When it comes to learning, many homeschooling families tend to be more concerned with the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) and as a result social studies, history in particular, can fall by the wayside.
Yet, history can offer homeschooling students a lot more than a list of simple dry facts and dates to memorize.
A good history curriculum helps students understand the peoples and societies of the past, the various difficulties they faced, the mistakes they made, their achievements and innovations and how they dealt with a changing world – all lessons that can be learned and applied to our daily lives in the present.
More than that, by studying history we can learn to think critically about events, learn to read and weigh evidence and consider different perspectives and different sides of an issue.
In this way, a good homeschool history curriculum can help students become more well-rounded thinkers and more ready to face the challenges of the future.
What Should A Good History Curriculum Cover?
History, as with other geography, civics and other social studies topics, can be taught in a number of different ways and from a number of different perspectives.
As a result, there is a lot of variation when it comes to homeschool history curricula.
Certain programs may use different approaches and materials to explore the past, some may emphasize different aspects or events, and others may present information through a particular lens.
In addition, each state in the US tends to set its own standards for social studies that parents who are interested in following an aligned curriculum will have to look at.
With that said, the National Curriculum Standards For Social Studies (NCSS) does outline a few common topics and ideas that a history curriculum should cover.
These may include (but obviously aren’t limited to) topics such as:
US History (K-12)
- Pre-colonial Native American communities and society
- European exploration and colonization of the Americas
- The effect it had on the peoples living there
- The history of the state the student lives in, including its founding
- The family unit and life in the past compared to today
- Life in the early colonies
- Slavery and how it influenced life in the colonies
- The American revolution, its background and the ideas and values it represented
- The impact of the revolution on society
- Founding of the United States, its waves of immigration, the development of democratic values and symbols, the development of a national heritage and so on
- Early post-colonial government and economy
- The expansion of the US, its impact of Native American life and the conflicts that resulted
- The industrial revolution and its impact on American society
- The events leading up to the Civil War, the Civil War and the challenges of reconstruction
- Mass immigration and the rapid industrialization of the US
- The emergence of the modern US
- The Great Depression and WW2
- Life in post war US
- Contemporary US history
World History ( grades 5-12)
- Early human culture and societies
- The first civilizations
- The first city states
- Early technology and innovations
- The rise of monotheism
- Ancient Greece and its influence
- The first empires
- The rise of the Roman Empire
- The rise of Christianity, Islam and other major religions
- The fall of the Roman empire
- Mesoamerica and its civilizations
- The medieval world, society and culture in Europe
- The renaissance
- Major global trends and wars of the ancient, medieval and early modern periods
- The industrial revolution
- The rise of nationalism and modern economies
- The causes and consequences of World War I
- The interwar period
- The causes and consequences of WW2
- Post-WW2 reconstruction
- The post-colonial world
- The Cold War and the division of international power
Things to Think About When Picking A History Curriculum For Your Homeschool
There are a lot of history programs out there and, as we’ve mentioned, they can approach teaching history in many different ways.
As with any other subject, it’s important that homeschooling families find a history curriculum that they are comfortable using – that is, one that meets an appropriate level of depth and rigor but also one that fits their particular homeschool philosophy, style and approach.
Below we’ve included a few things that parents might want to consider before making a purchase.
Secular or Faith-based?
Homeschool programs can approach history subject matter from a secular perspective or from a religious point of view.
While it’s no secret that religion has played a significant role in human civilization, and the study of history is therefore often tightly linked with religious belief and thought, a secular homeschool history curriculum tends to focus more on presenting historical facts and events.
When particular religions and beliefs, such as Christianity, are inevitably discussed they tend to be approached academically (rather than as a source of truth or morality) and often presented alongside other religions, which are generally treated as equally valid.
A faith-based homeschool history curriculum (such as a Christian one) on the other hand, may present historical facts alongside religious values and ethics.
To one degree or another, it may integrate or connect the study of history with religious texts or scripture and may view the progression of history as part of an overall divine plan.
It is, of course, important for parents to note that the inclusion or absence of religious content has no real bearing on the depth and rigor of any history program and it is really more of a personal choice that each family should make based on their own needs and beliefs.
Method of Teaching
Homeschool history curricula can also vary quite a bit in how they present their information.
The majority of at home history curricula tend to take either a traditional, lecture-style approach or use some form of narrative writing style.
With a lecture-style curriculum, most often seen in textbooks, information is presented in an academic manner.
There are no artistic flourishes to the writing style and facts, sources dates are given primacy and tend to be presented in a straightforward style.
While perhaps a little more boring to go through, some parents and students may prefer this quick and to-the-point approach to teaching.
In contrast, some history texts use a more narrative style, using more casual language and more active/dynamic writing to turn history into a kind of story.
