The Research-Based Approach to Teaching History

Be free from textbooks with a research-based approach to history

 The secret to the research-based method is using primary documents when possible. (Photo Credit:

The secret to the research-based method is using primary documents when possible. (Photo Credit:

I was uncomfortable with the idea of using history textbooks because I didn't enjoy the experience as a student. Textbooks briefly outline major events and touch on the lives of famous and influential people, but it doesn't feel personal, as if these were real people and events that shaped the world we live in. The typical textbook accounts aren't even stories - at least with stories there is a chance to connect with the characters, setting, and sequence of events. 

Maybe my distaste is because I read many biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs when I was a kid. I entered into other lives through letters, diaries, and memories, and no textbook can convey the sensory experience of reading first-hand accounts of historical events. 

That is why we do research to study history in our homeschool.

We chose people and events from each era, and used this outline to write research papers, essays, biographies, and PowerPoint presentations.

The basic outline is created from books such as

We also have an extensive library of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, as well as literary perspectives such as From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life from 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun.

 Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Do we have knowledge gaps? Yes. Don't you - even after 12 years in a traditional school? It simply isn't possible to study every single important event or person in history. You will not permanently sabotage their future careers or relationships if there are some knowledge gaps.

If your children acquire and exercise the skills of locating information and critical thinking, they will fill in the gaps if and when they need to do so.

Jensen's Format Writing
By Jensen Frode

The first step of using a research method is to complete at least a basic composition course, like Jensen's Format Writing. Even elementary and middle grade students can learn the fundamental structure and purpose of an essay or report. This is also a two-birds-one-stone approach to homeschooling, by combining subjects like Composition and History.

If your students aren't ready for composition, you can still use this method with younger children, who often enjoy projects like lapbooks or notebooks, historical reenactments, maps and timelines, or audio/visual PowerPoint presentations.

A family meeting is a great way to create an outline - to decide how many topics can be covered each year or semester, and to choose those you believe are most significant. 

You may still be wondering how parents make that kind of decision. Think about: 

  • Exploring your ethnic roots and cultural heritage.
  • Do you have ancestors who served in a military conflict?
  • Are your kids fascinated by the history and impact of technological advances?
  • Following the evolution of governments around the world.
  • Using current events as a springboard to the past.

It is not only acceptable but incredibly helpful to study history in a way that connects your child to historical people and events. Unless they plan to be a contestant on Jeopardy, they don't need to know mountains of trivia and tons of factoids. It is much more preferable for children to understand and empathize than memorize facts.

Are you having trouble stepping away from the textbooks? Try the research-based method for 6 weeks - the worst that can happen is that your kids will learn something!

How do you teach history in your homeschool? Share your methods below -