Education is a funny thing, meaning different things to different people. We are in a strong position as home schoolers to educate our children with our family goals in mind. I’ve said it before, but I don’t want the children to simply learn facts. Ideally, I’d like to see them learning from the lives of others who have trodden the earth before and applying the truths learnt to their own lives – to become thinking adults. This is where using historical discussions in your homeschool can take your children’s learning to a whole new level.
Advantages to using Historical Discussions in your Homeschool
We school using the past as our spring-board. The fact that history is not an exact science can lead to some interesting conversations. You see, there is no absolute truth in history. Opinions abound. This is an ideal starting point for the children to learn to formulate their own thoughts. In our school there are no right or wrong opinions. I am open to all considerations so long as there is a reason behind it, that the child can back it up with some sort of evidence from their knowledge.
Historical discussions can increase engagement because it includes the inherently appealing exercise of expressing an opinion. And anyone with a teen in the house will know that this is always a winner! In fact, learning history and examining events and evidence from the past and then discussing it is exactly what actual historians do. Professional historians love to discuss. With each other, with the public, with themselves… It is an eminently authentic way to delve even deeper into history.
With historical discussions, you definitely get out of them what you (or your child) is willing to put into them:
- Your child will be much more interested and therefore engaged with a topic if they get to think independent thoughts
- Discussions help to develop a child’s verbal skills, vocabulary and understanding of the subject
- Teaching through discussions allows our children learn how to converse with those who have beliefs and ideas different from their own, and to do so sensitively
- In our home, historical discussions encourage the children to immerse themselves in an information rich, free exchange of thoughts and ideas.
Should We Assess Our Children’s Ability?
This is a hard question to answer. If we assess according to a rubric, with rights and wrongs, we may stunt that engagement. It may even inhibit a child’s willingness to participate fully. This may be due to the child fearing ‘getting it wrong’ or, if you have a perfectionist in your mix, they may cause the deliberate attempt to discuss to the test so to speak (ask me how I know!). This will significantly decrease the authenticity of the discussion.
However, I’m not sure how a child can improve their discourse if there is never any feedback. The ability to construct a well-thought out argument which contains both reasoning and clarity is a great skill to encourage. Furthermore, to be able to express those thoughts in a sustained and respectable discourse is vital to partake in the working world outside of our homes.
I don’t believe repeatedly holding historical discussions will lead to great scholar. I think some sort of expectation and feedback is vitally important for a child to develop his or her expertise. It may be a balance between giving feedback and providing a safe place to fail. This is not always easy if you have a sensitive child who desperately wants to do well and becomes quite despondent if there is even a hint of failure. Yes, I have one of those too. And no, it’s not the same one as the perfectionist…
Case Study (Using Our Experience)
When the children reached around ten or eleven, I became more purposeful about having meetings with them to discuss what we are learning (AKA historical discussions). Whilst at the start it was unfamiliar to us all and none of us knew what to expect or what was expected from them, it has now become comfortable and relaxed. I have learnt that in order to make these meetings a successful learning experience I need to be well prepared. So I come to the table with leading questions and a vague idea of where I’d like to take the discussion. If it goes in a different direction, up to a point, I allow the deviation. If things get silly I pull them back along the lines I had planned.
I have included one of our planning sessions to illustrate:
Our Discussion on the Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings was arguably the most important battle ever to be fought in Britain. The fact that the outcome could have been very different gave the children and I the perfect conditions for a great discussion. I also thought there was much for the children to learn about life through this episode in history.
Firstly, Thomas, for example, could learn the characteristics that make a great leader (useful in his future role as leader, protector and provider for his family). Secondly, all the children could learn that sometimes things happen which are not within our control and these things might have a large effect on the events following. For example, William was not able to sail due to the wind. Also, Harold needed to defend England up North, resulting in a battle for the Normans against a very tired Harold. Thirdly, they could learn that in life we are sometimes placed between a rock and a hard place, where no matter the course of action we choose, the possibility of a resolution of all the issues is remote. For example, Harold needed to ensure both North and South were defended adequately from invaders.
These are important lessons
Discussions such as these also allow me the privilege of a peek into the way our children’s minds work, helping me to understand reactions from them that would otherwise cause utter bewilderment! Learning to discuss innocuous, albeit educational topics, in a safe, non judgemental environment can help give our children have the confidence to think things through, formulate opinions that are their own and even more importantly learn that other opposing opinions can be just as valid.
Encouraging the Development of Skills
So, I want to develop the children’s debating skills, but I don’t want to unwittingly remove their enjoyment of these historical discussions. We have been known to spend hours arguing and discussing points. I want them to love these times we spend together. But I also want them to learn from them. Not just historical facts but skills in debate and clarity of thought.
Over the years I have built a mental list of the things I am hoping to encourage:
- Clarity of the position of their claim, and the ability to express it concisely in a way that is understandable for everyone at the table.
- If they need to, I like them to be able to expand on their thoughts if asked, possibly providing samples or evidence. This lends weight to their argument.
- I always like the children to know why they believe or think something. With historical discussions they will need to back up their points by using original sources (primary evidence), and citing any patterns within history or in the behaviour of historical figures.
- The next point has been the hardest for my children to learn. Ideally I want them to acknowledge the opinion of those others involved in the discussion, specifically making reference to their brother or sister’s views. Better still, if they can go beyond this and gently point out any gap or inconsistencies in their siblings statements. Or, if they agree, then perhaps further supporting it with examples of their own.
- Another tough skill is being able to listen to someone (especially your sibling) pulling your argument to shreds! However, I encourage sensitivity and gentleness. I also require them to defend their position. In this way, they learn to develop their stance through further supporting evidence or with a counter claim of their own
- The goal is that the children come away with a new perspective. Or if not entirely new, then certainly developed. In this way, our discussions are meaningful, collaborative, supportive and educational.
Historical discussions have many benefits to a homeschool mum. They are educational, teaching both historical content at the same time as developing skills (which they can take into adulthood). But they also have the additional benefit of keeping the lines of communication open during their transition to adulthood. Through observation, I get to unobtrusively learn each child’s methods of communicating.
I have a peculiar mix of children.
One is blunt, to the point and believes they are always right and sometimes struggles to see other’s points of view. I have another who is very opinionated and whilst they do not always consider themselves right, they do not like any hint of being told what to think. Another hates getting it ‘wrong’, which is very different to the child who believes they are always right. This child needs more gentle handling. The last two do not like to cause any dissension, meaning they will only share their opinion if it is similar to the others’. I have to almost tease their thoughts from them.
The historical discussions we have had over the years have made me a better parent.
You know what, though? I really enjoy listening to their thoughts. It is often during these times that the teacher (AKA Claire) ends up being the one who learns something new!