Teaching homeschool social studies is one of those things that leaves many homeschool families feeling confused, frustrated, and often with a long list of questions.
How does it fit in?
Is it necessary?
Will my elementary child fall behind if we don’t use a textbook curriculum?
What should we use to teach it?
How much is enough?
How much is too much?
There are a lot of answers to these questions out there floating around, which makes it difficult for homeschool families to come to a simple and practical solution for social studies. Today I hope to help you make a clear, simple, and practical plan for teaching homeschool social studies from the beginning until graduation.
Keep First Things First
It’s difficult to know how much is needed and how much is too much. I can’t answer this question for you, but I can remind you to stay focused, especially with elementary aged children. Elementary school has two essential purposes academically: to build fluent readers and strong math fact proficiency.
We can’t afford to lose sight of this while pursuing other academic content. It’s too crucial. If that means we can’t cover history or geography because we are spending too much time on reading and math, so be it. Our kids will be all the wiser as a result. I promise. All other subjects can wait.
That being said, it’s rare that you’d need to abandon social studies. In fact, elementary age is a great time to cultivate a love for all things on this topic. Children are naturally curious about the world around them, so capitalize on it when you can. There are really practical ways to weave this content into your day without needing an extra curriculum or feeling overwhelmed with the work load. (More on this below.)
Know Why You Should Teach History or Social Studies in Your Homeschool
According to the National Council for the Social Studies, “The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
If that’s our purpose, our kids must be strong readers and thinkers, not merely memorizers of dates and people. In fact, the entire teaching of social studies is going to need to be much deeper. Just knowing where a country can be found or what year it last fought in a war won’t help our kids make decisions for public good.
I’m thankful for my history teachers who helped us focus on the why behind events and helped us create a timeline that made sense as a whole. But personally, I think there is a much bigger purpose for social studies in the lives of Christians.
In our homeschool, the purpose for teaching social studies is first to understand how God created the world and how people have responded to Him since the beginning of time. Knowing this information is crucial to understanding religious rights and freedoms and for helping us love the world around us.
For example, learning about the value of the fertile crescent helps us understand the turmoil both in the Old Testament and today, which is central to our faith. Also, learning about the Greek and Roman gods helps us understand the many biblical references to idol worship. These are just two examples of how learning history provides kids with the context they need to make the choice to worship the ONE TRUE GOD and understand His greater plan for His people.
Essential Social Studies Skills for Homeschoolers
So what does this look like, practically speaking? There are several facets of social studies that we ought to cover throughout the academic years. Please note that I didn’t say we should cover all of these in kindergarten. Also note that sometimes these all go together hand-in-hand. In fact, rarely will you find the time or the need to separate them into individual subjects.
- Exposure to the idea of the history of the world, with specific attention given to connections with God’s Word
- Exposure to the geography of the world, with specific attention given to social and cultural needs/differences
- Exposure to civics/government and the ideals behind economics, with specific attention given to Christian civic duty
- Apologetic teaching on anthropology and archeology as it helps us confirm the Bible and explore cultures of the past
- An understanding of and compassion for the various world religions and cultural needs today
- An understanding of the call to preach the gospel to the nations, with particular focus on practical ways to help
Finding the Best Homeschool History Curriculum
Before I give you a list, please read what I’ve written above. Those words lay the foundation for my suggestions and I want you to understand my heart behind these recommendations. One word of caution when selecting curriculum: If your purpose is to understand God’s Word better, be careful that your curriculum isn’t written from the opposite perspective. This will work against your goal. And yes, most of what you’ll find out there is written from a secular perspective.
Also, I want to note that there is so much awesome homeschool curriculum available. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it intended to be the gospel of social studies curriculum must-haves.
It’s simple on purpose! I pray you will enjoy the simple suggestions and that they will truly bless your family as you seek to understand God’s Word through the study of history.
Homeschool History Curriculum for Elementary
This is the age to lay a great foundation that cultivates interest and excitement for the history of God's world. Be careful about buying too much curriculum. It's easy to weave these topics into your day using great read-alouds or short simple studies. I would also recommend the use of audio books. They are engaging and teach so much! (See our list of books above to help get you started.)
