4 Reasons I Ditched Textbooks for Homeschooling History

a tall stack of novels stands in the foreground; a child reads in the background

Once upon a time, you sat slumped in history class as the film strip droned on. You were implored to memorize the dates and events of World War II. You took notes, strained over their details, crammed for the test and then, if you’re anything like me, forgot almost all of it.

Now, picture this. Your kids sprawl across the carpet and sofa as you begin reading Snow Treasure from Level 7 Reading with History, "'Beat you to the turn!' Peter Lundstrom shot his sled down the long steep slope." Immediately, you are all transported to Norway in 1940. As you near the end of chapter one, your children beg you to continue reading. You are happy to indulge.

This is the power of story! It draws us in and brings history to life. We feel as though we are right there with Peter and his friends as they slip down the hill, and later as they use those same sleds to sneak the village’s gold past the Nazi troops.

Why do we gain a stronger understanding of history when we ditch the textbook?

Historical fiction is the secret weapon for inspiring a love of history. Historical fiction embodies the power of story and seamlessly weaves in just the right balance of facts to keep the story grounded in history.

When it comes to teaching homeschool history, historical fiction has four key advantages over textbooks. Novels teach and instill

  • connection to the time and the place

  • empathy toward the people who were affected by the events

  • curiosity and prediction

  • consideration of multiple perspectives

For these reasons, I've ditched textbooks and opted for a literature-based curriculum for homeschool history.

1. Historical Fiction Connects Us to Time and Place

A well-written story paints a vivid image of the setting. It invites us in and shows us around so that we feel as though we are there. We are part of the action. When Peter Lundstrom sleds down the hills of Norway, we feel the chill on our faces. Later, we feel the oppressing weight of blacking out the windows and the threat of the “German measles.”

The setting brings the story to life in ways that a textbook cannot as we get to know the culture of Norway and how World War II affected it.

2. Historical Fiction Teaches Empathy

4 Reasons I Ditched Textbooks for Homeschooling HistoryStories allow us to walk a mile in shoes from the past. In Snow Treasure, we get to imagine what it would be like to outwit Nazi soldiers and stand up for what is right. As we get to know the characters, we find ourselves rooting for them and experiencing their emotions right alongside them. We feel Peter’s fear as he sneaks gold past the soldiers and his pride as he takes care of his sister.

The human experience of history is not conveyed with this kind of clarity in textbooks. While the focus of a textbook is on facts, historical fiction encourages us to consider what it may have been like for those who lived through the events. 

3. Historical Fiction Encourages Curiosity

  • “Wait! Why did the Germans invade Norway?”
  • “What was the German Gestapo?”
  • “Is this a true story?”

The questions bubble up with every page turn!

Textbooks leave little room for curiosity, but historical fiction invites us to dig deeper. We want to find out if the story we have found ourselves wound up in is really true. We want it to be true and work like detectives to find out if it is. We dig around the internet, Googling our questions, and search Netflix and YouTube for documentaries to satiate our curiosity. We become historians and researchers.

4. Historical Fiction Shows Multiple Perspectives

Textbooks often show us only two sides to a story. In the case of World War II, it’s the Axis powers versus the Allies. We are led to believe that these are the only two perspectives and there was no variation from them.

Historical fiction shows us that actions within history often have a more personal side than we see at first glance. In Snow Treasure, we meet Jan Lasek, a young Nazi soldier. At first we see him as another untrustworthy enemy, but as the book weaves on, we see that there is more to the story—not every Nazi soldier held the same beliefs.

History is personal and universal all at once. Its stories teach us about ourselves and the world. We learn compassion and to ask meaningful questions. There is no better place to dive into the story of history than through the pages historical fiction. In those pages, we may just find that history isn’t as boring as we originally thought it to be. 

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About the Author

Angela Awald nurturedrootsAngela Awald is a homeschooling mama to 6, certified teacher, writer, and doula. Her days brim full of learning, loving, and laundry (lots and lots of laundry)!! She believes that nurturing children (and ourselves) means helping them to see that all of life is about learning – from our mistakes, from each other, and from great books! Angela blogs at nurturedroots.net where she shares the ways she is nurturing her family and inspiration for nurturing your own.