Catholic homeschooling history

The Power of Narrative History in Your Catholic Homeschool

Get Your Homeschooled Kids Excited About History!

Believe it or not, when I first started homeschooling, I struggled to get my kids interested in history. It was always a slog. They were fidgety during history lessons. They struggled to remember information. Did poorly on assignments. In general, there just wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for the subject matter.

This was surprising to me, as history is super interesting! There’s drama, fascinating characters, battles, love interests, adventure, exotic places, and everything you could possibly wish for in a thrilling story. In theory, it should be fascinating! Yet my kids approached it with a hearty “meh.”

It was not until I started teaching history in my local co-op in 2008 that I realized the problem, and I discovered it quite by accident. Back in those days I was not a bearded, nerdy, history guru (okay, I was still bearded and nerdy). In fact, I was the high school writing instructor. But all that changed one day when the co-op’s middle school history teacher suddenly quit. The headmaster came to me and asked if I’d take on the middle school history class, just as a stop-gap measure till the end of the year. I agreed and took on the history class.

My friends, I had never taught a history class in my life. Sure, I’d studied history in college, but it’s one thing to learn about history academically and another to walk into a room of 12-year olds and communicate it effectively. I went into class that afternoon with no preparation, no textbook, and nothing but a few photocopies left behind by the previous teacher. I had no resources. How could I get my feet under me and communicate this content effectively when I struggled to do it in my own homeschool?

Well, I just did what came natural—

I told stories.

“Uh…so you kids ever hear the story of Genghis Khan? It’s crazy. When he was young his wife got kidnapped by these dudes…so, yeah like…Genghis got some of his buddies and they, um, they went on this epic adventure to save her…”

It wasn’t precise and it wasn’t elegant. But you know what? They listened. And they loved it! So I kept telling stories. They got more refined. I aligned them with the curriculum. I turned them into proper history lessons. But at their core, my lessons remained a series of stories. And they stuck with the kids! Those middle school students are now adults, many with their own families. But when I see them, they still tell me they remember that Genghis Khan lecture, and many of the other lectures.

Basically, what I discovered in that class was the narrative structure of history. Of course, this wasn’t something original to me. I subsequently realized that historians going back to the ancient Greeks all approached history this way: as a series of interesting stories about the people and events of the past. This approach has many benefits, especially for younger children. Children are naturally interested in storytelling; whenever a child says “Tell me a story!” or “Read me a book!” or “Can I watch a movie?” what they are really saying is “NARRATIVE STORYTELLING RESONATES WITH ME!”

This realization has made all the difference in my own approach to teaching history, whether for Homeschool Connections or in my own homeschool. Here’s some things you can do to incorporate narrative history into your homeschool:

1) Use Textbooks That Emphasize Narrative Structure

Part of the problem I was running into with my kids was that we were using textbooks that weren’t narrative focused; they were more of the “memorize lots of names and dates” sorts that many of us had in high school. If your textbooks do not have a strong narrative, a strong sense of “story,” get some that do. I know a few good ones that this dude wrote for TAN Books. When your kids get older, it’s fine to use conventional textbooks; but during the younger grades you want something with a strong narrative.

2) Generous Use of Historical Fiction

Historical fiction helps kids conceptualize historical facts in a story format—to get a better sense of “what it was like.” When I taught middle school I loved mixing historical fiction in with a solid textbook to help reinforce the ideas we were learning in class. If you’re dealing with elementary kids, you might want to lean more heavily into historical fiction. The RC History website has a lot of great options for this. Seriously, historical fiction can work wonders! I’m not sure how much my kids remember about the lectures in Reformation era England, but they still remember reading Outlaws of Ravenhurst.

3) Study History With Your Kids!

You don’t have to be an expert in a subject to homeschool it. And there are plenty of resources available to help parents work through subjects they are a little fuzzy on. If you are not clear on history yourself, one awesome approach is to study history with your kids. There’s a real lively dynamic that emerges when two people are learning a subject together. Instead of telling your child “You need to learn this,” think of it as “We are going to learn about this.” Discover the wonderful stories and people and places together. If your child is already feeling overwhelmed by history, it will ease them considerably if they can feel like mom is a fellow learner.


There’s much more that can be said, but that’s enough to chew on for now. But if you want to learn more strategies for teaching history at any grade level, may I humbly recommend my book, The Catholic Educator’s Guide to Teaching History. This handy little book is packed with tips for history class, both practical and theoretical. It’s a great resource if you’re still finding your way through history class.

If you have elementary schoolers who need some history support, consider Jackie de Laveaga’s grade school courses through Homeschool Connections. Jackie also teaches a middle school series Living History through Literature, available as both live, interactive courses and as independent-learning, recorded courses through Unlimited Access. Lastly, both Christopher Martin and I teach out-of-th-box history courses (both live and recorded) for your high school kids at Homeschool Connections.


If you are looking for support for your Catholic homeschool efforts, here are two great options for you to explore… 

The Catholic Homeschool Conference (virtual)

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

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Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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