In history, it is said to the victors go the spoils. Not only do the victors take the spoils, but they also get to write the history books. When you are looking for a secular homeschool history curriculum, are you also looking for a book that gives a more accurate picture? How do you teach homeschool history anyway?
Recently, in the United States, history education has become the scene of the latest culture war. I’m not interested in controversy and drama here, but what I am interested in is looking at history from multiple perspectives. When choosing a secular homeschool history curriculum, it’s important to see whose voices are included, and whose experiences are missing.
How to Teach Secular Homeschool History
If you went to public school as a kid, was your football coach your history teacher, too? Mine was and it was a dry class full of mimeographed worksheets and tests with random dates. Who cares about history when you’re 14? There’s a better way!
History is complicated. It is full of complicated heroes, the oppressed and oppressors. It is filled with wonderment of new discoveries and heartbreaks of war and plagues. In the homeschool setting, we have more time to spend on discussion and making connections between events and historical figures than our football coach had in high school.
Whatever the ages of your kids, these tips for teaching secular homeschool history will be useful.
Keep it Simple
Simple? History? How do you keep something so complicated and involved simple? Break it down into regions and pieces and timeframes. Rather than focusing on specific dates, focus on what was happening in one place at a time. Then move on to another region or event and connect it to the first one.
Examine all the perspectives
In the United States, this statement might fuel some fires – this is not a “both sidesing” statement. There is no denying horrible atrocities have happened throughout history. Individuals and power structures have committed indescribable acts of cruelty. When examining all perspectives, I am not looking to justify these events or actions. Instead, look at all the surrounding factors. What was happening in that time period and that location that set the stage for this to happen? Because the stage was set, what happened? Could it have been stopped?
When you are examining historical figures and events from all sides there are several questions to ask. (My kids call this my soap box).
- Who had the power and what did they do with it?
- Who was being oppressed? What did they do in resistance?
- What were the external pressures for each person or system?
- What systems were in place to set this power imbalance?
- After the event, what systems were created? How did they help progression of humanity? How did they stop progress?
- Who were the helpers (shout out to Mr. Rogers)? Who was trying to make the system better or to help individuals?
Questions such as these help even young kids examine historical events. I find that kids have so much empathy and can spot injustice and unfairness a mile away. It won’t take long for them to apply these questions on their own, applying them to both history and current events.
Use A Timeline
Using a timeline can give visual cues for what was happening at the same time in multiple regions of the world. This will help your kids make those connections and identify that something happening in ancient Ethiopia would also affect happenings in ancient Egypt, for example.
A timeline can be as extravagant or as simple as you want. If you have a dedicated school room, it can be fun to put a timeline on the walls so you can see time stretching out all around you. If you are more cramped for space, a timeline binder or a history junk journal might be the way to go. Here’s a picture of one of my kids’ binders, just so you can see how we did this. Simple, but effective!
You do not need to put everything on the timeline, focus on events that interest your kids or that had global effects.
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The best maps for secular homeschool history
Having a good map is another vital visual aid for homeschool history. Maps, as you know, are not exactly proportionate. It is hard to accurately represent a sphere on a flat piece of paper. Personally, I love maps that don’t center the United States. Try an upside down map for a change, or a Gall Orthographic map that accurately represents proportions between continents.
The best maps for homeschool history are the ones you will use. A big atlas with a variety of maps is always nice to have. Laminated wall size maps make it more durable. You can also write on them with white board markers and then wipe off. Globes let you see exactly where things are located without the distortion.
Talk about Local and Family History
No matter the age of your kid, local and family histories can be an interesting way to make the global events more relatable. Does your family have an immigration story? Is there a recipe you always make at Christmas time? What is the family history behind it?
If you are lucky enough to have grandparents or great-grandparents around, have your kids interview them about a historical event that happened in their lifetime. For example, I had my kids ask their grandparents about the civil rights marches in the 1960s.
Examine your local history as well. Which indigenous people lived on your land? Is there a local historian who could teach you more about that indigenous culture? Schedule a field trip! What other people may have settled in your area? What would have drawn them there? How have local industries and demographics changed? Is there a local historical scandal you could investigate?
Do I need a Secular History Curriculum?
If you are using open and go packages such as Build Your Library or Torchlight, history is included. You don’t need a specific secular history curriculum to teach history – it’s possible to wing it! Ask your kids what they want to learn about or pick a time period to focus on. You can then gather resources from documentaries, living books, primary resources, etc. and learn all you can.
Remember, history is about the connections between humans, places, and time. You do not need to memorize dates. Instead, put your energy on learning (and teaching!) about the relationships of events and people through time.
However, if you’re like me, and need a bit of structure – new secular homeschool history programs are arriving on the scene all the time.
What is the Best Secular Homeschool History Curriculum?
Homeschool history curriculum can be just like science – purely secular, neutral, or faith-based. I’ll highlight purely secular choices in this list, except for Story of the World. We used it and loved it, but it is probably better classed as neutral.
Story of the World
Let’s start with the controversial one first, shall we? Story of the World is an older curriculum. It is secular, but it does have sections about Biblical characters. They are not taught as historical fact, but they are present in the books. I used SOTW for many years and we just cut out the Biblical figure parts. It was pretty easy to do as they are their own chapters. However, secular purists rightly point out that SOTW treats Christianity differently than it does other myths or religions in this book.
For us, this program worked great. I also recommend the activity books that go along with it. However, there are other, newer curricula that might be a better fit if you are very particular about your secular homeschool history.
History Quest and History Odyssey
I used this curriculum for one year with my son. It is mostly written to the student which increases independence. This Pandia Press option is completely secular. It incorporates history, literature and geography. It is easy to combine levels with this program as well.
The younger years use the program called History Quest and middle school and higher use History Odyssey. There are multiple levels in each section. Your child will learn about different time periods in history as well as critical thinking skills.
Woke Homeschooling came on the scene a few years ago and has gone through updates since they were first published. According to the website, the U.S. history (Oh Freedom) was created by a mom who was weary of the stories from the perspective of the colonizers. This sounds great! However, this is one secular history curriculum you will want to get samples of and see for yourself. Originally, the curriculum wasn’t actually secular. Now, there are both secular and faith-based programs. Even if you use the secular version, though, there are places where the author’s faith bias is apparent.
One of the initial criticisms of Woke History was for the way indigenous history was handled. This was “fixed’ in the most recent update. I have not used this curriculum myself, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This curriculum is truly secular. Curiosity Chronicles explains history through a global perspective. It also teaches culture, art and science history. Ted and Mona are the two main characters in the history books and everything is explained in dialog form. The kids ask questions and explore new ideas together.
Some kids are going to absolutely LOVE this curriculum. It is fun and engaging. Other kids (like my son) will hate the dialog format. Build Your Library has replaced Story of the World in their younger levels with Curiosity Chronicles as it is truly secular homeschool history.
I do appreciate all the package options with print, digital, bundles, and single products all available. They are very affordable as well!
Run With it
Unfortunately, there will not be a secular homeschool history curriculum that is perfect for every situation or every family. Some kids are going to prefer different formats. Some will be easier to use with multiple children.
Focus on the connections and relationships between historical events and try to make it come alive during your homeschool history session. If your children are interested in a certain topic, invention, geographic region – run with it! Get books form the library, watch videos on You Tube and dive right in. You will find so many connections between seemingly unrelated topics!