Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Making History Relevant: Timelines

Timelines are a wonderful addition to history studies. They are such valuable teaching tools. I love using them with my oldest, in particular, who is a visual learner. This kind of thing is so helpful for her.

Years ago, when I first heard about making timelines with children, I planned to have each child do a timeline book. That did not happen, although I tried several times and several different books. I bought some, I made some, and it didn't matter. Timeline notebooks just did not flow with our homeschool. It could be that I asked my girls to start when they were too young. It could be that I didn't pay enough attention, let them slide, and then forgot. Perhaps it was a combination of both those things.

Then, I read Amy Fisher's post on how she uses a timeline. She made it into a family thing, something she initiates and maintains, but they discuss together. My girls have always been advocates of our timeline being something we do as a family project, rather than something they maintain individually. So, last year, I came up with a new plan.

First, I bought an inexpensive 12"x12" scrapbook with white pages from a craft store. I probably even used a 40% off coupon. Then, I took my trusty Sharpies and drew lines horizontally down the middle of each page, color coded by time period: yellow (Creation to 1st century AD), red (0-1799 AD), green (1800-1899 AD) and blue (1900 AD to present).

The larger 12"x12" pages, give us a bit more room for timeline figures than regular 8.5"x11" pages. Each page is one-sided, so I can hang it on the wall while we're using it and slip it back into the scrapbook when we're done. I don't have room to keep all time periods on the wall, but they're available in the scrapbook to peruse.

I use a glue stick to put timeline figures on as we come across them in our studies. I have the History Through the Ages timeline figures, and nearly everything you could ever want to put on a timeline is included! I printed them all off and put them in a binder, so they're ready to go when we need them. I did have to look up some of the barbarian rulers we read about this year and make our own figures for them, but that's a rare occurrence. I also have the History Through the Ages Suggested Placement Guide. Don't judge me, LOL. I feel much better having someone tell me where to put the pictures.

How many years per page do you do? Well, it depends on how you want to do it. You can certainly get away with longer time periods per page spread for ancient history, because there just wasn't as much going back then. Terri Johnson, of Knowledge Quest Maps, wrote a great article here on how to make a timeline, with suggestions for how to break down the years.

You really don't need anything fancy to make a timeline. Copy paper and a pencil or pen are really the only essential items. Pictures are fun, but not necessary, really. You can just as easily write down when World War I started as paste a picture in your book, right? Don't let lack of bells and whistles get in your way.

One thing that has been tremendously helpful in getting my children to make their own timelines is the Knowledge Quest Timeline Builder App. We all have iPads, and while I am not a huge fan of electronics for school time, this app made timelines a breeze for my girls to maintain. It's quick and easy to find images on the internet, save them, and pop them into the timeline. (You can read my review of the app here, if you're interested in learning more about it.)

I'd like to note that younger children, say before 4th grade, really do not understand the abstract concept of time. I don't think there is anything wrong with making a timeline with them, particularly as a family project, but it's not going to be meaningful to them necessarily. A great way to start a timeline with a younger child is to put their own birthday on one, and then add other family events, like siblings' birthdays, parents' birthdays and marriages, etc. My son, who is nearly 7, will see the timeline as we work on it this year during our studies of the Renaissance, but I don't expect he'll be tremendously interested in it. If we make one for him, though, relevant to his life, I think he will enjoy that and be excited about adding to it.

Here are some pages with information on making your own timeline:

And here are some links to a few products I like (no affiliate links here):

Make sure you click over and enter!

Don't forget to check out what everyone else has to say during the Back to Homeschool Blog Hop this week! Here are a few links to some friend's blogs. Head to the main page and see what everyone is doing.


  1. We did timelines a lot when my kids were younger. I put a length of butcher paper on the wall in our stairwell and as we learned about events we would put them on the timeline. The visual is really helpful!

  2. I've only done a Bible timeline with my daughter and we petered out early. A timeline would probably really help her out in history. Thanks for the insight!

  3. I love to see Bible history alongside all the other history. It's really cool to see how it all fits together and gives a much fuller picture of all history.