Firstly, I would like to thank Ross for allowing me to publish a guest post about home education and history on her blog. When I was forced to home ed my son (who has complex special educational needs), I was very scared and frightened by the entiredaunting prospect. I am a professional business technologist with a lifetime of working in the City with “grown-ups”, so what did I know about teaching a child? Especially a child with such a complex cocktail of special educational needs as my son? But Ross’s blog was a beacon of light in what could have been extremely dark and frightening months. So I’m delighted to be writing a guest post about home educating children in the exciting discipline of “history”.
What is history?
When you see the word “history”, do you instantly switch off and think “oh no, that’s so boorRring”? Or do you think “I can’t possibly teach my child about history, it’s too academic/I’m not clever enough/I don’t know anything about history/I hated history at school”?
Well… I’d like to put it to you that history is one of the easiest, richest and most diverse of all topics you can undertake. I can guarantee that wherever you live in the United Kingdom, there will be “history” in some shape or form all around you. Whatever is your background, culture, race, or religion, there will be “something” historical which you can explore with your children as part of a rich and rewarding home education programme. Even if your child is like mine, a young person with severe learning disabilities, they will still be able to take part in learning about history.
Sometimes this “history” will be easy to spot: such as visiting London’s main museums. But other times, history is not so easy and so will require more hard work from you. For example, your local town will have its own history – some of it will be easy to work out, others less obvious, so you will have to ask questions about the subject you wish to explore.
- What happened to your town during the industrialisation of Britain in the eighteen/nineteenth century?
- How old is your local church and why does it look like a medieval castle?
- Why does your village have a road called “Hanging Hill Lane”, or “Gallows Corner” or “Witch Lane”?
- What is the history of your road? Your house? Your family?…
All of the above could become questions and projects to investigate for a home educating family.
The British Museum in London. A more “traditional” approach to including history within a home education programme?
Berbice Lane – a road sign on a side road near my house. There is a historic reason why this road is thus named. Local road names – an opportunity ripe for an project into local history by a home ed’ing family?
Questions, questions, questions!
Questions are exactly what history is all about: looking for, and answering questions about a historical topic. Professional historians often use the “6 w’s” to help with their historical investigations –
- What happened?
- When did it happen?
- Who did it happen to?
- Where did it take place?
- Why did it happen? (This is often the most exciting historical prompt to explore and investigate!)
- How did it happen? (ok, so that’s not a “w”, but it kind-of fits in!)
A famous painting of the Spanish Armada. A fantastic home ed’ing project to investigate the “6 w’s” of this painting. What? When? Who? Where? Why? How?
School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged
My child had been called “academically challenged” by one of his previous teachers (who should have known better). But I knew that he was more than capable and we could investigate history together. Thus was born something we both called “School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged” (to thumb our nose at his so-called “teacher”). Each Friday, we went out and about on field-trips to investigate a topic or theme of historical interest. In amongst all the “normal” home education activities such as maths and English, our School Trip Friday became the highlight of our week.
So each term, I picked a historical topic that I thought would be good to study. As I knew that ultimately my child would be returning to school, I decided to (very roughly) stick with the KS2 curriculum and keep to the historical topics covered there. So some of the historical topics we studied included:
- The Tudors. We investigated stately homes, National Trust and English Heritage properties all connected with the Tudor kings and queens of England. Our favourite Tudor School Trip Friday was when we made a trip to Leicester and Bosworth shortly after the body of Richard III was discovered in the local Council’s car park. We turned that into an entire long weekend and had tremendous fun researching Leicester and its medieval king, and how the Tudor dynasty came to the throne of England via the bloody battlefield of Bosworth Field.
Here’s looking at you, kid.
My son came face to face with Richard III, the last truly medieval king.
- The Romans. We headed up and out of East Anglia and into beautiful Northumberland to the area of Hadrian’s Wall, where we investigated the Romans in Britain. This was another School Trip “Friday” which turned into a long glorious weekend of investigation.
My husband decided that we were having far too much fun on our history trips so joined us for our Hadrian’s Wall weekend. Our home education and School Trip Friday was for all the family to enjoy!
- The Vikings. Living in Essex, we are extremely fortunate to live near one of the areas where the Vikings invaded in the year 991. Today it is a beautiful area of outstanding beauty. Yes, despite popular misconceptions about Essex, there are some incredibly beautiful and historic areas within our county!
The approximate location where the Vikings invaded England in 991. History literally on our doorstep.
Dos and Don’ts of History and Home Ed
Like all things, there are dos and don’ts to history. Here are some of mine…
- When out and about, DO always be respectful of the historical site or ancient monument. Bear in mind that you might be walking or exploring a monument or site whose very fabric may be extremely fragile. No climbing on walls or touching/holding fragile objects – unless, of course, there is a sign (or a helpful warden) which explicitly states you are welcome to climb/touch/hold. If you’re not allowed to climb that tempting wall/pile of rubble, then use other methods for engaging your child in learning. For example, when we walked along some of the Roman forts at Hadrian’s Wall, instead of climbing the ruins (and running the risk of destroying 2,000 year old constructions!), we spent time looking at the perfect building techniques of the Romans and trying to understand how they achieved what they did without modern building techniques and equipment.
