Using Time Travelers to Teach American History

Posted by The Home School in the Woods Team on

Have you ever found yourself pulling your hair out as you try to figure out how to pull together a cohesive U.S. history study for your school? From age differences to learning styles, costs, and resources there can be a lot of factors to consider.


And we hear you! (It’s why we’ve created our Time Travelers U.S. History Studies collection!)


Here’s the Home School in the Woods philosophy on how to teach U.S. history, why it’s so important, and why we literally spent 5+ years coming up with a solution to the conundrum!

 

What exactly is U.S. history?

It may sound like a silly question, but it’s actually really important.


After all, if you don’t know what you’re trying to teach, it’s going to make the whole “teaching” part that much harder!


The truth is, U.S. history isn’t as easy to define as one might hope. It covers certain events like the Constitutional Convention or the U.S. Civil War nearly every time, but that doesn’t mean that each history curriculum starts or stops at the same point.


In our humble opinion, though, you shouldn’t worry TOO much about where you start or stop in your history studies, especially at younger ages.


The more orderly amongst us usually begin their U.S. history studies pretty far back in time (our New World Explorers Time Traveler starts with the likes of Leif Erikson and Brendan the Navigator, for example) while others pick up around The Revolutionary War (the beginning of the official “United States”) and still others jump around with little rhyme or reason.


Before you roll your eyes at that last option, too, think about it for a second.


In our experience we’ve found that there’s so much potential information to include in any history curriculum that going chronologically — especially if you’re the kind of teacher that likes to leave no stone unturned — while it has many benefits, often can drag the entire learning experience down into the muck if it’s adhered to too strictly.


Often it can be more beneficial to move to wherever the student’s interests currently lie. And that’s exactly why having a timeline to keep track of everything can be a lifesaver!


NOTE: As we briefly mentioned above, this “moving around” method is especially effective for younger ages when the love of history and of learning, in general, are still being established. Once you hit high school and college there will be plenty of time to go through things in a more orderly manner!


While this may not perfectly answer the question “what is U.S. history” — really, it’s a question for a whole post of its own — at the end of the day, the most important thing to focus on when you’re creating your lesson plans for teaching American history is to make sure that, whatever you’re covering, you’re helping your students get excited about the history in the first place.

 

Getting hands-on with your American history!

You saw this coming, right? We LOVE to get hands-on with our schooling!


One of the most effective ways that you can teach history — particularly if you’re trying to juggle multiple students and ages at the same time — is by expanding your options from that lone textbook, with an occasional movie thrown into the mix.


Don’t get us wrong. These can be useful tools, and they should be part of your tool belt! But you might need more than just plain words and documentaries to foster a love for the subject.


That’s where projects come into play.

 

Teaching U.S. history with projects

Teaching any era in history by using projects can be the perfect way to bring the endless march of names, dates, and other often-mind-numbing information to life in a way that genuinely helps the students learn about the stories being told.


If you’re going to be teaching American history with projects, however, you’re going to need to organize yourself and figure out which U.S. history project topics you’ll want to cover.


You’ll also need to come up with American history project ideas for middle school, elementary school, and perhaps even a learning disability, and that can add a lot of nuance and complexity to your decisions.


That’s precisely why we’ve created our Time Traveler U.S. History Studies!

Industrial Revolution Through the Great Depression Projects

A layout of the projects from our Industrial Revolution Through the Great Depression Time Traveler study.

They’re brimming with facts, information, and a plethora of different project ideas from lapbooks and notebooking pages to 3D projects, radio theater, costumes, and even era recipes!


NOTE: For a full breakdown of what Time Travelers include, check out our What is a Time Traveler post. You can also see a video breakdown of the studies below.


 

The goal with a Time Traveler isn’t to use every single project in each study. Rather, as you read through the text lessons, we try to give you a large bank of options to choose from at each and every point along the way.


If you have kids that love to write, print out a creative writing newspaper (we have a TON of them!).


If you have a kid that is all about visuals, pan for gold (fake gold, of course!), create a 3D replica of Jamestown, or even make a full-blown Civil War soldier costume!


If your child is more of the traditional reading persuasion, we also have that covered with the aforementioned thoroughly researched, conversationally written text lessons that come along with each study and provide a solid though concise framework of information.


NOTE: Each study also comes with an Additional Resources list that provides helpful suggestions for living books, historical fiction, non-fiction, movies, and even audio sources that can provide extra “deep-dive” study material, if you feel you want to spend more time on the subject!


The point of all of this is to make sure that you’re meeting your students where THEY are in their learning journey. Don’t bend them to fit a learning style. Don’t “break their wills” (it feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?) to force them to sit and listen to you read a dry textbook for hours.


Our mantra when teaching U.S. history can’t just be “Let’s get through this.” It has to be more! Otherwise, we’re just wasting our time.


If that “let’s just get through this” mentality is how you’re teaching history right now (and this is NO JUDGEMENT —  we’ve all been there!), it might be a good time to reevaluate just what you’re trying to accomplish with your history studies and how you might be able to breathe new life into them. Don’t be discouraged! There are resources like the Time Travelers out there that really can make this a cakewalk!

 

Covering different U.S. history eras

Before we wrap up, let’s look at two more important things to keep in mind when teaching American history.


The first aspect to consider, especially if you jump around a bit, is finding projects that work with all of the different eras of U.S. history. You might need modern American history project ideas one day, explorer ideas the next, and Civil War ideas after that!


That’s why we’ve created seven different studies in the Time Travelers series.

They work their way, back to back, through the bulk of U.S. history in order to make sure that you’ve always got something at your fingertips to work with, regardless of the era being studied and the age and learning style of the students.

 

Two birds with one stone

Another thing to keep in mind when gathering American history project ideas is the “two birds with one stone” factor.


Continuing to use our Time Travelers as an example, if you look at the Scope and Sequence for any of them (included right on their product pages), we’ve pointed out some of the other subjects that you can seamlessly weave into your history studies, like geography, art, creative writing, and even penmanship, all while simply using a project-based approach to learning U.S. history!

 

Don’t give up on your U.S. history!

History is a unique subject. It doesn’t cooperate with letter grades or skills-based subjects the same way that other areas of study do, like language arts, math, or science.


You don’t use history to learn how to read or write better. Instead, it instructs us about values, perspective, and other life-long lessons that can truly help your children develop not just into better students, but into better people.


NOTE: For a further breakdown on some of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of teaching history, check out this article Confessions of a History Buff: 4 Important Do’s and Don’ts When Teaching History.


That’s it for now! If you enjoyed the post, please consider giving it a share! If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the feed below. We’d love to hear your thoughts!


Also, if you’re nodding your head in agreement at our approach, but you’re actually looking for project-based learning WORLD HISTORY lesson plans, check out our Project Passport world history studies!


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  • I love the Time Travelers series! My children are 9 & 11, and all I have ever used for history is Time Travelers. We started with Colonial Life about 4 or 5 years ago, and take an ENTIRE year to do a time period because we love ALL of the projects. (OK, so maybe they aren’t so enamored with the Newspaper articles, but I think that’s a great way to incorporate writing that’s relevant, so we do them.) They love having the lapbooks at the end and are anxious to show them off to family. And the final Dinner/tea party/round up is always so much fun, especially when friends come to enjoy it with us. I had offered to do history a different way, and got a resounding “NO! We like how we do history.” from both of them. We have also completed the Wonders of the World and are currently working on the Artists. I can’t say enough about the products offered.

    Wendy on

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