Teaching Chronology to Homeschoolers: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Guest post by Robert Duvall of Lens of History
Homeschooling parents have a wonderful opportunity to teach their children history skills neglected in traditional classrooms. 

Public schools teachers are chained to a curriculum delivery system that places less focus on real history and too much emphasis on knowing the “standards.” Skills necessary to be a complete citizen are sparingly covered or simply left out. One of those neglected skills is chronology and the use of timelines.

The student who understands chronology and masters timelines will perform better in high school and college.

What Is Chronology

At its core, history is the study of events from the beginning to end. That’s what chronology is. It is the traditional method of teaching the subject, because history is a series of cause and effect interactions. Some curricular experts advise a topical approach or even a reverse chronological method, but neither does justice to the essence of history, which is chronology.

Teaching Timelines

Students should be exposed to timelines at an early age. In Kindergarten students can learn the components of a timeline using basic, picture oriented examples. From there more complexity should be added so by the third grade students are constructing their own timelines. By sixth grader they are capable of creating complex, “study ready” timelines that show not only when events happened but offer summary descriptions of events, illustrate cause and effect relationships, and exhibit classification skills.

The Four Components of Timeline Construction

  • A Title—Ensure every timeline has an appropriate title.
  • A Continuum—That’s the line itself. It might be a simple line drawn horizontally across the page, or it could take other forms and directions.
  • Interval Hashes—This can be a tricky component for younger students. They have to decide when the first and last events happened and then decide on the number of interval hashes. Let’s say 48 years separates the earliest and latest events. It’s advisable to round, so make a continuum that covers 50 years. Label the beginning of your continuum line with a year on or before the first event. It is unwise and a visual mess to label all 50 years so break it down to something manageable, maybe five or ten year increments.
  • Event Labels—Write out event labels with arrows identifying the correct year or date. “What if I have many events crammed together?” Good question. Just use angled or cornered arrows. There is no rule that the event has to be placed right over the appropriate year, and you DO NOT want a timeline that looks cluttered.

Going Beyond the Basic Timeline

Timelines do more than simply show when events happened. Some ideas:
  • A descriptive timeline includes a short description or paragraph about each event.
  • A timeline can also show cause and effect by using arrowed lines (rays) that connect a causal event to its effect.
  • Images from clipart or drawn freehand can be included to spark visual memory.
  • Finally events can be classified into groups using border colors. Such classifications might be the traditional “political, social, economic” or timeline specific. A timeline about World War Two might classify events as European Theater, Pacific Theater or Other. (Remember to include a “key” when doing this.)
When these variations of the traditional timeline are introduced it heightens the critical thinking level of the skill, and the timeline becomes a great study tool for assessments.

Comments: Feel free to comment, especially about how you have used timelines as a teaching tool.

Robert W. Duvall is a history teacher with over 24 years of experience and now an avid blogger on history topics. Robert wants to “feed the Student of History in you.” His blog is Lens of History, and he can be reached at robert.duvall@lensofhistory.com. Follow him on G+ and Twitter

Original Photo: JayLopez


  1. Excellent information. Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Thanks for stopping in to read it. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. OMG.lol.I LOVE this post because we LOVE history and timelines!

    Timelines are such a key component for visual learners.

    I created a grid on the front of my website so that my sons could see where our units fit in.


    I also have created a page that my son that just graduated used for his notebook timeline because it goes beyond the basics like you mentioned.

    It is called "Page for art, science, literature, religions, music, political and social issues and architecture"


    This is a great informative post and I will be pointing many of my followers here.

    I am off to check out your blog!

    Thanks Michelle too for having this on your blog - EXCELLENT POST!

    Thank You!

    1. Thanks Tina. I'll jump over and see your posts.

  3. Thanks to Renee and Tina for the kind words.


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