Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Why do history books chronicle one military engagement after another? Throughout history, military battles have happened when ideas have clashed, land has been disputed, nations have warred, and when dictators have oppressed. Major world changes have been decided on battlefields. No matter whether it is the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or World War II, battles of distant historical wars seem to run together in the minds of students and they are easily confused. Teacher-moms face the challenge of making history breathe and live to the point of understanding vs. just covering information. Ask yourself, “Is the goal for students to know history to the point of being able to explain it and learn from it or to memorize history to match dates and events for the purpose of passing a test?” Your answer determines the methods used to teach historical battles. 

Start: Simple Summary Story + Props

Too often teachers begin teaching a subject without giving any background or reason why the subject is important. Starting with a summary identifies characters, setting, and conditions that surround the subject so that launching into the subject makes sense. Children respond well to stories, so rather than giving your students an outline summary, make your summary a story. You can even start with “once upon a time.” For our purposes here, before studying the Battle of Lexington and Concord, start with a summary of the entire American Revolution . . . with props.

Whoa! This sounds too hard! Not so . . . with scissors and Scotch tape you cut and tape a crown for King George as you tell who he was and why he wanted to control the colonies. Naturally, you need a globe to locate where George lived and a red sweater for one of his “redcoat” soldiers to wear as he is making the colonists obey the king. As you tell the story, assign parts to each child by dressing each child in the crown or red sweater. You give the colonist side of the story as you hand the next child a toy rifle and a cowboy hat pinned into a three-corner hat. Be sure to show them on the globe the spot where the colonists lived,  and note that it took one to two months to cross from England to America and how this distance added to the colonists’ feeling of independence. This should take about ten to fifteen minutes while the kids change roles and repeatedly re-tell the summary-story as Mom listens and asks questions. 

One more necessary clarification: students need to understand the difference between the American Revolutionary War and the battles that made up the war. Get a piece of white paper and write “American Revolutionary War” across the top of the paper. Next, fill the paper up with Post-it Notes that list the names of various Revolutionary War battles. This simple activity successfully illustrates the concept that many battles make up a war.

Research: Read and Look at Pictures

After presenting an overview of the Revolutionary War, it is time to read and research extensively about Lexington and Concord. Look at pictures of the Old North Church, Lexington Green, and Concord Bridge. Read Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Trace his ride on a map. Write a report on Revere the silversmith and the patriot. Learn the layout of the Lexington Green, the tavern, the road Redcoats marched up, and where the Minutemen assembled. Read Johnny Tremain, about Minutemen and musket loading, as well as accounts of what happened at Lexington and Concord. Who said what? Who died that day? Why has the stand at Lexington been termed “the shot heard ’round the world”? It’s the details that paint a visual image of what happened that day, and you get details from a multitude of sources. Don’t look now, but we are creating a unit study!