Textbooks offer a condensed version of history in order to include many events and people in a limited space. Because so much history needs to be covered, textbook publishers must pick and choose what to emphasize and what to eliminate. Important events are often distilled down to a few pages or even a few paragraphs. Some are removed entirely.
Because textbooks try to cram so much into so little space, they have many shortcomings including:
- Offering a biased slant where one perspective is offered at the expense of others
- Emphasizing some events and people to the exclusion of others
- Providing only a superficial treatment of important events
- Treating people as isolated facts and not real human beings
Going Beyond the Textbook
Using a history textbook can be a good foundation to build upon since it offers a framework or timeline on which to build your study of history. But it is important to remember that you will need to fill in the gaps if your students are going to have a true, accurate, and thorough history education. How you do this will depend on your goals, the needs of your students, and the resources you have available.
Here are some simple ways to begin filling in the gaps in your history textbook.
Use living books – Living books are written in a way to draw the reader into the story and events. Instead of dry facts in a textbook, the reader discovers real people and events told in an engaging and memorable way.
Read books written from a different perspective – Especially as your children get older, it is important to make them aware of different perspectives on historical events. By modeling the comparing and contrasting of what different authors have to say on topics, you can help your children learn to do the same on their own. This kind of critical analysis and thinking is imperative for everyone.
Go in-depth regarding topics and people – The superficial treatment of important topics makes it necessary to seek out more in-depth information. This can be done through documentaries, the Internet, or with supplementary books. While you won’t have the time to dig deep on every single topic and person throughout history, you can choose the topics and time periods that interest you and your children the most.
Listen to Audio Adventures – Audio Adventures area a great way to bring history alive! They take stories from great living books (such as the remarkable books written by G. A. Henty) and bring them to life. They are an effective learning tool for children who might be less inclined to read, but enjoy listening to stories. The dramatization helps students realize that real living, breathing people lived these adventures.
A textbook can be an important framework for teaching history, but don’t forget to go far beyond the confines of the book in order to give your students the very best education possible!