Why Timelines Matter When Teaching History

When I was in school, I learned a lot of piecemeal history.  While I could remember small bits of the lessons, I always felt like history was some giant puzzle that I would never put together – and I hated it.  That’s the main reason I decided our homeschool would follow a four-year cycle of chronological history. I knew if someone had just taken me through history from start to finish, I wouldn’t be so confused.

Wait.  History Isn’t Awful?

So, you can imagine my surprise to find how wonderful and exciting the history of our world really is when it’s taught well!  Not to mention, how much sense it makes.  In fact, I LOVE teaching history now – and my children think it’s one of THE most interesting subjects!

One important tool we’ve used to help tie history together is the timeline.  We haven’t used a single consistent timeline format over the years, but have used various types in various situations instead.  In one way or another, the different timelines have provided us visual cues and have enhanced comprehension immensely.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Why Timelines Matter

I tried to pinpoint the reasons why timelines have worked so well for us and I ended up with seven big deal things that they’ve done for our homeschool.  Timelines have helped my children:

1. Understand the general flow of chronological history.

2. See the full picture of a particular era from beginning to end.

3. Make connections between individual events and people – and their relation to an era as a whole.

4. Grasp the overlapping or concurrency of seemingly unrelated events or cultures.

5. Notice patterns played out in history.

6. Identify cause and effect relationships surrounding historical events.

7. Memorize events, people and places easier.

Types of Timelines

I’m not great at sticking with a giant, long-term project like a wall-to-wall timeline that will be used for twelve years of homeschooling.  I get bored and like changing things up.  While it probably would have been good for my children to have one timeline to work on over the years, it just hasn’t happened.

Just because we skip around from one type to another, I still KNOW they are reaping the benefits of using timelines!  And here are most of the variations we have used.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Make Your Own Wall or Notebook Timeline

When we make our own, I definitely prefer timelines in a notebook over wall timelines.  When I mention a notebook timeline, you’re probably thinking of a blank timeline in which you add small figures or notes.  Yes, we’ve used those and they work well.  However, sometimes I have the kids make notebooking pages of the people & events they’ve learned, then the notebooking pages become the timeline when pulled together in a 3-ring binder.  Here are two sample pages from my son’s modern American history timeline notebook.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Whether we’ve put together wall or notebook timelines, I’ve turned to printable or cut & paste timeline figures many times over.  I especially like purchasing timeline packs from Beautiful Feet Books (like the Medieval pack pictured below) and Homeschool in the Woods.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Whether you care to create notebooks or wall timelines, I’ve pinned some really great ideas for you on my history timelines board.

Timelines are important tools for teaching history.

Coloring Page Timelines

One of our favorite ever wall timelines was a record of all the stories we read in our chronological Bible study.  As we read the Bible, we colored The Big Picture Bible Timeline pages and pasted the pictures to the wall.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Pre-made Hanging Timelines

Easy for mom, but probably not quite as effective as asking kids to create their own timelines are colorful, pre-made timelines you just unfold and hang.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Our Giant Bible Timeline stayed on the wall for a couple of years as we worked our way through reading the Bible.  It was a great visual reference for the divisions of the Bible and where each story fit in.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

These Unfolding History Timelines by Milliken Publishing are very cool.  They have fold-outs for eras from ancient history all the way through US history.  I pull these out as we study particular eras.  I especially like asking my children to compare several that cover different places or events during similar time frames (like the ancient timelines pictured above.)

Timelines in Book Format

Especially comprehensive and accessible are books that house timelines – like the one pictured below from DK Publishing, History Year by Year.  This particular book covers history from the beginning through 2012 with fabulous images and rich information.  (We skip the first couple of pages that speak about evolution.)  I love the ability we have to flip back and forth for comparisons.  More importantly, I love that book timelines usually give much more detail about the events & people.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Two other timelines-in-a-book that are on my wishlist are the Big Book of History by Ken Ham and Adams Chronological Chart or Map of History Foldout by Sebastian Adams.

Timeline Cards

I really like using timeline cards because they are so versatile for learning AND they are very hands-on.  You can mix the cards up and reorder them, use them as flashcards, or even make or buy a second set to play memory.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Some of my very favorite timeline cards came as part of our What Every Child Needs to Know About Western Civilization curriculum.  Through living literature, maps, stickers, narration and these cards, we completed an overview of world history in about four weeks!  We’ve continued to use the timeline cards for review from time to time.  (Read my review.)

The Veritas Press History Set with timeline cards is another good option which includes teaching lessons.

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

I found these colorful history event cards (pictured above) at a yard sale several years ago.  We’ve used these time and time again for flashcard quizzes and to order chronologically.  While this particular set no longer in print, you could use Professor Noggin Trivia Cards, Brain Box cards, or Classical Historian Go Fish cards instead.  As a bonus, these are fun games to play, too!  (Each company offers several historical sets.)

Timelines help with the understanding and retention of history. This post shares all kinds of timeline ideas.

Yes, what you see pictured above is a paper doll set.  What is it doing in a post about timelines??  Well, paper dolls can be really fun ways to manipulate people and events in history.  Whether you use them to retell an event, as “flashcards” to remember certain people or events, or place the dolls in order chronologically, paper dolls can be a great tool!

Timelines matter when teaching history – and they can be REALLY fun!  Tell me about your timelines!

Other posts you might like:

 How To Build a Hands-On Homeschool Colonial History Unit Study Slavery and Civil War Unit Study

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6 Comments

  1. Kortney Garrison says:

    Thanks for the great collection of resources…someone I know is going to get a set of the Prof Noggin Ancient History Cards for his birthday!

  2. Kortney, you’re just like me…I LOVE giving educational games as gifts!

  3. Hi! I am writing a blog post about tools for creating timelines online. I wanted to share a little bit about the benefits of using timelines for home learning, but, boy, you say it all here so well. I’d love to just link to this post. Are you OK with that?

  4. Beth, I would be honored for you to include a link to my post on your website! Thank you!

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