4 Ways to Learn History Through Adventure, Freedom, and Delight

By Amy Sloan of Humility and Doxology

Are you starting to catch a vision for a home education that doesn’t have to look like “school”?

Maybe it’s still equal parts scary and exciting!

Maybe you find yourself looking over your shoulder in case you’re not really allowed to have this much freedom and adventure.

Whenever you begin questioning your personalized approach to home education, contemplate that quintessential moment in the A&E Pride and Prejudice (or, as I like to call it, the real Pride and Prejudice movie), as Maria is frantically rearranging her trunk to look the way it is “supposed” to look (at least according to Lady Catherine).

Elizabeth wryly comments, “Maria, this is your trunk, these are your gowns. You may arrange them in any way you wish. Lady Catherine will never know!”

Friend: this is your homeschool, these are your children.  You may pursue an education in any way you wish.  Lady Catherine will never know!

4 Ways to Learn History Through Adventure, Freedom, and Delight

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What might freedom look like when it comes to studying history?

Do you remember thinking history was boring, as you fell asleep over dry textbooks and meaningless bits of information?

Have you been hearing that your children are supposed to memorize large chunks of history dates, fill out extensive timelines, and complete stacks of worksheets to prove they’ve really learned the facts?

Could there be another, more delight-filled, way?

In my textbook-free history post, I describe history as “a wild adventure story of real people in real places.  It’s a comedy, a tragedy, a swashbuckling pirate story.  There’s intrigue, betrayal, and true love.  It’s like a spy novel, a thriller, a mystery, a romance, a saga, a myth, and a legend all rolled into one glorious tale.”

I don’t know about you, but that description sounds a lot more exciting than learning a list of factoids and filling in worksheets!

If history is an adventure story, then shouldn’t we pursue studying history with imagination, anticipation, and a bit of wanderlust?

I have a deep love for living books as the core of our family’s homeschool, especially when it comes to history. There are few things as simple and delightful as the adventure of reading good books and building simple reading journal habits as a family.

Today, however, I want to inspire you to explore history off the page as well.

Grab your telescope, canteen, and enchanted map…we’re going on an adventure!

Here are four adventurous ways to explore history off the page

Parties

One of my favorite memories from my own homeschooled childhood is the monastic sleepover our family hosted.  My friends and I colored illuminated manuscripts, listened to Gregorian chants, and experienced a few of the monastic hours.  The highlight, though, was my dad dressed up in costume as the abbot… in order to get the requisite black robe, my mom found a costume shop that would lend us a Grim Reaper costume!

What time period of history grabs your imagination or the imagination of your children?  Can you find a fun way to party either as a family or with friends?

You might enjoy:

  • a backyard Olympic games complete with “laurel” wreaths for the victors
  • a Renaissance faire/medieval feast (this doubles as meal planning, right?)
  • Shakespeare skits/monologues (my daughter is hoping to do this for fun with some friends this year!)
  • a “barn raising” with an early America flair (if you were hoping to build a backyard shed, fence, or other home project…might I suggest turning this into a historic party, so it counts for school *and* you get productive work done around the house?)

Science

If you’re naturally a math/science geek, you might think that history holds nothing to interest you or your family.  But science is a fantastic secret entrance into history, because the development of science has always occurred within a historic context!  Here are some ideas to get you started:

If you like…

  • Physics: build a trebuchet and explore the history of military history, investigate how they built the pyramids, or create a dome out of sugar cubes and learn more about the history of engineering
  • Astronomy: chart your local constellations and explore their mythology; bonus points if you do contrasts between the mythologies of various cultures
  • Chemistry: consider using a book like Mystery of the Periodic Table (for younger kids) or The Disappearing Spoon (for older students) as a starting point, and investigate how our current understanding of chemistry is the fruit of a long history of creative scientific mistakes! (There’s a whole life lesson in there, too.)
  • Biology: study the history of medicine, investigate the importance of animals in various cultures, explore agriculture across history/cultures, or dive into the value of botany across time

Music/Art

If your family enjoys the fine arts, the natural intersection of musicology, art appreciation, and history is obvious.

  • Dive deep into the life and music of a composer or artist and explore what current events influenced his or her creative endeavors.
  • Pursue a particular genre of music and see how it has evolved over time (the symphony, opera, or musical theater would be fantastic places to start).
  • Sketch your way through the local art museum, or perhaps be brave and try larger imitative-art projects at home.

And of course, as a die-hard Hamilton the Musical fan, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that even pop culture phenomenon like Hamilton, Les Mis, and Grease provide captivating opportunities for your family to explore historic time periods engagingly. Singing and dancing in the kitchen counts as “school”?  Sign me up!

Field Trips

While I will always be especially partial to the historic battlefields of my childhood vacations, no matter where you live there will surely be hidden treasures within easy driving distance.  Look into town/state/national historic park listings, find reenactments near you and put them on the calendar, and see what hands-on opportunities might be available at history museums in your area.

And don’t neglect your local history.  Call your town hall or google your city and seek out hidden gems in your own backyard.  Often these are neglected treasures, and the few who seek to preserve them will be thrilled at your interest!  You might gain some behind-the-scenes access, or even find volunteer opportunities for your older children.  I learned so much as a junior docent for local historic homes and went on to establish a new junior docent program for another historic home as a homeschooled highschooler.

Anything but boring

Decide that this is the year that history will be full of life and adventure!  Find unusual books, historical fiction, and beautifully illustrated picture books for any time period.

Encourage your children to begin their own unique and age-appropriate journals to keep a record of what they have learned.

Explore field trips, music, science, and parties that will engage all your senses.

When you’re tired, keep it simple without guilt.  A day spent wrapped in sheet-togas while watching a documentary on Ancient Rome totally counts in my book as living a history adventure.

When you’re feeling energetic, go All In.  Speaking as a 2nd-generation homeschooler, those out-of-the-box experiences will be delightful memories your family will treasure forever.

And if you start looking over your shoulder at the homeschool Instagrammer next door, remember your freedom:

This is your family.

This is your homeschool.

You can study history any way you wish.

Lady Catherine will never know.


 

 

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About Amy Sloan

Amy Sloan and her husband, John, are second-generation homeschoolers by grace alone to 5 children ages 3, 6, 8, 11, and 13. Their educational philosophy is one of humility and doxology, and follows primarily a classical approach. Amy loves coffee, perseveres through half-marathons and weight-training, and starts getting nervous if the stack of to-be-read library books beside her bed is less than 2 feet tall. Get her started on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, or Hamilton the Musical and it might be hard to get her to stop. Mostly, though, she gets really excited about the Gospel. The Sloan family adventures in North Carolina.

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