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Making History Sticky

  • Carmen Rockett Home School Enrichment
  • 2011 4 Jan
Making History Sticky

"You shook his hand?" asked Jesse, wide-eyed.

"Yes," Ethan replied with a shrug.

"Chuck Yeager? You shook Chuck Yeager's hand?"

"Yes, Dad and I met him when we went to Edwards Air Force Base last year."

"Wow!" responded Jesse, who had been studying Bernoulli's principle (movement of fluid through a pressure difference) and building airplanes with his younger siblings. Ethan's stature had just grown visibly in his brother's eyes. "We just watched a documentary on him! He was the first man to break the sound barrier."

Yes! I thought. They're getting it! History is beginning to stick. My children grasped more about Chuck Yeager, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart at ages 6, 10, and 13 than I understood at 44. For that, I can thank the vehicle by which their history is being delivered.


Cathy Duffy, in her book 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, tells us to "Approach social studies as a newspaper reporter. Reporters look for the answers to the questions: Who did what? When did they do it? Where did they do it? and Why did they do it? . . . Our social studies should be like a good newspaper article, combining all the necessary ingredients." Duffy defines "social studies" as "a comprehensive term that includes history, geography, and cultural studies." For the purpose of this article, I'll use the word history, but the ideas apply beyond the discipline of history.

I interviewed Jessica Hulcy, author of the popular KONOS curriculum, to better understand how to compose the newspaper article that is to be our children's history experience. She tells us we must use a multi-sensory approach, because when we involve the five senses, our children experience history from many perspectives, rounding out and solidifying their grasp of the concepts.

According to Endangered Minds by Jane Healey, brain cells have many protruding connectors. These can hook up and make "pathways" in the brain similar to paths in the forest. God designed our brains so that we will develop particular pathways at given stages of life that coincide with normal growth and family interaction. Just as in a forest, we establish the paths we use most while the little-used paths will be lost. Learning through discovery—thinking, dialoguing, dramatizing, and parental interaction—strengthens important connections and causes the brain to actually grow in size.

Related research shows that the brains of roughly half the population tend toward more traveled paths in the left hemisphere and the other half of the population in the right hemisphere. To simplify further, roughly half of the population learns better through hands-on involvement, and the other half tends to respond better to lectures and book learning. According to Hulcy, using the discovery learning method covers the bases for all learning styles, while it also stretches children to improve their ability to learn through methods they find more challenging.

Mix It Up

Blending other subject areas into the study of history also helps children remember better what they have learned. Hulcy likens the study of history to observing a three-dimensional sculpture. If we look at a sculpture from one angle only, we will have an incomplete concept of the whole. If, however, we walk around the sculpture, noting the angle of the head, the placement of the feet, the posture of the back, the expression of the face—examining every detail from every angle—we will form an entirely different impression of the masterpiece. We add depth to our children's study of history in the same way. This kind of discovery experience causes children to own the knowledge; ownership, making history a part of themselves, allows children to recall the experience and related facts even years later.

Make It Fun

We have addressed two important ingredients for our "sticky history" formula: discovery learning and integrating subjects. However, we are still missing an important element. That element is fun. Wait! Please hear me out. I stand among you as a mom concerned that today's children are addicted to entertainment. We do not want to encourage that addiction, and I am not endorsing fun in the self-focused sense of seeking more pleasure through entertainment. Yet, fun isn't all bad. Hulcy tells us, "I can attempt to force my children to pay attention with threats. Or by the way I teach, I can motivate my children to want to pay attention from inside themselves. Motivation is far easier than force and has fewer tears attached."

When we use purposeful fun to teach history, we serve our children by opening up new horizons that will enrich their lives and may eventually translate to vocations or ministries.

Any formula will fail if the elements sit independently on the counter. Someone must care enough to combine them. In our adhesive-making formula, the parent completes the picture. Our children crave our involvement. We have all heard the words, "Mom, come see!" or "Dad, will you do something with me?" We will likely influence our children to loathe history or love it based on whether we choose to discover its truths with our children or remain aloof. This is where we set aside the laundry or our need for "alone time" and consider our children's need for interaction first (Phil. 2:3-4).

Trying a new formula involves risk (at least perceived risk), and formulating sticky history is no different. In this case, we must break free from a previous bond to the scope and sequence approach to learning. Hulcy, who taught in public schools before coming home to teach her own children, explains that the public school system designed scope and sequence because teachers frequently moved on. The scope and sequence approach provided a standard to ensure that teachers covered everything necessary and that students would complete a full course of study regardless of teacher turnover. While you need to follow an obvious sequence for math and phonics, I encourage you to break the bonds for history and other topics and use only a suggested scope as a checklist to be sure that you teach vital topics. We want history that sticks to brains, not brains gummed up by irrelevant frameworks.


So what does learning history by discovery look like in our homes? The following suggestions might be summed up as Sticky History for Dummies (like me). I have arranged these suggestions so that the first letters form the acronym TRrIMMED. Think of your package of sticky history being TRrIMMED with a lovely bow of discovery learning.

Toss the Text?

For some moms, the first item in the acronym sounds like a license to toss the text, but not so fast! Jan Bloom, in her book Who Should We Then Read?, defends texts when she states, "A good textbook is like a guide pointing out the particulars of the scenery on a tour through time." She cautions us, however, to choose texts carefully. You will find insight for making text choices in the introductory pages of her book and in Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks.

