Teaching History through Ideas

Children thrive on ideas, not facts. Providing them with history lessons full of rich ideas through living books is important if they are to truly understand history. www.HeartofMichelle.com

Charlotte Mason believed history should be taught in chronological order. Others disagree, believing that young children cannot appreciate or comprehend "ancient times". I disagree with the latter.

"The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows––the sustenance of living ideas. It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children. We feed them upon the white ashes out of which the last spark of the fire of original thought has long since died. We give them second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people's thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments." -Charlotte Mason

Children Thrive on Ideas

Children are very good at imagining. When they read "Charlotte's Web" or "Where the Red Fern Grows", they imagine the time, the place, the setting, the characters. If a child can imagine himself on the farm with a talking spider and her farm friends, then why would we think the child could not imagine ancient peoples carrying on their daily lives? Why would they not be able to imagine the Israelites enslaved by Pharoah?

Ideas lead to Knowledge

Children feed and thrive on ideas. Books provide a wealth of ideas. Through books we can travel to any time, meet all sorts of people and live life with them. We can read fairy tales, biographies, poetry, plays...the list is endless. Living books provide us with stories. These stories transport us, stimulate our minds and fill our head with all sorts of ideas about the world.

Through the planting of these seeds.. these ideas from stories.. interest is sparked. Interest causes us to dig deeper. Perhaps we'll read more stories. Perhaps we'll delve deeper into a time or a place or learn more about a person or peoples. We will then gain more knowledge which will spark more ideas

This is the beginning of self-education.

In contrast to ideas are facts. Facts usually come in to us in textbooks, encyclopedias and other reference works. These books certainly have a place in the world. It's convenient to refer to these for immediate answers. But facts are dead, lifeless information. The world has never been changed by facts. People's lives have never been changed by facts.

People are prompted to action by ideas.
The world is changed, for better or worse, by ideas.
Lives are changed by ideas.

Chronological Order Makes Sense

History is one long living book, a story waiting to be told and heard. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are many chapters. It is alive and full of ideas. Who reads a story backwards? Or who begins in the middle?

I think it's important that children learn about man's history, the choices made, the consequences of choices and how it's all linked together. One thing leads to another and another. 

Life is what it is today because of many choices by many people along the way. What if Adam had made a different choice? What if Columbus had made a different choice? 

Yes, we can teach facts out of order if all we want the children to do is memorize dead, boring facts. But if we want them to understand our history as humans, we must start at the beginning and give them full, rich ideas.

But how do we use living books to teach history? See the next post in this two-part series entitled "A Living Books Approach to History".

What are your thoughts on living books as a method of learning?

Happy Homeschooling!


  1. My thoughts are only use living books!!

    I loved your post, and sent it on to a friend who is just beginning to homeschool. Thank you!

  2. Would you share about what books you are using for your curriculum?

  3. Funny you should ask.. I was just telling someone this evening that I am going to list the books because I get a LOT of traffic from people searching for curriculum specifics. I'd like to be able to help with that. And I will! Stay tuned!!! :-)

  4. This is amazing! You really nailed it!


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