Hands-Off History: 10 Days of Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Homeschooling

Welcome back as we continue our 10 Days of Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Homeschooling!

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We’re ready to get subject specific and Dawn from The Momma Knows is going to get us started with her “Hands OFF” approach to History!


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I love history. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve enjoyed reading about times past. Give me a historical novel and I’m drawn in. Sucked in. I am THERE.

History, or “Social Studies” in school, never interested me as a subject. I had some of the driest text books and some of the most boring history teachers EVER. I would yawn and moan and try to get out of doing my homework… only to rush home and bury my nose in The Three Musketeers, or Little House on the Prairie, or in high school, anything written by James Michener. Just stab me in the eye before you make me read a Social Studies textbook.

I didn’t want to pass this hatred of history on to my kids, so when we began homeschooling I wanted to start out on the right foot. We hit the library, brought home lots of great books on our subjects. We did as many projects and hands-on things as I could handle. We built models, planted seeds, cooked, created dioramas, made swords, and more. 13 Years and several kids later, I find myself running out of steam. Out of ideas. Out of want-to.

I know that kids thrive with hands-on activities, but I struggle with putting them together now. And these boys? They don’t necessarily enjoy the popular trends in homeschooling either! Notebooking? NO WAY. Lapbooks? Sorry. (Confession time: I am so glad they don’t like lapbooks! I love the way they turn out but I can’t stand the prep work.)

We’ve tried lots of different history programs. The conclusion I’ve come to is they are basically all the same. They usually have a text or spine, book list, and activities or questions to answer. Curriculum is a tool, and for me, it needs to fit into MY plans and framework, rather than try to fit MY FAMILY into the curriculum’s framework. There are ways to get kids involved in learning that aren’t “over the top”, Momma-intensive, crawl-through-an-ear-model, if you know what I mean. (Why does that one KONOS activity always get used as an example? We loved doing that one! lol)

The never-ending cutting, gluing, painting, creating MESS just really gets to me sometimes. Other times I just get behind, and that big activity we’d planned snuck up on me… meaning I totally forgot to gather all the supplies we needed. That results in my scrapping the activity because I don’t feel like going to the store to get everything. And sometimes, I just don’t want to do another activity. Homeschool Momma fail, right? So what’s a mind’s-on, hands-off homeschool Momma to do?

Here is what we’ve found that works for us:

Decide how you want to study it, and then follow your plan. We study history chronologically, because it just makes sense to me. We don’t follow the WTM (been there) or Ambleside (done that) or any other “program” way, we just do it. Want to do it in 4, 6, or 8 years? Maybe spend a couple of years on each time period? Do you want to do a survey of world history each year but have a different focus, such as geography, culture, or the arts? Just decide HOW you want to do it and then choose everything else according to that.

Use a book list that has books by topic or historical era. The very best one that I know of is called All Through The Ages by Christine Miller. This is probably the most comprehensive listing of historical literature for kids PK-College level that’s available. Other great resources are catalogs: Beautiful Feet Books and Sonlight are my favorites for history titles by era.

Maps are your friends! My new FAVORITE homeschool tool for geography is this neat little program called WonderMaps by Bright Ideas Press. Wonder Maps are arranged by historical time periods or by geographical areas, and they have layers of information which you can include–or NOT. Then you just print your customized maps out for labeling. Passive aggressive hands-on work at it’s best right there! 🙂

Timelines put things into perspective. Until I started using timelines with my kids, I didn’t really understand where all the events fell into place either. A timeline is a visual that really helps kids SEE history the way it unfolded. There is a nice, free one available at Simply Charlotte Mason. Have your kids do the searching for the images to include on your timeline. Sharpen their research skills as they find the best picture they can of Winston Churchill or a viking ship.

Take a trip on the Internet highway. My son is the search engine King. This kid can find anything on the internet! This site, among others, lists lots of online field trips you can see.

Listen to audio books. You can only do so much reading aloud before you lose your voice! One of my favorite curriculum resources is a site called An Old Fashioned Education, and just recently I found another site that has many of the OFE books in audio form, for FREE. Check out Books Should Be Free and click the History link in the sidebar.

There are many ways to homeschool, and while lots of kids thrive with hands-on activities, not all moms do. Find a balance between what your kids want and what you can handle, and go for it! Your kids will thrive, and so will you. 🙂

Dawn is still happily homeschooling after 13 years. She teaches her two sons, 11 & 9, and guides her 17yo daughter through her last year of Running Start at a local community college. She lives in Eastern Washington with her husband, 4 of their 6 kids, and an assortment of barking, squeaking, and clucking critters. She blogs at The Momma Knows. You can also find her on Facebook, she Tweets @Mommaknows, and Pinterest.

Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by marymactavish


Finding your teaching style and your child’s learning style is important! What changes have you made while teaching history to make learning real, successful, and fun?

Thank you for following along on our journey through 10 Days of Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Homeschooling!

If you’re just now joining in, you can start at the beginning by clicking here.

“The 10 Days” Series is organized by iHomeschool Network, a collaboration of outstanding homeschool bloggers who connect with each other and with family-friendly companies in mutually beneficial projects. Visit them on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

To find ALL the blogs participating in this run of “The 10 Days” Series, click the image below, a collage of photos for all 28 ladies participating. You’ll be blessed with tips on how to handle bad days, cultivating curiosity, teaching with Legos, and much, much more. Many thanks to iHomeschool Network for organizing this fun blog hop!