Read Real

Bloom compares texts to grocery lists, giving dates, names, and descriptions. In Who Should We Then Read? she tells us, "This is useful information for comparisons and record keeping, but the numbers are easily forgotten. If, however, the shopping list is used to recall what was created with the ingredients listed; what it looked like, how it tasted, when, and with whom it was enjoyed, the memory remains long after the ink on the list has faded . . . when the stories of people and their predicaments are told with skill and vividness, history becomes memorable."

Reading real books from various genres, especially biography, historical fiction, and nonfiction, enriches our children's understanding of history. You will find excellent sources for suggested history-related reading in Duffy's and Bloom's books, with Duffy's suggestions listed by historical period.

Recently, our 21-year-old son returned home for an extended stay. I felt convicted to renew my commitment to read aloud with my family when he remarked, "Mom, why aren't you reading together in the evenings? It's one of my best memories from growing up." Reading aloud strengthens the family bond while it enhances children's grasp of history.

Role Play and Reenact

Your daughter won't soon forget taking a gallop around the yard on a stick horse dressed as Queen Elizabeth I in all her finery. Your son will form lasting memories of past explorers when, dressed in buckskins, he paddles his cardboard canoe in the basement. Make costumes, even simple ones, and have your children reenact great moments in history. When your child wonders, "What was it like to wash clothes by hand in a wooden tub?" simulate the pioneer experience in your backyard or basement. As children role-play the history they study, they form more tangible memories that stick so they can recall them later.

Internet Interaction

The Internet holds a virtual treasure trove of information waiting to be unearthed. A computer-savvy, mom-child team has only to mine this information using one of the many search engines available, such as,, or Or visit          by-grade.shtml, a helpful Web site that consolidates hundreds of links on a wide variety of topics. This well-organized site lists topics alphabetically by grade level. Clicking any topic link will take you to a page that contains a collection of links related to the topic.

Two more helpful sites are for searching scripture, and, where supervised children will find short, written biographies and videos of almost anyone, past or present. Supervise your children on the Internet, even if you have Internet protection software activated. Children find ways around these protection programs (often by accident), and the minutes you sacrifice to supervise them will preserve you and your family from unneeded grief.

Model, Mold, Make, and Manipulate

The rubber meets the road here for that half of the population that tends toward active learning styles. Make a model of the tabernacle while studying Biblical history. Mold a ziggurat with clay during your studies of ancient civilizations. Make period food and costumes when you study the American Revolution. While studying the Renaissance and Reformation, learn to play Farkle, a dice game similar to one played during Renaissance times. Sing folk songs, hymns, and other songs related to your studies. The connection made by shaping models from clay or gluing Velcro to fabric to make costumes forms a memory link for hands-on learners that can't be replaced. Even left-brain learners will attach memories to smells, tastes, sounds, touch, and visual sensations.

More Movies?

I do not encourage children to seek more electronic entertainment, at least not for entertainment's sake. Parents will be pleasantly surprised, however, at how well a carefully chosen movie reinforces learning. As we studied the history of boats and ships, we reviewed ship vocabulary while experiencing the salty feel of life at sea when we watched Captains Courageous starring Freddie Bartholomew. We also witnessed proof of man's frailty before an Almighty God when we viewed the documentary Titanica, about the sinking of the Titanic, a ship touted as unsinkable. Choose videos in keeping with your parenting goals and related to your studies, and the results will underscore your overall learning experience.


Well-planned field trips provide a change of scenery that refreshes minds and sets the stage for discovery learning. Think outside the box when planning field trips, and you will find more options available. If you are considering an aviation field trip, don't confine your trips to the nearest aviation museum. Consider other options within your budget, such as a visit to a flying school, a trip to your pilot friend's private hangar, a hot-air-balloon ride, a helicopter ride, or a chartered-plane ride. Some organizations offer free rides, tours, and materials for schoolchildren, so ask questions.

Dialogue and Detail

Thinking promotes learning that sticks. Teaching and encouraging discovery with the TRrIMMED steps listed will give opportunities for dialogue. Ask leading questions, such as, "How does this event reflect the way man thinks about God?" Design questions with purpose to encourage your children to mull over their discoveries, giving thoughtful answers. Dialogue of this type should happen throughout each day over many topics, but certainly over your children's current studies. Children also benefit from detailing or writing about what they have learned, including their thoughts and conclusions. Dialogue and detail help us to follow the common thread that runs through each of the activities used to explore the topic. We do not want a collection of disjointed experiences, but a neat package, all wrapped up and presented with a sticky bow.

Is history a boring progression of names, dates, and places? Not when you teach sticky history! 

Carmen Rockett enjoys sticky history with her children at her north-east Texas home and in the surrounding area. She's honored to be married to a Naval Intelligence officer promoting liberty and democracy in foreign lands. God has blessed them together with two graduates and four remaining home-taught children.

Note: Many of the ideas for activities and projects mentioned for history of flight, ships, and boats can be found in the KONOS curriculum guide, with further encouragement available by subscribing to HomeSchoolMentor at

This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec '08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled "The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom" by visiting