Good Foundational Resources for History

I’ve opted to center much of our curriculum around history, having discovered that math, science, geography, language arts, art/music, etc. magically incorporate themselves in our learning when we fan out into history.  A living book approach also strikes me as exciting and thorough, and this is an approach that is easy to follow within the context of history.  I’ll blog about living books and give you some great websites in a separate post.  I don’t remember history being taught to me like this when I was in elementary school, although there are a few high points that have settled into my memory.  In second grade we took a day to act out daily life as a pilgrim.  We turned cream into butter, made applesauce, wore the costumes, and shared a meal (of butter, cornbread and applesauce?)  I can still smell that yummy applesauce simmering on the hot plate!  And I had a healthy appreciation for how hard people had to work to make butter by hand.

Textbook history is DULL and OH-SO-BORING.  Ugh.  If you’re going to invest your energy, why not make the time you spend jazzed up and worthwhile?  And all those dates!  Let’s collectively utter another loud ugh.  Yes, some of them are important, I get that.  A lot of them are not.  What IS important is helping your child to see what people were like during that time period, what was important to those folks, what challenges they faced daily, how they grew and changed, what they did with their lives, how their accomplishments contributed to our lives today.  Putting this all into context with a tool like a time line helps it all fall into place beautifully, especially as other events and people are added as you go.

I’m a fan of timelines and have a very long one posted on a wall so we can look at it when we want.  Now I just got done saying that all those dates are not important………well, they are, but focusing on just those will leave you glassy-eyed.  Timelines help you get a handle on the big picture!  Learning how to step back and look at the big picture outside of yourself will prove to be a valuable skill later on in life, so it’s worth teaching.  There are some good pre-made timelines available, so I’ll give you some links below.  I sat at the kitchen table and made my own.  It’s not pretty, but it will suffice for the time being (pun!)  Don’t forget to put your child’s birthday on the timeline and watch his eyes get big when he starts to conceptualize just how long ago the dinosaurs lived compared to how long he’s been around!  I still can’t wrap my mind around that one.  If our timeline was built to scale, the dinosaur piece would need to be taped to a wall in somebody else’s house in another country.

Okay – this will be a link fest with my comments here and there.  Keep in mind that my kiddo is floating somewhere in “4th grade”, which is kind of arbitrary anyway, so let’s just say that much of this stuff fits the 9-12 age range.


The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Revised Edition (Paperback); written by Susan Wise Bauer. History in story form and it’s fantastic. We are using it as the foundation piece for history. I believe there are four volumes available and the accompanying activity guide/workbook (see below) is worth purchasing, especially for kids younger than say, age nine. Note that this series does have a mild Christian undertone. It’s a popular text among homeschoolers. Bet you can find this used at a homeschool co-op sale, or of course on Amazon.

story of world activity

Activity book that goes along with the Ancient Times:  From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, written by Susan Wise Bauer.  The blackline maps are helpful and some of the art projects are fun, but you’ll probably get more use out of the activity book if you have kids under the age of nine.  Although, it does list many other resources that you can use to compile a unit study; I am finding these helpful.


Wall Times of World History is four 10-foot wall timelines dating from 5,000 BC to the present – $17.95 each for grades 5-12.  Timelines are printed on sturdy, heavyweight 32 lb paper for durability.  These are certainly more attractive than the one I made by hand and put up, but more expensive, too.


Wonders of Old Timeline Book.  There’s something appealing about being able to close it up and stick it on a shelf.  Saves the wall space and you can still get to it easily.

Making your own wall time line is easy, albeit a bit time-consuming.  Plus you get high on Sharpie fumes.  Here’s the link I used to make a time line:

Straight, no-nonsense information about the fifty states is available at  You can go hog-wild with tangents on this site.

Geography games on the computer at Quia are used frequently by teachers in the classroom.  Quia is used to bridge the gap between learning in the classroom and learning on the computer.  Lots of supplementary materials, games, quizes, activities, tutorials – it’s vast.  NOTE:  you can try out a free 30 day trial and then you have to pay up, about $49 per year.  I’ll pass on that for the time being.  Available at


Material World:  A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel and sixteen other photographers.  This is a must have for your library.  In honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, Material World tackles its wide subject by zooming in, allowing one household to represent an entire nation.  Photographers spent one week living with a ‘statistically average’ family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future.  Then a big picture shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their material goods.  Covers 30 nations and is something we should all see.

history of us

A History of Us by Joy Hakim. This will probably be the main resource I turn to for United States history, when we’re ready. Not sure when that will be, but glad to know I can get my hands on this set. By the way, the set has 11 volumes! She tells us our history in story form. Here’s the blurb taken from Amazon because it describes the set better than I can: Master storyteller Joy Hakim has excited millions of young minds with the great drama of American history in her award-winning series A History of US. Hailed by reviewers, historians, educators, and parents for its exciting, thought-provoking narrative, the books have been recognized as a break-through tool in teaching history and critical reading skills to young people. And the kids themselves agree: Hakim has piles of fan letters as testimony. And it’s no wonder. Whether it’s standing on the podium in Seneca Falls with the Suffragettes or riding on the first subway car beneath New York City in 1904, the books in Joy Hakim’s A History of US series weave together exciting stories that bring American history to life. Readers may want to start with War, Terrible War, the tragic and bloody account of the Civil War that has been hailed by critics as “magnificent.” Or All the People, brought fully up-to-date with a thoughtful and engaging examination of our world after September 11th. No matter which book they read, young people will never think of American history as boring again. Joy Hakim’s single, clear voice offers continuity and narrative drama as she shares with a young audience her love of and fascination with the people of the past.


One Response

  1. […] Huge part of our unit studies.  We used some of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World.  We giggled over Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe.  The units on Ancient […]

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