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Teaching with Timelines Stage by Stage

Timelines are a wonderful tool for studying history and understanding how the people and events learned about in other subjects fit together. How you use them may change as your child grows and matures. Here are some tips for using timelines at each educational stage.

Starting Out

Preschool - 1st Grade

Students at this age have only a basic understanding of the concept of time. Most of them have not yet learned to tell time on a clock, and many are still learning to understand what a month or year is. Decades or centuries are very difficult for them to understand. Grandma lived “a long time ago” and so did George Washington. The length of time between them is almost equal to a young child.

  • Keep things very simple at this age. Don’t worry about too much detail. Instead, try to give your child a basic overview of the order of history, using Bible stories and important historical people, such as Abraham, George Washington, and the current president, as well as people the child knows personally, such as family members.
  • Help your child create a personal timeline, beginning with birth and continuing through important events in your child’s life.
  • With very young children, create a day-long timeline, covering the events of just one day. Then move on to a weekly timeline.
  • As you are teaching your young child the months of the year, create a timeline for the current year with space for each month. Mark the start of each month with a symbol that represents that month, such as a pumpkin for October or an ornament for December. Have your child add events and activities that occur each month.

Getting Excited

2nd - 4th Grade

Students in these grades have more understanding of time, although the understanding of the timeline of events that happened long in the past may still be difficult for them to understand. Timelines are a particularly important tool at these ages as students begin to place events in the vast amount of time from creation to now.

  • Help your child understand the concepts of BC (or BCE) and AD by creating a personal timeline that begins with events that happened before he was born (BB) and continues with what has happened since he was born (AB).
  • Use a timeline to point out events that happened at or nearly at the same time. If you do unit studies or study history out of chronological order, this can be a very helpful way for your child to pull together all of the pieces of history that are being taught.
  • Consider using shorter timelines as you study specific topics. A timeline of the American Revolution, for example, can help students understand events occurring just within that time period.
  • Allow your student to be highly involved in creating the timeline, by drawing or coloring the timeline pieces, adding information, and helping to place timeline figures. Have your student place timeline cards in order from memory, or sort events by where they occur. For younger students, have them sort events into two a pile of “long ago” and “today.”
  • Review your timeline regularly, going through events that have been previously added when you add a new event. Also, when adding a new piece, discuss previously added timeline events that were occurring at, or close to, the same time and draw connections and show relationships between the events.

Beginning to Understand

5th - 8th Grade

Students at this age are starting to understand the abstract qualities of time. Things didn’t just happen “a long time ago” but have a more definite time period. During the middle school years students really begin seeing the connection between events that happened in the past and events that happened later in history or that are currently occurring.

  • Students at this age should begin to take ownership of timeline information. Have your child find a photo or drawing, or create one herself, attach it to the timeline, and add important information from her studies.
  • Study your family genealogy and have your student place family members and locations on the timeline to bring a personal aspect to history. Discuss which historical events these family members probably saw or were involved in.
  • Invest in chronological history books such as The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of World History, History Year By Year, or The Usborne History Encyclopedia. (Be aware that many of these books will begin with an evolutionary viewpoint that you will want to discuss with your child.)
  • Don’t forget to include biblical and Christian history on your timeline. Middle school students are beginning to put together learning from various disciplines, and understanding the religious aspect of world and American history is important to a full understanding of our purpose as well as the purpose for studying other disciplines.

Learning to Reason

9th - 12th Grade

High school students are required to learn a large number of names, events, and dates as they study American and world history, American government, and economics. Now is the time to build on earlier timeline studies by adding lots of detail and important facts to timelines, allowing students to more fully recognize the cause-and-effect relationships of the events they are learning about.

  • While you may still want your teen to use and contribute to a family timeline, high schoolers should have their own timelines as well. Use a notebook or index card version so that your student will have plenty of room to add important information from history studies. Or allow him or her to create an online version.
  • Ask your student to add a timeline to research papers or other writings.
  • Schedule time into your student’s week for updating his or her timeline with that week’s studies.
  • Encourage your high schooler to add events from science, literature, music, art, etc., as well as from history, to the timeline.
  • Expect more detail from high school students. Ask for descriptions, results, and relationships as well as dates and locations.

With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.

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