Making Middle School History Meaningful

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When I was in school, history was by far the most boring subject in my day. Not the most confusing – I understood the material just fine – but the most boring.

I was pretty well convinced that my fifth and sixth grade history teachers had actually lived through the events that we covered, and not in a good way. The only thing I remember is the creative range of excuses we gave for not doing the homework.

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Fortunately, that all changed when I started homeschooling my son. I remember the day I started researching history curriculum for him, even though he was only 6 at the time. A whole new world opened up to me.

History was actually interesting! Suddenly, it wasn’t about memorizing places and people I knew almost nothing (and cared even less) about. It was a story that I was drawn into, a golden thread that wove through an amazing tapestry. It was people and ideas and cultures and art, all waiting to be discovered.

All of a sudden, it mattered. And that was exciting!

History Can Be Fun!

Within the first couple years of our homeschooling journey, I found myself teaching history not only at home, but in a couple of local co-ops. At first, I was a little nervous. What if my students hated the class as much as I did at their age? What if they left with blank looks, or worse yet, eye rolls? It turned out I had nothing to be afraid of. The kids were just as excited as I was, and in some cases, more so!

4 Tips to Making Middle School History Fun 

  • Use a Curriculum that Captures Attention

It is totally possible to teach history without a text, and we did so at various times. I’ll be honest, though; each year I found myself turning to a text or program for help.

Fortunately, there are a lot of great history programs for this age range! Some of my favorites include

  • Mystery of History (this is one of my favorites, since it’s pretty comprehensive and K-12)
  • All American History (great for American history and designed for middle school/jr. high)
  • Story of the World (a perennial favorite, designed for 3rd-7th grades)
  • BJU Press

I encourage you to research and see which history curriculum is best for you!

Contrary to popular belief, history isn’t about dry facts and people no one’s ever heard of. It’s a story! This story is about real people who went through real things – people who aren’t that different from you and me.

Textbooks are important to have as spines, but when you add in a rich, incredible storyline…history comes alive.

It’s one thing to learn about the battles of the Revolutionary War…another to read about them through the eyes of Johnny Tremain. Learning about the issues of the Civil War becomes much more interesting when they’re tied to Across Five Aprils and With Lee in Virginia.

If you’ve got kids that love to listen more than they love to read, Audible comes in very handy for this. They can get into the books while doing whatever else they want! This also allows you to cover multiple subjects and skills with one unit, which makes life easier on everyone!

  • Incorporate Projects

Some of us love projects, and some of us…well, not so much. The good news is that by middle school, projects tend to be a lot less messy – and history projects don’t tend to use glitter.

The great thing is that “project” doesn’t have to mean “craft” or “art project.” It can, especially if that’s what excites your child about a subject, but it doesn’t have to.

My son is probably the least “crafty” person on the face of the planet, but he loved to do projects. He loved them partly because he got to do something, but it was also because those projects allowed him to really dig into what fascinated him.

He did lapbooks and notebooks, but he also made different things. When we were learning about knights of the Middle Ages, he got a book from the library and made an arsenal for himself out of PVC pipe and duct tape. (Years later, melee in the front yard is still a favorite neighborhood activity!)

During our study of the American Revolution, he chose a character from that time and kept a journal. Doing so allowed him to see the events through the eyes of an actual person, rather than just through the words of a textbook. It was also really fun!

  • Making History Matter

However you choose to teach history, one important thing remains: make it matter. Show your kids that it’s not just random events and people from long ago; it’s the foundation of what we know today!

This will help them to better understand what they study, but it will also help them later on. It will give them a great foundation for high school history, college studies, and adult life.

History can be fun – dig into it and see for yourself!

What questions do you have about making middle school history meaningful for your kids? Comment below!


Jen is the founder of A Helping Hand Homeschool, providing support, resources, activities, and consulting for homeschool families. You can follow Jen on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

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