians like Dr. Warren Carroll whose books (like the very short 1917, Isabella, and Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness, and the heavy duty Christendom series) challenged and delighted me into becoming a lover of History.

Biographies, GOOD biographies, are enjoyable and interesting. There are biographies of persons in every field and for every segment of history.  A look at the lives of actual people makes history come alive.  One need not limit oneself to political figures either.  Scientists, Saints, cartographers, adventurers and explorers abound in history.  Even philosophers like Dietriech von Hildebrand whose biography Soul of a Lion is a must read for the study of WWII (along with the story of a geeky guy’s contributions to the British war effort in the book Between Silk and Cyanide or a view of the Spanish Riding School in My Horses, My Teachers). History is about PEOPLE and so their lives and their loves matter.

History is about people in another way too.  How they worshiped, how they spent their money, how they were paid, what did their money look like, how did they light their homes, how did they keep time, what did their maps look like, how were people educated, what did children play with, what did the market look like, what did they eat, what didn’t they eat, how did they dress, what colors, what fabric, what jewelry, where did their food come from, what was the climate like at the time? ANY interest a child may have can become a history lesson simply by asking them about their interest as it might have been at a certain point in the past.

An even more hands on way to study history is to join with others who love aspects of history. The Society for Creative Anachronisms is just such a group.  Serious historians participate right along side people for whom it is more fantasy play but the major thrust is to learn history experientially.

SCA says of itself:

“The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Our “Known World” consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes & workshops, and more.”
The official line is “pre-17th-century Europe”, but many a person looks at the silk road and chooses a persona to develop from one of the many cultures represented along its endless miles making it possible to study Asian, Middle Eastern, and African cultures too because they came into contact with European cultures. People of every race and religion traveled and traded along the silk road from the earliest days. Events happening in one country can be compared to the same time period in a far flung part of the globe.
Imagine a project where family members research elements of life from a period between 600 and  1600 AD and then re-create some of them to demonstrate what they have learned. Attending events lets you see living history. Large events have Arts and Sciences competitions where papers documenting the history accompany items made from that information. Modern substitutions are also documented with an explanation of why (cost for example!). Of course, the boys and some of the girls will find the Chivalric, Rapier and Archery more their idea of fun. And for the kid into building machines, how about a catapult or siege engine?
Religion can be included in the study of History in the home school.  If your persona lived in Avila Spain during the 1400’s, when would they have needed to be living if they wanted to meet St. Teresa of Avila?  If they lived in 984AD in Constantinople, whose writings were being read in study of the Faith?  Who was Pope Who was Patriarch of Constantinople? What liturgy was being used at that time? When did the Rosary first appear and how did it look? Would your persona have owned a Bible and if they did, how would it have been bound?
The SCA has the motto of “The Middle Ages as they OUGHT to have been” meaning that we keep our modern plumbing, and our medical persons at the events are modern in their training (but dressed for period!). We also keep our tolerance of differing religious beliefs and each persona may have a religion but it is not flaunted because while we may study the wars of religion, we prefer to reenact without them!  We attempt period clothing, period tents, period everyday practices and materials (what kind of dishes were used and had forks been invented yet or introduced to your culture yet?), and work to avoid breaking the ambiance with modern materials.
How did ladies and gentleman wear their hair in your period and culture?  You might be surprised! In 1525 Britain, what would your persona be wearing and what was happening at that time in Constantinople and in the Americas?  This sort of study helps a student to connect with history on a more global scale and at the same time connect with people of a particular place.  The way most of us learned history we never realized how cultures ebbed and grew so that while Rome was a dying ruin of a city, Constantinople was still in its hey day, and London, Paris, Mexico City, Jerusalem, and Hong Kong  were doing what (or did they even exist at that time)?
History is about people and how they lived and interacted with each other and with their world. It need not be a dull list of dates and facts divorced from the context of human lives and loves. Get into history with an eye toward re-creations and possibly by taking part in a local SCA group where other brains have been doing history in this way and may be wonderful resources.
Above all, have fun learning!
Dear Lord, thank You for Your presence in every time and place. Thank You for interesting books and hands on ways to learn about history. Please help all of us to understand our histories a bit better through study and bless the efforts of home schooling parents and their children. +Amen.

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