Teaching History

When we began the homeschooling process, my plan was to start the story of humanity as far back as we could go, and then work toward the present.

We first watched videos number 4, 1 and 2, in that order, of a series called Origins.   It was a NOVA/PBS series that was narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  We watched about the Big Bang (episode 4), the origin of the Earth (episode 1), and the origin of life on Earth (episode 2).

There were a few points about the Big Bang that I wanted them to remember, so I put those points on homemade index cards and used them for review.  Later it seemed that putting them on a single sheet of paper might be more helpful, so I did so.  I posted that information here.  I intend to prepare another document on the points I want them to remember about the origin of the planet and the origin of life, but I haven’t finished deciding what I want to include.  That is a relatively minor issue which can wait.

Next we watched a set of BBC DVDs called Prehistoric Earth:  A Natural History, which was narrated by Kenneth Branagh.  This series was a history of life from the beginning of the Earth through the cavemen.  It contained a lot of speculation, but it was very entertaining and it gave my daughters an overview of the development of life until the appearance of modern man.

At that point my eleven year old began watching a set of lectures from The Great Courses.  The set was called Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations, and was taught by Brian Fagan.  It was a little bit advanced for her at first, but she has risen to the challenge and understands most of what is said (although remembering it is another matter).  We’re currently about one-third of the way through the course.

I had hoped that both of my daughters would be able to utilize the same resources and learn history at about the same level.  However, when my nine year old started watching the aforementioned course we found that the vocabulary of the teacher was more advanced than she was ready for.  I didn’t have a backup plan, so we started watching a series of videos called Evolve, which were marketed by the History Channel.  The series consisted of eleven programs dealing with the evolutionary history of various facets of life, such as eyes, skin, communication and flight.  My thought was that she could learn more about the story of life while I figured out how I wanted to handle her introduction to human history.

As my older daughter and I watched the course on prehistory, I decided that there were certain points that I wanted both of them to remember regarding human evolution and  prehistoric man, so I prepared documents for them ( which are posted here and here, respectively).  I then began reviewing this information with each of my daughters.

I had planned for them to learn about early civilizations in some detail, and to slowly work our way up to the present time.  My thinking on the subject has changed, however.  Now I think that I’ll discuss the major innovations that have taken place in history, and then move on to a basic outline of American history.  Understanding major changes throughout history will (I hope) give them a broad understanding of the past, and a framework in which to place future studies; and since we live in the United States, I think that a brief outline of U.S. history would benefit them more than studying early civilizations would at this point.  It will give them a greater perspective regarding why things are the way they are today.  After we have outlined U.S. history, then we can go back and study ancient history, and American history in greater detail.

As with the other subjects that we’re studying, there is no single test that they have to pass, and thus there is no failure.  We study the important points over and over until they are memorized, and then periodically review them as often as is necessary in order to retain that knowledge.  Every point and every definition which we are learning now will be reviewed in future months and future years so that retention of the information is optimized.  The subjects we study are not points that we pass on a journey; they are bricks in an edifice of knowledge.


About Mark James Wooding

I was born. I was scared. I tried to get back to the warm place, but they wouldn't let me. I cried. Since that quite unexpected and traumatic event, I've been trying to make the best of things. I've written a book called Seek Wisdom, Practice Kindness, which contains a philosophy of life as well as an attempt to describe why people do the things they do. I edited a book called The Magical World of Poetry, a collection of public domain poetry that includes many of the traditional favorites and a few others I was fortunate enough to come across. Both books can be read on their respective websites, which are listed in my Links section. I also wrote a novel called Sasha and Samantha Save the World, which is available on Amazon.com.
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