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cassie bartholomew
cassie bartholomew
April 24, 2012 8:29 am

I have not found a ss curriculum that I like yet. Thank you for all the great tips.

Dawn @ The Momma Knows
Dawn @ The Momma Knows
April 24, 2012 10:54 pm

Cassie, just start with one or two resources that you and your kids think are interesting, and go from there. You don’t have to dive into a big curriculum program headfirst! Ease in, find what you like, and go from there. 🙂

April 24, 2012 9:52 am

Love all the resources! I’m in a constant struggle with History. I am Puerto Rican and although we did study American History, obviously growing up out of the states – you have a different education set up. So I’ve struggled a lot with teaching my kiddo History…particularly American History, and love your approach to it! = stress free! 🙂

Dawn @ The Momma Knows
Dawn @ The Momma Knows
April 24, 2012 11:03 pm
Reply to  Marlene

Marlene: It is possible that you may be able to find PR teacher’s resources or even whole websites dedicated to teachers in PR, with lesson plans and everything. I know I have stumbled on to similar teacher’s sites for the UK and France. Also try to see if you can locate individual schools or school districts ( if they have them) online. You just never know what you’ll discover! 🙂 Another great resource for area history would be tourism websites or a local tourism society. You may even be able to get travel brochures, maps, and other things that way.

April 24, 2012 11:23 am

I really LOVE our History curriculum (Mystery of History.) I’m smitten. For a lot of the reasons that you listed here – it’s chronological, it’s biblically based, it has a variety of activities (writing, drawing, doing, etc) by age you can do (or not do) at the end of the lesson, it encourages timelining, it lists some books to read, it has some maps at the back. It’s great. In the beginning we’d do some activities or maps, or go online and research additional information, find maps or pictures. Lately however we’ve been mostly reading the stories. =( (See last… Read more »

April 24, 2012 11:36 am

Well, you know I love lapbooking and notebooking, but I realize that it doesn’t work for everyone. 🙂
I hear a lot of years of experience in this post. Bottom line — it’s okay to do things your own way. There is really no “homeschool fail” in the way of not measuring up to some outer standard. As long as your children are learning, you don’t’ have to do messy projects. I personally love them (my LR is strewn with a big one right now). But we have so much freedom in homeschooling!

April 24, 2012 11:55 am
Reply to  Jimmie

Notebooking is one thing that I want to start adding to history! My girls have enjoyed it with our science and I think it will be a good thing for history, too. I haven’t started it yet because 1.) We’re almost done with this book and so my rational left brain says you can’t start at the end of one you have to start at the beginning of the next. =p And 2.) I have this vision but I don’t know how to implement it. MOH encourages keeping a history binder (something we’ve half heartedly attempted ) and I want… Read more »

Dawn @ The Momma Knows
Dawn @ The Momma Knows
April 24, 2012 10:57 pm
Reply to  Jimmie

Jimmie: Yes, 13 years and counting! I think it takes a while to get comfortable in your own “homeschooling skin” so to speak. Sort of like junior high, but without acne. 🙂 We do enjoy projects, I just don’t have the energy or follow through-ability like I used to! And notebooking isn’t possible for my boys– one with developmental delays and language delays and the other with dysgraphia. The physical act of writing causes more stress and strife than anything. Totally not worth it for us. We’re just settling into a comfy spot for a while, and I like it!

Lisa M (Farm Fresh Adventures)
Lisa M (Farm Fresh Adventures)
April 24, 2012 1:39 pm

We are getting ready to dive into history with Story of the World. I plan on using the CM timeline–loved that idea the moment I saw it last year. So I need to go ahead and snag us a nice thick binder. My son is VERY audio when it comes to learning, so he will enjoy being read to. I’ve scanned the first few chapters and it is written in a style he will enjoy. History IS my subject. I was majoring in it when I was getting my education degree! So I am excited and have so many plans…hopefully… Read more »

Dawn @ The Momma Knows
Dawn @ The Momma Knows
April 24, 2012 11:00 pm

Lisa: My boys love our Century Book! I made it several years ago, and while they don’t have their OWN, we do add characters, situations and inventions to it as we come across interesting ones. I haven’t been the best at keeping it up this year but we are just beginning a new term and it is on my must-do list for our last 3 months of school! I really enjoy the SOTW books too. They are very engaging and even though they say they are for younger kids, my boys (9 & 11) like them just fine.

Monica Fuller
Monica Fuller
April 26, 2012 2:26 am

Sorry but I can’t find any advantages in home schooling, my kids would be bored at home and I want them to meet new people and explore their horizons while they’re inside a real school.

Judy @ Contented at Home
Judy @ Contented at Home
April 26, 2012 9:25 pm

This is one of the most encouraging articles I have read lately. I tried a more “hands-on” route with 2 of my children when they were younger, and they hated it! They (like me!) learn well through reading and just want to get it done.
However, I’m still hoping to get a chance to get creative with history with my 2 little ones (ages 4 and 1) as they get older. We’ll see! 🙂

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