As a result, lessons can often feel more engaging, personal and even fun to go through, even if the presentation of facts can be a little circuitous at times, potentially making them a good option for younger students and students who have a hard time sitting through history lessons.
Thematic or Chronological Study of Events
Spanning the breadth of human existence, history is a subject that is filled with a variety of facts, dates and important events that students can learn about and, depending on the history curriculum, these tend to be presented thematically or in chronological order.
Most history curricula take a chronological approach to teaching, introducing the events they cover in the order in which they happened.
For example, a study of modern US history might cover the events from 1920 or so until the modern era, covering the events immediately following WW1 and sequentially progressing through to the events occurring in today’s world.
In contrast, some other history curricula have begun taking a more thematic approach to history.
Rather than looking at history as a linear progression of events, it groups topics and periods together to give students an overall, big-picture understanding of certain events, movements, people and ideologies.
For example, students may explore a history of economics where they read about how different economic systems in time developed and evolved, from pre-state barter-based systems to medieval feudalism to the development of capitalism in the modern world.
Both approaches to teaching history can have their advantages and disadvantages.
Chronological approaches are more intuitive, easier to teach and tend to be very predictable, although they tend to have a harder time connecting larger ideas and trends throughout history.
Thematic approaches tend to be more easily integrated into unit studies and related homeschooling methods and tend to provide a more holistic view of history, although their longer focus on a single topic can bore some students after a while.
Independent or Guided Learning
Choosing between the level and degree of independent study is also something that many homeschooling families will have to consider.
A homeschool history curriculum may involve more self-study, with the student doing a good deal of reading and related exercises on their own and a parent being able to step back into an administrative/oversight role, providing quizzes and tests, grading and making sure things stay on track.
A parent-led or guided program, on the other hand, would have parents present alongside students during a lesson, often using a lesson plan to introduce the material as well as any discussions and activities, if available.
Which approach is best really depends on the student, a family’s homeschooling philosophy and their needs.
A self-study history program can, for example, be a good option for busy parents or homeschools with a very tight schedule, but may not be ideal for students who struggle with reading or attention.
It may also feel a bit disengaged for parents who got into homeschooling in order to deepen their connection with their children.
Level of lesson plan scripting
Those who choose to use a parent-led homeschool history curriculum will also have to consider how much lesson scripting they feel comfortable with.
Certain history programs are heavily scripted, with teacher’s guides providing a detailed, step-by-step guide on how to conduct lessons, to the point of even providing an exact dialogue covering how to introduce readings and activities.
Other programs tend to provide an outline of a lesson and leave the specifics of interaction to the parent.
In general, more heavily scripted programs tend to be easier to teach and require far less lesson preparation and homeschooling experience, which can make them a better choice for new homeschoolers and parents who are themselves unfamiliar with the material.
Less scripted programs, on the other hand, tend to give parents more room to improvise, adapt and interact more naturally with their children, which, in our opinion, can make them a good choice for parents who enjoy and are experienced at teaching and those with a particular expertise in or passion for history.
Activity Richness of Lessons
Finally, some homeschool history curricula can be very activity-rich and multisensory, with lessons reinforcing the learning with everything from crossword puzzles to baking activities.
Others, in contrast, may focus their lessons more on traditional reading and writing work, often through the inclusion of more primary sources, history-related literature suggestions and written discussion questions and analysis exercises.
As with the other considerations we’ve brought up, both approaches can have their advantages and disadvantages.
An activity-rich homeschool history curriculum can make learning a lot more engaging for students and can make learning history seem a lot less intimidating.
On the other hand, as with using a narrative approach, not every student and homeschooling family prefers this method of teaching and the activities can take up a lot more time, making them challenging to integrate into a busy homeschool schedule.
More traditional programs, meanwhile, can explore history in a more efficient manner and can be seen as a more straightforward approach to teaching.
On the downside, they can be seen as a bit stuffy and boring by some students, which in turn can make lessons harder to sit through.
Homeschool History Programs That We Recommend
Secular Homeschool History Curriculum and Supplements
History Quest (Grades 1-6)
Created by Pandia Press, History Quest is a secular unit study homeschool history curriculum aimed at elementary aged students.
The program uses engaging narrative texts, helpful reference guides, a rather extensive book list and a wide variety of hands-on activities and projects to explore to bring its subject matter, and the histories of people and cultures from around the world, to life.
Curiosity Chronicles (Grades 1-6)
Curiosity Chronicles is a relatively advanced secular homeschool curriculum that aims to teach history from a more global and inclusive perspective.
The lessons are taught using an interesting, almost Socratic back-and-forth dialogue between two cartoon kids, Ted and Mona, who explore the important events and people of various societies throughout the past, such as China, Japan, Ghana, the Khmer Empire and more.
To help reinforce the learning, Curiosity Chronicles also makes use of an assortment of activities, such as lapbooking/notebooking, crosswords, timelines, mapwork, coloring book pages and even Minecraft.
