The majority of people I speak to about history either give you a huge yawn and tell you how dry and insignificant the whole subject is. Or, they say oh yeah I love history did you see the documentary on such and such or I can’t wait for the Medieval fair to dress in period costume. So I guess it is a subject that you either love or hate!
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However, with our homeschool History, I am on a mission to make it interesting and interactive. We tie in art, science, engineering and sometimes even maths so history basically becomes a SHEAM (Science, History, Engineering, Art and Maths) subject. I am passionate about teaching our kids about world history as understanding history can help us avoid some mistakes in the future. The Covid-19 outbreak is a classic example of this; if the general public were more aware of the Spanish Flu outbreak they may have more understanding of why governments have been putting so many restrictions on their citizen’s behaviour.
Earlier this year, before the Covid-19 outbreak, we looked at the Byzantine empire. It was very difficult to find any books at the local library so I put together my own resource with QR codes so that the kids could read some information and discover a picture or read a website which had further information. I designed the cards to be double-sided so that they could be used for two activities.
Teaching history at home has a been learning curve and I will not forget one of the first lessons we did on the stone age. I had been struggling to come up with activities that the kids might like to do. We found some great books from the Library and the kids each picked out something that interested them. We then discussed different ways that the ancient people used stones.
My sister has a big back yard where there were many stones in the garden of different types and styles. So we basically let the kids decide how they wanted to explore stone tools and each of them decided to choose a different way to use the stones or explore how they might have been used. One of the kids decided to grind some grain and later made pancakes with the flour they made. Another child made a stone axe while the younger one practised building stone walls. They even found some iron rods to put under a large stone and worked together to move the stone on these rollers. We all learnt a lot that day and I was impressed to see the kids put what they had learnt into action.
We have been using a program called the layers of learning which takes you through the history of the world in 4 years. Year one was Ancient History, and this year we are looking at the Middle Ages. You can buy Layers of Learning products as a yearly bundle or as individual units. Each unit includes History, Geography, Science and Art. We have managed to adapt the History lessons for Kids from 3yrs to 15 years so it is a very flexible program.
Following a basic structure for history helps me to organise the lesson in my head and makes sure that we cover different areas of learning. I have come up with 5 ‘I’s to help with this structure: Inquire, Inform, Inspect, Investigate and Interact.
Usually, I start the lesson with a way for the children to find out information on the topic. This is where you could read out information on the topic or read a library book that you have found on the subject. This is the stage where I used my QR cards for the Byzantine Empire.
The cards can be laid out so that the children can uncover the Empire you are studying. You could choose one child at a time to come and get a card. Then they could find the QR picture and read the information on the card. Or you could hand out the cards to the children, they read the information and look at the QR code and then share with everyone. Students could then lay the cards out on the letter side to discover the Empire.
Layers of Learning Unit for Byzantines
This stage is really about a getting quick overview of the some key or novel aspects of this aspect of history.
Websites and YouTube also come in handy for displaying and viewing information. One lesson in which we looked at Ancient Africa was extremely difficult to find books, there was only one book at the library so YouTube was my go-to. There was a video that had been created with a drone which flew around the ancient Nubian pyramids. This was extremely helpful because the boys, in particular, find it difficult to relate to history that they have no context for and the fact that the video had a drone captured their attention long enough to be able to introduce this new culture.
A YouTube example for the Byzantine Empire
An inspection now takes us deeper in one or two key areas. Inspection of the history subject, for us, often is comparing and contrasting our current lifestyles to those of the culture we are learning about. We may find commonalities, inventions or information such as the development of the number zero or the way buildings were built.
This is when we find a task that the kids can explore such as making a mosaic to get a sense of what it felt like for the ancient people to create and decorate their churches and homes. Through this investigation, the children can imagine what the ancient culture may have needed to create their mosaics.
During these activities, the adults help promote discussion of the topic and help the children explore techniques and other issues. We also give the kids room to discover ideas that they have.
For example, when we learnt about the Vikings the kids decided that they wanted to know how fast their boats would go in the bath with a fan to provide the wind. This was a great motivation for them to finish their boats and put them in action. It was great to see their individual interests come out as some were focused on the engineering and others on the artistic design. Let you child explore what they are interested in and you can help them learn new things by asking them questions and finding out the information.
We try to give the kids tasks where they need to interact with each other and promote collaborative learning. Interaction can happen in all of the 4 steps above. This could look like reading out information to each other or building a design together. I try to keep these interactions non-competitive and focus on working together rather than trying to see who’s is the best. We comment on the effort rather than the end product.
Reduce, Reuse And Recycle
Unlike a classroom teacher who may stick with the same year level, each year homeschooling History on a 4 yearly rotation means that many resources may not be used again at all! So I came up with an idea to recycle these cards. Once you have finished with them you could turn them into bookmarks with some recycled ribbon. A shape punch could also be used to punch out shapes from the parchment style paper to use for other creative projects.
I hope this has given you some ideas on exploring history with you children
Please check out my Byzantine Inquiry Cards on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Naomi (About Me)