Why Are Timelines Important?

Learn why timelines are important for teaching kids about history and raising children who love history. Guest post by Amy Pak of Homeschool In the Woods for Mama Smiles.

Why Timelines Are Important History Tools

I hated history as a student. Believe it or not. Even as far back as grammar school, I didn’t understand it, and all it seemed to be was a lot of memorization of names, dates, and places.

I barely passed it in high school and vowed I would never need it again in my life.

Then came life. Not only has history played an important role in my years as an artist and graphic designer, but when homeschooling my own children came along, I thought for sure I’d be living a nightmare when it came to teaching history!

It wasn’t long, however, before I made some realizations that totally changed my thinking on the topic of history. Before I knew it, I couldn’t get enough of it! 

How to Teach History to Kids

What changed my attitude towards learning history? There is a saying, “We fear what we don’t understand.” History is often taught in a shallow method, like a stone skipping across the top of the water, touching on subjects but never delving in to get to know the characters we meet along the way. With the amount of information we are inundated with, it’s no wonder we feel like we are lucky if we can memorize just the basic facts of name, date, and place!

Personally, I needed to truly understand and wrap my head around organizing such a vast amount of information. So what changed it for me? 

How Timelines Can Transform Children’s Understanding of History

Timelines transformed my understanding of history, and my interest in the subject. They can do the same for you. Learn why timelines are important.

1. Timelines are Important Tools for Navigating Through History

In order to feel comfortable with the topics we were learning, I found that we needed a grounding point—a moment in time to launch off of so we could better understand the era we were studying about.

As I worked with timelines and mapping, I discovered that they provided a ‘latitude’ and ‘longitude’ in history. Maps provided the ‘where’ while timelines provided the ‘when.’

Time is already such an abstract concept for children (and adults!).

Timelines create a concrete framework where we can place these people and events in an order.

Once I could map where we were in the past, it became much easier to see how events led up to that time period, how people could leave a lasting effect, and how that era may have made an impact on its future.

Now, with a pin stuck into this time in history, it was easier to get our focus on learning more deeply about various cultures, people of interest, and exploits of the time!

2. Timelines Provide a Way to See Cause and Effect Across the Course of History

As time marches on, events of the past can’t help but ripple into the future. There is an ebb and flow, a cause and effect that naturally takes place.

In fact, if those in the future better understood the past, they might be less apt to make the mistakes that have already been made! Edmund Burke once said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

For example, by understanding the fall of Rome, we come to see how Europe fell into a dark age. Another example is to understand how the early founders of America developed our Constitutional Republic by taking lessons from the past: Greek democracy, Roman respect of law, and English protection of rights.

3. Timelines Show You History “By the Slice”

As much fun as it is to delve deeply into a specific culture, we may forget that other things were happening around the world at the same time! We tend not to think about that, instead making each piece of history its own entity.

In actuality, history was happening simultaneously. While China was building its Great Wall, Hannibal was leading his elephants and army across the Alps during the Punic War. At that same time, the Greek mathematician, Archimedes, was discovering the principles of specific gravity. 

4. Timelines Provide a Visual for Both the Sequential and Global Thinker

There are various ways to make a timeline, and they speak to both the child who needs to see events piece together one after another, as well as the child who needs to see the whole picture—or both!

A notebook timeline allows the child an up-close, sequential view of people and events. Like any resource, the child can turn the pages and see the order of history as it unfolds.

For a more global view, wall timelines allow the child to see the grander flow of history in larger portions. Let’s look a little closer at both wall and notebook timelines and their pros and cons.

Using timelines to teach history.

WALL TIMELINES

Wall timelines offer an expansive view of history, but that isn’t all. A child can continue to add to them like a puzzle, discovering bits of information a little at a time and seeing how each fits in the grander scheme of things. It is constantly in view and provides a continual reminder of lessons previously learned.

There are a couple of drawbacks to wall timelines, however. Not everyone has a full wall to dedicate to a timeline! Or perhaps you don’t want to ‘wallpaper’ your hall with a timeline.

Also, with younger children, the higher the timeline goes on the wall, the harder it can be to see.

There are ways to work around these issues. By using a sewing board or folding display board, you can get a larger picture and can lay multiple boards together for the global view, while able to neatly fold and tuck away the timeline when needed.

Why teach history using timelines.

NOTEBOOK TIMELINES

We encourage notebook timeline use, as this is a way a child can create a portable resource of their own over the years. There is no worry of ‘removing’ it as you eventually would with a wall timeline.

Notebook timelines provide a way to continually add information as the child learns, while creating a keepsake at the end of their school life that is a usable tool, just like any atlas or dictionary would be.

Notebooks can also be written in, allowing the child to embellish figures or add in additional information of their own.

5. Timeline Figures

Visual timeline figures offer that crucial connection needed to truly get children interested in history. When I mention the word “Thanksgiving,” I’ll bet you immediately conjure up a picture of pilgrims or turkey in your mind!

By having an image that the child can connect to the person or event, they better remember the information they have learned. In addition, we encourage children to color in the figures they use so that they can remember the details of the image.

As the figures are added in one at a time, the puzzle of history begins to come together for the child.

I’ve often said, no one can ever learn all of history in the 12 years they are given for their school life. Still, if we can teach history as an ongoing story with amazing cultures and characters and impactful events, hopefully it will ignite a desire in the child to want to learn more, and isn’t that our hope? To have our children enter the world with a hunger to keep on learning?

Timelines are a tool that gives our children a good handle on understanding history, helping them make sense of our long past.

Why do you think timelines are important?

Amy Pak of Homeschool in the Woods
Amy Pak

Amy Pak is an 18-year homeschool veteran to four and a “Maimy” to seven grandkids. She is also the co-owner, illustrator, and co-author at Home School in the Woods, a family-run history company known for its historical timeline figures and hands-on history studies. You can read more of Amy’s writing on her company’s blog.

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