- If investigating a historic site/building, DO engage with any staff, volunteers or helpers. Many of them will be absolute fanatical experts on that particular building/room/family and will love to spend time with you and your children telling you about their passion. For example, when we visited the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, there were some amazing volunteers stationed at each house, just absolutely dying to share their knowledge. There is nothing more captivating to a small child then being shown the marks a hob-nailed boot made on an earthenware tiled floor by countless generations of men who had come in from the fields and warmed themselves in front of a roaring fire. Or for a modern child to be shown the sleeping conditions/rooms/cupboards of children their age. Engage with staff and/or volunteers, and your child’s education will benefit.
- DO thank any member of staff or volunteer who has gone the extra mile with your children’s education or experience. When you have a passion for history, there is absolutely nothing like being thanked by someone – particularly a child – who has benefited from your knowledge.
- DO age-appropriate / ability appropriate “history learning” with your children. For example, a teenager could benefit from undertaking proper historical research using primary source materials from libraries and record offices. Whereas a younger child could prefer a more “hands on” approach byphysically visiting sites and exploring historic buildings.
- DO consider that history is nearly always a multi-disciplined topic. For example, weather has had a massive impact on British/English history. So if your child is interested in weather and storms etc, then consider how the weather may have impacted the historical theme you are studying. Science and history can go together hand-in-hand! Or, maybe look at geography as geography and history are also a perfect match. For example, when I was researching my book about the town of Bishop’s Stortford, I discovered that the nearby river which runs through the town has had a massive impact on the town’s fortunes. So, whilst I was writing my book I spent a great deal of time walking the entire length of the river and investigating the town’s industry which took place there in the 1800s.
- DO use a variety of methods for teaching history. For example, when driving to/from the historical sites we were investigating, we used both the Horrible Histories and Tony Robinson’s series of audio recordings about history to totally immerse ourselves in our chosen period. We also listened to good children’s historical novels on audio recordings. When we were looking at medieval/Tudor England, we watched the BBC’s recent broadcasting of the Hollow Crown – Shakespeare’s “take” on the medieval kings of England. My small child, who, because of his special educational needs had been labelled as being “academically challenged”, sat enthralled watching, digesting and understanding very high-brow Shakespearean plays!
- DON’T explore famous or popular historical sites/monuments during school holidays. As you are home educating, you can miss these peak days and weeks, therefore creating a better learning experience for yourselves. If you really want to visit a popular place so to benefit from school-holiday activities, then sometimes going the week immediately before or after the school holiday will be quiet but still geared up for school-aged children. For example, we were desperate to see the Richard III display in Leicester. I’d researched that they were increasing the displays, information and volunteers in the Guildhall during a half-term week. So we visited on the Friday just before the half term week, with the result that the Guildhall was empty – up until that day, there’d been queues up out the door and up the road.
- DON’T stick to a historical subject/theme/period because you feel “you have to”. For example, part of key stage 2 is to study the Tudors but, if Henry VIII and his 6 wives bore you silly, then don’t do it! Home educating history should involve the entire family so pick something which will excite and interest YOU. After all, if you become enthusiastic and impassioned about a particular period/era/theme/topic, then your own enthusiasm and interest will fire up your children.
Finally, DON’T be frightened about history. Embrace home education as a chance for you to explore something which really interests you and engages your entire family. History is absolutely all around us – there is something there of interest for all ages and all abilities.
Hadrian’s Wall: Time to explore the science of how echoes work and how loud you have to shout to produce a magnificent rebounding sound. Also time to see how fast we could both run when we realised that we had been shouting loud enough to wake the dead. And we had absolutely no wish to wake the dead of thousands upon thousands of sleeping Roman soldiers!
About Kate Cole
Kate home educated her learning-disabled son during the entire academic year of 2012-2013 whilst she took her local authority to two Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunals (SENDIST). Having “won” both cases, she is pleased to say that her son is now thriving in a specialist education placement. But her son (and her!) learnt a great deal history during their year of home education together and are still continuing to actively learn history together.
She has recently had published her first local history book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time, a pictorial history of a historic East Hertfordshire town. She is pleased to report that, although her son was back at school whilst she researched her book, he helped her research her book by walking the length and breadth of the town with her, helping her to investigate items of local historical interest. He appears in many of the modern-day photographs of the town.
Kate blogs about East Anglian history on her blog, Essex Voices Past. This week, she is on a tour around various blogs talking about history and her new book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time. Catch her on the following blogs this week:-
© Essex Voices Past 2014