A homeschool environment has the flexibility and focus that are essential to overcome the neglect that history so often receives in the twenty-first century. The opportunity that exists is a threefold one: academic, social, and spiritual.

Academic Opportunity

Unfortunately, one can go quite far in the United States’ educational system before he actually learns about “primary sources,” which are sources that are closest to the person or event being studied. Much of U.S. education consists of the regurgitation of secondary sources, such as encyclopedias. Why not teach children at an early age that a project that quotes someone who fought in the Vietnam War is superior and more desirable to an encyclopedia article about the Vietnam War?

In addition to teaching children about primary sources, seeking out elderly who have actually lived through events will also give children experience with skills that are taught even less frequently than history—interview skills. At first glance, interviewing may seem to be a skill needed only by journalists, but on deeper reflection, conducting an interview teaches a student how to organize and prepare, how to obtain information, how to plan, and how to interact with people. In fact, conducting an interview will also better prepare a child for the time when he is the one being interviewed for college admission or a job. 

Social Opportunity

Every parent who homeschools his or her child has frequently heard the criticism that homeschooled children are socially awkward because they do not have the opportunities for social interaction that children in a conventional school have. So why not take a potential weakness and turn it into a strength? Take the time and effort to investigate and get to know people at your local nursing home; in doing so, you will likely advance your child’s social development beyond that of his or her peers. Interacting with men and women who are decades older than themselves will teach children to communicate with people who live differently, think differently, and speak differently. 

Spiritual Opportunity

Adding interaction/interviews with the elderly to your history curriculum can also benefit children spiritually. They will learn that not everyone has been given the same privileges that they have been given, that sometimes bad things happen to people, and that God is still in control regardless of the circumstances. Children will also become acutely aware that there are people out there who cannot survive or function without the aid of others.

The spiritual benefit to children will be noticeable, but the benefits to the elderly men and women you are able to involve in your child’s education will even exceed the benefits enjoyed by your children. Those who reside in nursing homes live for visits. There are some residents whose family, church, and friends are constantly checking in on them, but there are also residents who rarely, if ever, have visitors from “the outside world.” Giving such an individual the opportunity to talk about his or her life offers more than just company; it provides the nursing home resident with a rare opportunity—a chance to be listened to.

How to Take Advantage of the Opportunity

Supplementing your child’s study of history with the amazing resource of the elderly, particularly those in nursing homes, is probably easier than you think. An admissions representative or activities director would be the appropriate staff member to contact in order to plan a visit, and such a staff person would also be familiar with the stories of the residents in their particular nursing homes. If you choose to go another route, the seniors’ pastor at your church, the local seniors center, or associations such as the local VFW would also provide good starting points. 

As you go about the process of identifying elderly people whom your children can talk to, consider asking an elderly person to be a guest speaker. You and other homeschooling parents could organize a meeting in which someone who was a World War Two veteran or who spent a life as a nurse or who was a farmer could talk to a group of children about their lives and experiences and answer questions afterwards.