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Criteria for a good history for children

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series

"Teaching Your Child to Love History"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

I have one more introductory post before I begin reviewing different history curricula. In this post I will give some basic criteria for a good history curriculum. Again, this series is not just for homeschoolers! In my previous posts I’ve talked about the importance of teaching children to love history and why history must be taught from a Christian perspective.

A primary emphasis on Religious Affections Ministries is the propagation of true conservatism. That is 1) an affirmation of absolute truth, goodness, and beauty, a belief that such these three things are knowable, and a commitment to align one’s self to these three absolutes and 2) a commitment to conserve those institutions and forms that best reflect a recognition and respect for these three absolutes.

So, first of all, a good history curricula will be both Christian and conservative. It will conserve the truth, goodness, and beauty of God and His creation. It will conserve the truth of God’s good Providence in the beautiful story of God’s plan through the ages. If your child is learning from any secular history curricula, I strongly suggest that you re-teach history to them at home–all of it. They’re getting a seriously skewed version! Can you think of a single subject of either world history or American history that would not be taught differently if placed within the context of the biblical truth and God’s Providence? I think many good Christian parents sometimes forget that more subjects are getting skewed by secularism than just science!

Again, as I stated in my first post, history without God is a lie. And, as an aside, teaching your child the statement that God is sovereign over history, while true and good, is not enough. Secular histories are teaching them the subtleties of life in this world and influencing their perspective of the past in ways that can influence a lifetime of thinking without them (or you) ever knowing it. Additionally, and perhaps more dangerously, secular histories (which, by the way, are now almost universally called “social studies” rather than history) teach the importance of self and the rights of the individual. These are not emphases fitting for the Christian. The Christian is called to deny self and serve others rather than self. One more point here that I mentioned in my last post. The Bible should inform our interpretation of history, not the other way around. Where historical evidence seems to contradict the Bible, then the historical evidence is wrong or being wrongly interpreted. We never, ever reinterpret the Bible to reflect man’s findings!

In addition to a conservative, biblical worldview, a history curriculum for Christian children should include biblical history and church history. I separate these only in that one originates from the inspired, inerrant Word of God and one tells the story of those who believed that Word and defended its truth. But both are an extremely important part of history, and both help form “His Story” in a child’s mind. How great is it that a child learns about ancient Egypt? How much greater that a child learns the stories of Abraham and Joseph and Moses right in with the stories of ancient Egypt, giving them a new excitement about and new insight into Bible times. How great is it that a child learns about ancient Rome? How much greater that a child learns about the Apostle Paul and about Ignatius of Antioch and other early church fathers. The same could be said about the Renaissance and Reformation periods being studied in conjunction to one another and about every single period in history. The church has not been silent. We should not allow history to be silent about the church.

Also, a history curriculum for Christian children should be well written. This might seem obvious, but I’m surprised how often I look at history that is written in poor style, uses poor grammar, or is just silly. Also, this criterion does not necessarily imply that it should be age appropriately written (though there are times when it certainly might be best for an author to leave out certain violent, grotesque, scatological, or sexual details). However, I am saddened when I see history books that consist of a few simple sentences in large print with a picture on each page. I was reading an Agatha Christie mystery not long ago in which the vicar reads Gibbon aloud to his family in the evenings. Most of us would think it extremely boring to sit around and read Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to our family in the evenings (shame on us!), which is why I’m suggesting some more “accessible” alternatives to ancient history, among other things. But I would venture to guess that Christie’s father or mother likely read it to her. (Christie was homeschooled.) And I would also suggest that she’s not the only brilliant author that had a dad or mom reading such histories to their children in the evenings. Age appropriate? Well, no. Not to us. But then, in comparison to times past, our minds are mush.

Finally, a history curriculum for Christian children should, in my opinion, be chronological. Most children’s history curricula begin with American history for various reasons, such as arguing that it is more relevant or understandable. However, relevance should never be the aim of education, and American history is best understood by understanding what came before America. Furthermore, if history is truly a “story,” then why would anyone want to begin in medias res? Creation is the logical beginning of any history curriculum.

Teaching history chronologically accomplishes several things. First, it gives children an understanding of Bible times right from the beginning. The Bible is never “out of context” for them. They can immediately begin to understand the allusions, the culture, and the beliefs surrounding the biblical stories of the Old and New Testaments.

Second, it gives them a sense of where they’ve come from. I’ve already mentioned this.

Third, it gives them the larger picture of God’s Providence through time. It helps the story come together for them. If you were to teach a child the story of someone’s life and accomplishments, you wouldn’t normally begin with the latter part of their life. It just wouldn’t make as much sense. In a similar way, chronological history creates a story for the child. It helps history make sense to them. And we all know that when something makes sense that it’s much more enjoyable and memorable.

That leads to the last advantage I will mention, which is that chronological history creates a series of logical “memory pegs” for a child, a timeline on which to hang all the other information they learn in all the other subjects. When a child has a good idea in his mind of what came before what, he can get a better sense of what goes with what. Why jumble the beauty of that? Did you know that Homer was telling his stories at about the same time that Isaiah was prophesying in Judah, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, and King Tut was reigning in Egypt? Why wouldn’t you want your children to be able to put the pieces all together like that?

Therefore, I will confine my reviews to history curricula that incorporate these four criteria: 1) have a conservative, biblical worldview, 2) include biblical history and church history, 3) are well written, and 4) are presented chronologically. Plenty of these exist! Each has a slightly different focus or style, and some may be more appropriate to certain theological presuppositions than others. I’ll cover all that and more. Hopefully, in the end, you’ll find something that works well in helping your children learn to love history.

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About Becky Aniol

Becky holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and music, a master's degree in Christian education, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Christian education. She taught classical upper school grammar, literature, and history and lower school composition and grammar for two years, elementary school music for one year, and Kindermusik classes for four years before the birth of her children. She now loves staying home with her four children, Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline and homeschooling them classically.