New Jen's Horde

Friday, May 26, 2006

I love timelines!

Have I told you all here how much I love timelines? Well I love them a LOT! We started using one in our homeschool after hearing Steve Lambert of Five in a Row talk them up, and we've never looked back.

This post is based on an article I wrote a a while back for my homeschool group's newsletter. I've maintained and updated it over time, so I thought I'd drag it out into the light again. This is a loooooong post, I think it's a record for me!


How a TIMELINE can be an indispensable tool in your homeschool, no matter what curriculum or method you use!

Dave Barry, one of my favorite humor columnists, wrote an article explaining how they studied history when he was in school. He said that at the beginning of the year the teacher would start with the ancient Sumerians and then progress forward through time, ending some time around WWI when the school year ended. Then, the next year they would start over with the Sumerians again, so they never really learned anything that happened after about 1918!

There are some subjects which are better taught in a linear fashion, starting at point A, then B and only then to C. Math is a good example of this, you can’t really teach long division without an understanding of subtraction or it will be frustrating. To some extent the Language Arts needs to be taught this way as well, if you don’t know your letters you are going to have a pretty rough time writing an essay.

History, however, does not need to be taught in any kind of order. Many traditional curriculums are organized in chronological order, but there’s nothing magical about doing it that way. If you want to be able to study different time periods as interest and opportunity arise you just need to have a way to keep the information organized.

This is where a timeline can come in really handy. With a timeline you can work on any time periods in any order. In one week you can read a book about Laura Ingalls Wilder, study the use of the trebuchet in medieval combat, and take a field trip to a dinosaur dig and still be able to understand them all in their proper historical context. You aren’t subjected to a syndrome Steve Lambert described as “the tyranny of the next.” As in, “No, Johnny, we can’t study the Civil War right now, we’re studying mummies because they’re next…”

Plus, as you start to fill your timeline in, you begin to naturally make connections between events based on their place in time. Or, you can see what how great the differences were in the experiences of people living in the same period. For instance, I had a lot of fun putting together this timeline of different forms of art from around the world, all created near the same time.

There are many different kinds of timelines, from Hyper History, which is a comprehensive collection of just about anything you could want to know, to shorter more concentrated timelines chronicling composers or inventions, etc. But, the kind of time line I feel is the most helpful in this circumstance is one that is blank, allowing you to fill in areas as you study them.

If you have a timeline that you are working on, whenever anything interesting comes up, you can add it to your timeline. It doesn’t matter what order the events happened in; you are able to record them as they become of interest in your homeschool. So, in time, you end up with a timeline that’s filled with events that have meaning to your child.

There are blank timelines available for purchase, either as posters or strips that you affix to the wall yourself. Timelines can run as one long line around a room, staggered up a staircase, or be otherwise organized in a smaller area. Or, if you don’t have much wall space (or you have many kids who’d each like their own copy) you can keep a timeline in a book. Also, keep in mind that any kind of timeline you could buy is most likely also going to be something you could make for yourself. The only rule is that it works for your family! One family’s timeline may not look anything like another’s. For instance, one of the first things we had to add to ours was the invention of the flush toilet, which my children consider to be of utmost importance. You’ll be happy to know that it was after the landing of the Mayflower and before “Moby Dick” was published, and well before Grandma Unternahrer was born!

There are several different ways to note events on a timeline. You can simply write them in, or create photos on your printer and tape them to the timeline. I read an article where one mom bought an outdated set of encyclopedias for pennies and cut pictures out of them to use! Some companies offer pre-printed pictures of people or events, which can help save time and hassle if you’re not in the mood to go adventurously searching the internet for a picture of Pocahontas. It doesn’t have to be pretty and uniform, the notations just have to make sense to you and your kids.

So, hopefully I’ve done a good job explaining this, and you’re all interested and clamoring to learn more! If so, here are some links that might give you some ideas and inspirations.

One family’s timeline, with examples of figures

Article, “How Do I Make a Timeline?

Articles about creating a history notebook here and

Konos produces the timeline we use. It's HUGE, but you can roll it up if you need to. Plus, it's open-ended at the beginning. Sometimes pre-prepared timelines start at around 2000 BC with the 7 Days of Creation mapped out for you.

Online collections of many different images can be found here and here.

The Online Portrait Gallery, a good place to start when you want to add people to your timeline.

Here's a site with many interesting timeline ideas, including a comparison of timeline figures.

A printable blank page, if you're creating your own book.

A collection of links to other timeline resources.

And here's a whole page of reviews of timeline products, in case you're trying to compare what's out there to purchase.

I hope this helps, and you catch Timeline Fever like we have!

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Huh, sounds like a great idea! I've been thinking about teaching my son at home using the K12 program, but I'm not sure if they use the Timelines or not.`
Too. Much. Work.
Wanna do it for me?
Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing!
very interesting -- nice writing
I think it's also interesting to see what's going on at the same time in history. SOTW does a good job of pointing that out, but I feel so educated if I can just run my finger along the line and say, "Well, while this was happening here, this other thing was happening in India." Keeps us from being so insular, I think.
Great idea, keeps things organized and there is a reminder about prior lessons, which really reinforces the learning.
A really interesting post about timelines. The art one was so informative.
I think it helps remember stuff much better than a dry chronology.
I had that Dave Barry experience, too! So frustrating never to learn anything recent; you grow up not realizing that "history" includes, yes, your life too! Anyway, great idea. My kids would love timelines.
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