To Every Nation is a study of missionaries, countries, and biblical truth. I wrote this to help us focus on these crucial elements of faith, as well as develop a compassion for the world. The study covers the lives of 12 different missionaries using a Charlotte Mason approach. It can be done in 12 weeks or you can go deeper with the novels of each missionary and enjoy it for the whole year!
Mystery of History is a comprehensive journey through all of time focusing on a biblical worldview, done with a classical flair. The awesome thing about this curriculum is its flexibility. You can use it for all ages and make it a family affair. During elementary school, we simply use the audio CDs and listen to the lesson. Then we draw or write about what we learned in a notebook.
America's Story is a fabulous option for parents who want a little MORE history without going overboard. Written by Masterbooks, it's a trusted resource with a strong Biblical Worldview that provides simple assignments for elementary kids and engaging activities to supplement. This history curriculum is inspired by the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling.
Last but not least, introducing kids to these missionary books kids love is truly my favorite way to foster a love for social studies. Learning about the lives of these heroes of the faith teaches us about geography, culture, events, and faith. There is so much good stuff in there it's hard not to love them!
Homeschool History Curriculum for Middle School
There are two ways to approach history in middle school. Taking the more laid back approach from elementary school is totally fine. At this age, it's still very much about exposure to ideas and terms. I mean, let's face it, can you still name the states and capitals? (I know I sure can't.) My kids can't either. But I didn't waste a year on it either. Instead, I taught them how to look them up and we learned about specific things we could relate to in each state.
My goal here is to build bridges of knowledge. But it's also ok to take a more serious approach at this stage, too. It's up to you.
To Every Nation is a study of missionaries, countries, and biblical truth. I wrote this to help us focus on these crucial elements of faith, as well as develop a compassion for the world. The study covers the lives of 12 different missionaries in a Charlotte Mason style. For middle schoolers, I have the kids read the novels themselves and write papers or complete projects on each of the missionaries.
Mystery of History is a 4 volume comprehensive journey through all of time focusing on a biblical worldview. The awesome thing about this curriculum is its flexibility. You can use it for all ages and make it a family affair. During middle school you can stick with the recommendations for elementary kiddos or you can dig deeper using the lessons and tests in the book. Mystery of History leans toward a classical approach to homeschooling.
The World's Story by Masterbooks is a Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum. Lessons aren't too long and serve as a spring board to go and explore concepts as your child is interested. Activity sheets are engaging and purposeful.
Notgrass History is a great option for parents looking for a more textbook based approach to history. From Adam to Us is the first in the series followed by America the Beautiful. I love this curriculum for its emphasis on God's Word. Although it is textbook based and has that feel, we also love that it covers language arts, Bible, and social studies all in one. That's a win!
Homeschool History Curriculum for High School
At this point, you will need to be sure you are meeting your state's requirements. Don't guess at this. LOOK IT UP for yourself. Most states require 3 high school credits: world history, American history, and Government/Economics. You can do them in any order or style.
We prefer to match our history with English requirements. That means we take American Literature and American history at the same time so everything we are learning fits together nicely. This kind of complementary learning encourages a life-long love for knowledge.
Mystery of History is a 4 volume comprehensive journey through all of time focusing on a biblical worldview. The awesome thing about this history curriculum is its flexibility. You can use it for all ages and make it a family affair. During high school you can go deep with the lessons and tests included. You may also supplement with novels or extra suggested reading.
The cycle of history can be repeated even if you've done it before. Since the student is much older, the knowledge is much deeper when you cycle back. For us, we've used this curriculum to lay the foundation so we move on to Notgrass (below) in high school.
Notgrass History is a great option for parents looking for a more in-depth approach to history. We love this curriculum for its emphasis on God's Word. We also love that it covers language arts, Bible, and social studies all in one. That's a win for busy high schoolers for sure. The lesson plan feature makes it great for independent learning. Simple enough for them to use and easy for parents to keep track.
Masterbooks promises the same Charlotte Mason inspired, Biblically sound curriculum for high schoolers from American history to Civics. We will be using Civics this year and can't wait! I'm excited for the way Masterbooks covers a topic in-depth without making it overwhelming (or boring!)
Great Living Books for Teaching Homeschool History
We love reading real stories about history. This can be a great way to learn and can actually be all the curriculum you need, if you'd like to do it that way. Here are some of our favorites.