Why I’m over the chronological history hype, and how you can break up but stay friends, too.

Castree-Fig-2I have always been disappointed with my history education. In part because my public school history curriculum jumped all over the place, chronologically speaking, leaving me without any concept of antecedent, cause, or effect. I would cite examples of my history gaps, but I don’t make a habit of publicly embarrassing myself if I can help it.

When I started our homeschool journey, I was captivated by the idea of chronological history cycles, something I first learned about in Bauer’s absolutely amazing resource, The Well-Trained Mind, but which has become an omnipresent feature of the neo-classical method.   There are a number of variations, but the basic idea is this: a student goes through all of world history in four years, broken down into ancient, medieval, renaissance, and modern eras. In a twelve year education, a student cycles through three times, each time diving more deeply into the topics and wrestling with concepts in history at higher and higher processing levels.

But chronological history, I’m just not that into you anymore. I mean, I love you, but I’m not in love with you.

These are the downsides to chronological history:

  • A set schedule, including the possibility of “falling behind” whenever there is a pebble in the road. You know, like a baby- sized pebble that screams and nurses a lot.
  • Less ability to profit from unexpected history learning experiences, especially in grades 1-4, when a child does not yet have a full set of “hooks” to hang knowledge on for deeper learning. (What are knowledge hooks, you ask?)
  • Four years is a long wait before touching a subject again. We are learning how to make knowledge more memorable across the curricula, but four years is still quite a while, especially in the life of a child.

But how can I give up The Four Year History Cycle and still offer my kids a good grasp of world history- something significantly better than what I received? Something that will help them understand our humanity, across ages and races?

With three tools in your history toolkit, you can streamline history, take yourself out of schedule stress, and easily adapt to a large age range of children. Those tools are:

  • timeline
  • An age-appropriate overview text of world history
  • A set of key events to learn by heart

These three elements cannot stand alone for a full history education. Instead, they offer a framework of hooks that eliminates the need for chronological cycles.

In my next post, I’m going to compare two timeline products that I have purchased, and give one of them away!  Then, we’ll discuss the two other parts of the history toolkit, and how to integrate the three with resources aimed at a four-year cycle as well as child-directed exploration across all time periods.

3 thoughts on “Why I’m over the chronological history hype, and how you can break up but stay friends, too.”

  1. I’m looking forward to hearing more. I, too, suffered from an abysmal education in history; indeed, as with writing and literature, I didn’t develop the slightest interest in the subject until after I graduated from college. What a waste!

    Since then I have developed some of those hooks, and events are beginning to fall into place. But as you can imagine I didn’t have much to give our own kids when it came to history. That they managed to score in the top percentiles on standardized tests for the subject says a lot more about the general quality of public education than it does about what we provided in our homeschool, I’m afraid. Then again, they were (are) both avid readers, and that goes a long way in any subject. 🙂

    I like the chronological idea, probably because my own education was so disjointed. But I can see your points about the weaknesses of a rigid form, especially the length of the four-year cycle.

  2. In my college American Sign Language courses they used a kind of cyclical learning that worked very well. We’d learn a few words and a new grammar concept in one topic, then move on to the next. After a few topics we’d return to the original topic and take it further, naturally reviewing and adding new words and concepts at the same time. It worked really well for me. I hardly ever studied and I didn’t have to cram for the exam because we’d been reivewing and using the information all the time. Obviously the cycles were much shorter than four years, though!

    I look forward to your reviews of the timelines.

  3. This post could not have come at a better time for me. I’m in “teacher training” (self educate to pass it on), planning, and organizing mode right now. My own history education was not great, but I was also not interested! Sometimes I think education is wasted on the youth. There’s so much that fascinates me now that was soooo booooring as a youngster.

    I can’t wrap my mind around in-depth, 4 year cycles. I tried. And failed. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that having each child creating and keeping a timeline that is relevant to them, while doing overviews and stopping when they’re interested to dig a little deeper will work best here.

    I’m very interested in your timeline product comparison. Can’t wait!

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