Monday, June 15, 2009

History Time Line

When I first read The Well-Trained Mind one of ideas I liked most was making a history time line. Growing up, I always was confused as to when events in history were in relation to one another, even though history was my favorite subject. And even in our homeschool, while we study history in pretty much chronological order, it can be confusing knowing what is going on in different parts of the world for any given century.

Despite my eagerness from the beginning to make a timeline, this was the first year we actually did it. Last year when we were studying the Ancients, I let my perfectionism get in the way of actually going through with it. I saved every message from my yahoo groups on the topic and I searched the internet for pictures of other time lines. I agonized over whether we should have our time line in book form or on the wall. I did know that I wanted to use pictures in our time line, but then got bogged down trying to decide if I wanted to use a software (and which one) or if I wanted to order a hard copy, or just come up with the pictures on our own. Finally, we were several months into our school year, and it became clear that if we added in a time line at that point we'd just be stressed about getting caught up adding the stuff we had already missed. Ahhh...the problems we create by trying to do something perfect.

This year I abandoned perfectionism, and I am so glad I did because it really is worthwhile creating a history time line. I did decide on a wall version even though we have very limited wall space in our classroom. I just knew that we'd rarely look at it if it were in book form. The kids have a long bulletin board above their desks, which is the only place in the room it was going to fit, so having that limitation actually helped me make a few decisions. First, I bought this blank time line and then cut it up length-wise. Then I pasted the blank time line onto some white paper, using just the years we would be studying this year. I used a roll of white paper we already had found through our local Freecycle group. To fit the years 400 - 1600 A.D. on the paper, I had to make two rows. That's all there was to do to get started -- easy!

For pictures, I settled on using the software History Through the Ages: Creation to Present. It is expensive an investment, but so worth it! It has just about every figure you could think of in two different sizes, and lots of other helpful information. Only once was I not able to find a figure we wanted (actually, it was Ryne who really wanted a picture of Ivan the Great, not just Ivan the Terrible!), but a quick internet search helped us find a suitable picture. But I can't imagine having to do that for every figure -- that's why it's so wonderful to have these CDs. So every week as we went through Story of the World, we would paste a new figure or two on our timeline and by the end of the year it looked like this!


I love that there are places on timeline that are relatively empty. As the authors of TWTM explain, "part of the time line's purpose is to give some sense of the quickening pace of recorded history." A perfect example of that is how crowded our time line became in the 1500's.


We had several other figures we would have liked to have added there but didn't have the room, so that is something we might have to change for next year. Perhaps we will have to create our own year divisions, but now that I have an idea of how this all works maybe it won't be so bad.

There is some question as to whether a time line is even needed for younger children. Some believe that young children in the Grammar Stage are not able to comprehend chronology yet, and TWTM does not introduce the time line until the Logic Stage. But in our experience, it was Ryne and Grace who were most fascinated by the time line. They loved finding previously studied figures or events on the time line, and now one of Ryne's favorite activities is to look at the time line in the back of his Bible. Probably the biggest beneficiary of the time line was me! What a helpful tool in getting the BIG PICTURE of history. I could not adequately teach history without it.

Our time line is not perfect, but I'm finally starting to learn that is okay! We learned the hard way that rubber cement was not the right choice in gluing our figures to the time line. But I'd much rather learn through mistakes and have a useful tool to aid us now rather than a perfect picture in my head. And that's not just a good lesson for making time lines, but for life in general. Strive for excellence, but to strive you must actually start!


  1. I'm chuckling because I've had the same exact thought process!

    I'm so glad you posted this because we are starting back at the beginning next school year with history. I'm going to commit to actually doing a timeline this year! Thanks for the inspiration and practial tips ~ also for the links. I'm going to check those out.

  2. This was really helpful, Kellie. We have been making a wall timeline too using the Veritas Press cards. I have loved this b/c it has been easy but it is taking up too much space. I like your idea and am going to try it this year.