FUN Ways to Teach American History

This school year my kids have been diving into American history and loving it! I enjoy learning alongside of my middle school boys in this subject area since there is so many fascinating things in history to discover. This famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt sums up how I feel about why history is so incredibly important to learn.

History was my least favorite subject when I was growing up. I did not like it one bit. Most of my teachers strictly used a textbook and did not add any excitement to this subject whatsoever. Even though I aced the tests, I graduated college with little "real" knowledge of history and certainly no passion for this subject area until.... 

I became a fourth grade teacher. I deviated from just using a textbook as much as my public school would allow me to. We watched superb history videos, acted out scenes from history, created art projects that tied into themes we were learning about, cooked recipes that were used during that time, and incorporated writing lessons to make history exciting to learn about. When I began homeschooling, I learned about more phenomenal resources and creative ways to teach history. Now my family and I LOVE learning about history.

Before we begin studying history in depth: My children first learn about geography. HERE are plenty of fun ways to teach geography to your child. I feel this subject area needs to be taught first, so kids can relate to where the events in history are taking place.

Teaching Tip: Here is an excellent visual that a college professor shared with me 24 years ago. (Typing that sentence just made me feel old.) Imagine a file folder cabinet that is filled with multiple files on different topics. That is your brain filled with many topics. The information in your brain's files is your "schema" or background knowledge about a topic. Everyone’s schema for a topic is different, depending on your individual experiences on what you have learned about a topic.

Our job as parents and educators is to first create a file folder. (Introduce a topic.) Next, we begin to fill that file folder. (Teach about the topic.) That file folder will be closed and reopened to fill over and over. (We can teach, move on, and revisit that topic again in the future.)

This is how learning becomes mastered. When our children are little, we introduce them to many topics and then continue to reteach those topics more in depth as they grow. We can also interweave these topics into their daily lives to make them more meaningful and concrete.

I like to reference the file cabinet example particularly for teaching history since so much of understanding history is based on the knowledge of events that happened beforehand. It is also a great reminder that children will not grasp everything on history the first time or two that it is taught, but their history file folder will still continue to be filled each time you reopen it. In fact, I am still filling my history file and hope to keep doing so all of my life!

Budget Tips: Many of the resources listed below can be found in your local library. You can also watch several of the episodes on television. In the past, I have split larger purchases with other homeschool families and we have shared them.

And now onto the list of AWESOME resources that make learning history FUN!

I love using DVDs and television programs to teach history. Just think of how kids can easily recite lines and describe scenes in detail from everyday programs they watch on TV. Why not use that form of media to teach history? Not only will kids have fun watching the programs, they will also be learning a whole lot.

This television series is a perfect way to introduce young children to history. My middle schoolers still like watching these shows with their younger siblings. The character voices are provided by award-winning film legends, such as: Walter Croncrite, Annette Bening, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Ben Stiller and Liam Neeson. I purchased the entire series for $5.00 (and with free shipping) on Amazon!!! And that is not a typo- 866 minutes worth for five bucks! Now my family watches them in our van while traveling. Loving it!

Drive Thru History is my all-time favorite history curriculum for homeschooling. So much history is packed into these episodes that can be watched again and again. They are incredibly entertaining with lots of action and even humor sprinkled throughout. This video series is definitely my kids' top pick!
Dave Stotts, the driver and host of the show, explores the rich history of America in a fast and fun style all of his own.

Discover how faith and commitment to God and our country contributed to the founding of our nation.

Foundations of Character
This curriculum shares how the Founding Fathers' beliefs guided their actions.

America: The Story of US
This series includes 720 minutes of how America was made. Outstanding cinematography by the History Channel- talk about making history come to life before your eyes!
I really like how this series shows a Biblical side that many other video series will leave out. We watch these together as a family.

Discover the fascinating truth of America's past by exploring the Bible's influence on American culture from government to education. Become an eyewitness to the nation's Christian heritage with an exclusive tour of the U.S. capitol, and enjoy the rich history of faith in the founding era.

TIPS: There are many other excellent programs on PBS and The History Channel. Check your TV guide. Also, several of the programs listed above have study guides included on the DVDs or on their websites. Make sure to check those out, too.

There are countless picture and chapter books that I use with my children. For the sake of not having a blog post that would continue infinitely, I listed my favorite series and a few of my top picks.

Who Was and Who Is Series
These easy-to-read chapter books provide quick glimpses into important Americans' lives. Kids enjoy the funny illustrations and the interesting facts.

History of US by Joy Hakim
This highly-acclaimed book series has even spun off into several television programs.

You Choose: History Series
These books remind me of the choose-your-own-adventure books that were popular when I was a child. The reader is actually submerged into the setting. Kids love these and so do I!

This series is comprised of historical fiction books written in the form of a diary of a young girl's life or a young boy's life during an important event or time period in American history. (The book pictured on top is one of my favorite read-alouds. Talk about being suspenseful and making the readers feel like they are actually on the Oregon Trail!)

Getting to Know the US Presidents Series
These books are a quick read and provide an overview of each president's life. Great for short introductions to each president.

This book has FUN written all over it (and inside of it!) It is filled with trivia and silly facts about our presidents that kids simply find fascinating.

The Bulletproof George Washington
A great read for older children. Colonial George Washington's perilous experiences in the French and Indian War are chronicled in this riveting account of God's providence and protection. There is something intriguing when learning about miracles, which also leads me to the next book.

Discover desperate circumstances in America's past and how men and women rose up with faith and courage and how situations miraculously turned around. I used this book as a read-aloud with my older children.

This book takes the reader on a detailed exposition through the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. My homeschool group used this book as a study guide as they dove into learning together about our nation's founding documents. The older students really enjoyed this study group.

I recently purchased this book at a homeschool convention and I can't wait to start using it! It is written by a teenager who breaks up the constitution and explains it on a level that middle school to high school students will be able to understand it. It is written for a new generation and is a great reminder of what it is to have a voice and live free.

I have used these magazines for 15 years as supplements to units. They are filled with outstanding photography and facts. Kids also like the magazine feel of them, which provides a nice change to a standard book. I pick and choose the topics my kids are interested in or currently studying.

Everything You Need to Know About American History
This is my go-to for any history events that I need a refresher on. I also use certain sections for quick read-alouds and as a springboard for writing assignments.

This is the reference tool my children refer to often while learning the order of the presidents. {Visit this post for more FUN ways to learn about presidents.}

What an excellent collection of patriotic songs!  I even have it downloaded on my phone to play when my little ones are coloring.

How can you unfold FUN? Every child should have a timeline while learning history and why not give them one like no other- a 15 foot fold-out timeline! I saw this at a homeschool convention and knew right away that I had to purchase it. This is a unique tool to engage your child in an adventurous trip through time - from the first day of creation to present day.

Feel free to share your favorite American history resources in the comments below.

Enjoy making American history FUN!