Discovering Texas

In school, I hated Texas history. Really. It was my least favorite class.

That may sound strange coming from me, since twelve years ago I wrote Discover Texas, a Texas history curriculum for home school families. The explanation is simple: I did not want my children to hate the study of their state’s history. I wanted them to share my husband’s absolute love of Texas history—a love I did not understand until his eyes misted with memories as he told me stories of great adventures—of dreams and goals and meaningful struggles—that his mother, who also loved history, had told him. His father’s occupation required travel, and sometimes the family would go along. He recalled hunting for arrowheads, scrambling over ruined landmarks, and reenacting battle scenes with his brother.

If I had been introduced to history in that way, I would have loved it too. Come to think of it, my third grade teacher let us build a teepee on the playground. (Bless you, Mrs. Cathey!) We used a tea-dyed sheet wrapped around broomsticks and decorated it with tempera-paint handprints. I remember to this day how the Plains Indians lived.

The trick, it seems, is to teach state history in a way that is memorable and meaningful.

Making history memorable

Back when I hated history, the people in my history textbook had one thing in common—they were all dead. I had no connection to them, so they were not important to me. However, the first time I hiked to a rock shelter where some nameless tribesman had left his handprint in red paint, a human link connected me to him like an echo through time: “I was here. Remember.”

I cannot remember one word of any lecture I ever heard in a history class, but as a child I loved the historic homes in our town and noticed that they did not have indoor plumbing. The pictures in my textbooks were black and white, with shades of gray, but when my family attended a play in which scenes from history were reenacted, the story of history came alive!

If you are like me, most of the education you received in school was passive—which is possibly why I sometimes had the vague notion that education was something inflicted upon me. My presence was required, as well as my cooperation in reading textbooks, taking lecture notes, and quietly watching the occasional documentary as a rare treat. Yet, studies prove that we remember only

  • 10 percent of what we read,
  • 20 percent of what we hear,
  • 30 percent of what we see (pictures and other visual images), and
  • just 50 percent of material presented in a passive manner (a movie, exhibit, or demonstration).

However, retention jumps to between 70 percent to 90 percent when learning is active, when we

  • join in a discussion,
  • share with others what we have learned,
  • enact a simulation or dramatic presentation, or
  • experience something for ourselves!

One of the beauties of home schooling is that we can teach in ways that are not practical for tightly scheduled classes with scores of children. We can adapt our teaching methods to engage students in learning more, doing more, and thinking more so that they become participants in their own discovery of knowledge. They will remember and understand far more because they have experienced it firsthand.

Of our five senses, we tend to rely most on sight and sound. Inside the classroom, we give visual learners a book, and we lecture audio learners. In the act of seeing and hearing, the stimulus originates at some distance from the student who receives the data. By contrast, when we experience something firsthand—when we smell the gunpowder; taste the campfire supper; feel the textures of flint and cactus, cotton and camel hair—we actually come in direct contact with what we are learning about, and the information becomes a part of us.

We Live in the Middle of a Field Trip

Field trips provide an opportunity to connect with the people who made history–to walk where they walked, to experience a bit of their lives, and to gain an appreciation for their goals and challenges. We participate in their drama, and we talk about what we have learned with others who are excited to share their own observations.

You do not have to travel far. Start in your own community. The Texas Historical Commission has an online atlas of all the state historical markers (http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/). The Texas State Historical Association (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook), Texas Highways magazine (http://www.texashighways.com/), and Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine (http://www.tpwmagazine.com/) all sponsor wonderful, FREE websites full of ideas, as does the Discover Texas blog, “News Around Texas” (http://www.discovertexasonline.com/blog/). If you have more time, an extended Texas vacation can be loads of budget-friendly fun with a purpose.

“… and a course in good citizenship”

While many social studies courses can be used to satisfy Texas’s requirement that home schools include “a course in good citizenship,” I hope you will not overlook Texas history as an exciting option. A study of state history provides an opportunity to impress upon our children the way history touches us where we live–the relationship of past events to our contemporary lives. For believers, this connection is all the more vital. Personal choices have broad consequences, but God is sovereign. History is truly HIS-story—God revealing Himself in the affairs of men and working out His purposes through time.

Few of the people we learn about in history ever intended to become famous. Most did as we do. They went about living their daily lives and, at some point, found themselves faced with a decision. They may not have realized that their decision was significant when they made it, but their choice affected lives beyond their own and became their legacy.

It is that relationship of cause to effect, choices to consequences that forms the basis of character development and makes us good citizens. That’s not a bad thing for young people to consider. For all of us, really. Who knows whether we have come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)

Lynn Dean – has written 5 posts on this site.
Lynn Dean was a reluctant historian. Bored with schoolbooks that chronicled battle dates and dead people, she feared inflicting mind-numbing data on her own students. Fortunately, she discovered the classic appeal of storytelling--adventure sagas about real people who struggled to overcome obstacles while pursuing their dreams. For more than a decade Lynn has combined unit studies, field trips, and quality literature to create unique and memorable experiences in discovery learning.

Visit her websites - www.aNOVELWritingSite.comand www.DiscoverTexasOnline.com

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