History: Hook Your Kids on Story

Did you know I was a Social Studies Education major?

I love History, but at The Ohio State University, you can’t major in History Education, it must be ‘Social Studies’ with History and two other concentration areas (Geography and Economics were mine.

I think that’s part of why I fell in love with The Well-Trained Mind as it’s organizing area of study is History.

I fell in love with History when I was in fourth grade and from that time on, all I wanted to do (except for a brief stint in fifth grade where I wanted to be an FBI agent) was teach History. Fourth grade was not a banner year school-wise for me. I made a friend unwisely, who cheated off me without my knowledge, and I was completely convinced my teacher didn’t like me. She was the first teacher I didn’t like.

But, she read The Diary of Anne Frank aloud to our class and that began a fascination with studying the Holocaust and European Theatre of the Second World War that lasted me through college.  I enjoyed other parts of History, but I always – always – came back to WWII. I read everything in the children’s non-fiction section about the topic. All of the survivor stories. All of the Normandy invation books. The books of artillery? Yep. My grandpa trained pilots in Illinois and Texas and I begged for all of his stories.

I became more and more fascinated with other areas of American history and World History, but it was WWII that started me on the path.

Recently, I was a part of a discussion that asked “What about chronological history? Isn’t that important?”

Five years ago, I would have said “Absolutely.”

Now I would say, “Nope. Not in the Elementary ages.”

We started off with Story of the World – which I still like and will absolutely keep on my shelves – but do you know what my kids remember? the Beowulf chapter that they acted out. Do they remember mummifying a chicken – Cluckenbalmen? Nope. Do they remember the span of ages that we studied? Nope. Do they remember migrations of people groups? Nope. They remember a story a tale.

History is a collection of story. If we want our children to love history; to become intrigued by vast swaths of time; to observe God’s hand and become wise we really need to start with story.  They don’t really have a sense of “years” at these young ages (let alone decades, centuries, or millenia). But they know a good story when they hear it.

Later, in Middle School and High School, is a great time to tie the stories together, but while you’re building relationships with your kids and their world, enjoy the legends of John Henry and Johnny Appleseed. See how Ben Franklin flew a kite.

Now, I use AmblesideOnline which does follow a chronological history, but that is a way of organizing the story of history through individuals more than through ideas in the younger ages. As we advance in age, though, I already see ideas being pulled into our study in the upper elementary where we learn about the people who broker ideas – like Voltaire and Rousseau – but my kids are still picking up more on the people than the ideas. That’s OK.

We all know (or should) that the best entrance into Narnia is through the Wardrobe. It gives us a taste for the place and a desire to know more. We want to know more of Aslan and his work. That leads us through seeking out the rest of the story.

When we tell others about Jesus, the story of what he has done in our lives and the way he has worked with others and the way he worked when he walked in Israel 2000 years ago is the best way to introduce people to the Lord. Then we can go and see his hand through creation and time. Hook them on Him through His story.

The study of History is like this. Hook them on a story and an interest for the rest will come.


  1. I love history!! I was a history major in college, and it was fantastic. I got to take so many wonderful classes. I think that was part of my attraction to WTM too – along with how organized it all looked. I can remember standing at a fort in upstate NY with my step-dad explaining all that had occurred there during the Revolutionary War and I was enthralled. We visited a number of historic sites when I was young and I loved hearing the stories and imagining what it was like then. And then I adored historical fiction… and in middle school I started reading through my step-dad's James Mitchner collection (Not that I would recommend this for that age) and I fell in love with the whole sweep of history.

    But I completely agree with you – the hook is the story. We can try to impose a structure first, but without the story it just simply isn't interesting. We can create jingles to make it memorable, but that doesn't mean it becomes information that actually connects to anything in the present or future… or ever becomes untangled from the jingle.

  2. I sure do keep trying! I always found history rather boring but had a college professor who used the stories to teach and I just loved it so much…. all the other teachers had focused on names, dates and a timeline but the stories were amazing. I pick our history topic of the month (or season) based on the great books I can find. Even though I have two in middle school now I still prefer to use children's picture and early chapter books since I can use them with all three of my boys and they are easier to read and comprehend. There are some amazing books out there!

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