Honest History (Grades 1-6+)
Honest History isn’t a history curriculum per se but can be a valuable addition to one.
A series of illustrated and in-depth quarterly magazines, Honest History is a secular, thematic exploration of history that dives into a number of interesting people, events and places throughout history and from across the world, many of whom have been overlooked by more traditional history curricula.
In addition to its magazines, Honest History also runs a free podcast that explores the lives of influential individuals and that is usually narrated by experts and/or famous guests.
Christian and Faith-based Homeschool History Curriculum and Supplements
The Story of the World (Grades 1-8)
Created by Susan Wise, author of the Well-Trained Mind, the Story of the World is an exploration of world history that takes students on a journey from ancient times through to the modern world.
Each book in the series is written using an interesting, narrative approach and includes a wide variety of poems, letters and legends for students to explore as primary sources.
In addition, the program also uses a wide variety of activities to help formalize and provide a little more structure to the learning, having students do research using encyclopedias, read some related fiction, work on maps, answer quizzes and review questions and even engage in a variety of hands-on activities and crafts.
Although we’ve included it as a faith-based curriculum, the Story of the World is really more neutral.
While it does explore and treat biblical stories as history, it also explores other faiths and beliefs in an even handed and respectful manner.
Beautiful Feet Books (K-12)
Beautiful Feet Books is a homeschool curriculum provider that specializes in providing Charlotte Mason-inspired history courses.
Covering US, world and ancient history (and even offering a few specialty courses, such as the history of classical music), Beautiful Feet teaches primarily through the extensive use of interesting resource books and living literature, with each course containing a book list that incorporating up to 20 relevant titles across an array of literary styles.
Each course also contains a good deal of Charlotte Mason activities, such as dictation, copywork, handicrafts, outdoor activities and more, alongside multimedia links and the usual assortment of mapwork and timeline exercises.
The Mystery of History (K-12)
The Mystery of History is a Christian homeschool history curriculum that, over the course of four volumes, explores world history from creation (a Young Earth perspective) to the modern era.
The texts used in the series are full color and beautifully illustrated and explore the different time periods through a lens of biblical revelation and divine provenance, weaving history and faith together in a very strong manner.
A complete K-12 program, each volume offers differentiated learning activities that allow them to be used by students of different grades, and are accompanied by companion guides that contain lesson plans, tests, reviews, reading suggestions and an assortment of games and activities to reinforce the readings.
Notgrass History (Grades 1-12)
Notgrass History is a company that provides a full-suite of Christian homeschooling history curricula for elementary, middle and high school students.
The company offers an assortment uniquely titled courses (e.g. Our 50 States, From Adam to Us) that cover US and world history, as well as government, geography and economics.
Each course is built around narrative textbooks that turn history into something of an interesting and engaging storyline, and tends to spend a good deal of time exploring primary sources, such as poetry, epics, stories and letters from specific periods of history.
In addition, Notgrass weaves its Christian faith and values seamlessly into its learning while offering students a wide variety of fun and hands-on activities, such as creating art, building models or creating a mosaic, that can connect students to their studies in a more enjoyable way.
Compass Classroom History Programs (Grades 4-12)
Compass Classroom is an online provider of homeschooling materials and videos with a strong Chistian perspective.
More of a self-study option, Compass Classroom offers an assortment of structured video lessons in American and world history that are taught by experts in the field and that are bolstered by a full complement of learning materials, such as workbooks, exams and teacher/student books.
Interestingly, Compass Classroom’s online learning platform also includes access to a strictly monitored social media platform that can allow homeschooling families to connect with like-minded Christian families in a safe environment.
Sonlight History (K-12)
Sonlight is a well-known producer of Charlotte Mason-influenced Christian homeschooling curricula that offers a number of history programs covering US, world and ancient history.
Each package combines history, geography, language arts and bible study, teaching using a variety of historical fiction, biographies, reference books, and non-fiction titles, as well as lapbooking and other hands-on activities.
In addition to being multidisciplinary, each package also contains ideas for grade differentiation that allows each course to be used to teach a range of grades, making them useful for larger families.
My Father’s World History (Grades 2-12)
My Fathers World is an eclectic Christian homeschool program that blends elements of unit study, Charlotte Mason and classical homeschooling with a strong Biblical worldview and offers multiage courses that make it easy to teach students of different ages.
The company offers curricula to teach the full complement of US, world and ancient history and teaches each through a combination of textbooks, music, literature, hands-on learning Bible study and more.
Interestingly, these courses are also highly multidisciplinary, weaving lessons in science, math, geography and more into an in-depth exploration of history.
Jennifer Keenes is a writer and a new mom living in Florida. She studied education and, prior to becoming a freelance writer, worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary and middle school level. She is a big fan of the beach, working out and homeschooling her two daughters.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.