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Why (and How) We Joined the National History Club

By Joyce McPherson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #88, 2009.

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Joyce McPherson


One of the beauties of homeschooling is that it crosses age lines. Not only do classes often include children from elementary school through high school, but also several generations often get involved in the homeschool.

We saw this beautifully illustrated when we began a chapter of the National History Club.

The National History Club (or NHC) was started in 2002 to encourage the study of history by helping students and teachers to form local chapters in middle schools and high schools. These chapters create their own projects and activities and have access to resources of the NHC such as the newsletter, student of the year awards, and submission of papers to The Concord Review. More than 250 schools have local chapters in 42 states.

As one of the first homeschool chapters, here is our story.

The Goal

Historians at play for the Living Timeline
The goal of the National History Club is to inspire more students to interact with the past. Among American school children, history has been a failing subject. Every year another study reveals that a majority of students can’t name the Bill of Rights or which country the United States fought in the Revolutionary War. The NHC seeks to reverse this trend by providing ways for students to experience history.

Our local history club chapter began when several homeschool students attended the National History Day and learned about the NHC. We decided to stir up interest by hosting a debate. We invited homeschoolers to join us to deliberate “Who was greater: Alexander the Great or Augustus Caesar?” We were surprised by the fervor of our students.

Once we had a core of students, we began planning what we would like to do.

Activity-Based

Our group brainstormed about fun ways to get students involved. The students themselves took leadership roles, such as president and treasurer, and took responsibility for planning how often we would meet. They decided to make our club “activity-based” rather than a monthly meeting. They met about once every six weeks for a special event planned by the group. As homeschoolers we naturally included younger brothers and sisters, and later learned that this was endorsed by the NHC. Some of our activities were focused on the group: for example, a college professor led our group in a discussion of Judaism in the time of Shakespeare.

Our group really gained momentum, however, when we started reaching out beyond our club.

Beyond Our Club

Since we live near several Civil War battlegrounds, it was a natural choice to volunteer for a reenactment that was held for elementary school children. We dressed in period costume and hosted a sing-along of Civil War era folk songs.

The club members began to see how they could help other students participate in history.

To top off the experience, one of our homeschool mothers had a Civil War tent, and she invited the students to camp with the reenactment troops. They got to be part of the camp life: attending a ball, trying their hands at blacksmithing, and watching the battle.

A Living Timeline

The students got to be part of a camp life: attending a ball, trying their hands at black-smithing, and watching the battle
Our next project was a Living Timeline for our local homeschool group. Most of the students were too young to join our NHC chapter, but our history club wanted to spark their interest in history. We asked the students to dress as historical figures and to bring three facts about their chosen person written on an index card (including the years of their life.)

As the students arrived, the club members organized the children in chronological order for the living timeline. It was interesting to see Queen Isabella next to Galileo and William Taft next to Alexander Fleming.

The living timeline spread across the stage and each child had a turn to step forward and say one sentence about his historical figure (such as, “In 1492 Columbus sailed to America”).

Next, we divided the students into two teams and used their index cards to ask our quiz questions. The children would scan the teams for inspiration on tricky questions such as “Who was the 27th president?”

Meanwhile, a team of club members identified winners of our numerous awards, such as “most daring,” “most powerful,” and even “most colonial!” (We created an award for each child.)

We wrapped up our Living Timeline with the award ceremony and time for refreshments.

Older Generations

While the NHC reaches out to younger students, it also has the rare ability to draw in the older generations. The potential to have parents, grandparents, and family friends visit the club to share their experiences makes the local chapter one of the most successful ventures in integrating all ages into a homeschool. NHC chapters have invited Holocaust survivors, elderly experts on local history, and decorated veterans to speak for their groups. There is nothing like meeting real people for bringing history alive.

The Newsletter

Local chapters receive the biannual newsletter for inspiration for club activities. We have gleaned great ideas by reading about other clubs. One idea that we used was a medieval feast for our families. Even the parents dressed up!

Local chapters also have the opportunity to contribute to the newsletter. Our club was thrilled to see their photo and the description of their activities in the newsletter.

The Concord Review

The National History Club was founded by The Concord Review, the prestigious quarterly journal that publishes research papers written by high-school students. The NHC encourages students to submit papers to the Review, where we are called “homescholars.” One of our members accepted the challenge and was selected for publication, later winning the Emerson Prize.

Our little Betsy Ross
Those who are published receive 12 reprints of their article, which can be sent with college applications. Submission to The Concord Review costs $40. In addition to receiving the writing assessment, which is comparable to national standards used by schools such as Harvard and Yale, the submission fee comes with four issues of The Concord Review.

Visit www.tcr.org to learn more.

History Student of the Year Award

Each year the NHC, along with George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, hosts the History Student of the Year Award. Each chapter chooses a recipient for the prize, which is supplied by the NHC. The prize is a signed copy of a history book with a special bookplate. The award winners are posted on the NHC website.

“Home Scholars”

The National History Club has been a fun way for our students to learn history and encourage others in the same pursuit. Our students have taken leadership roles, won awards, and learned how to use history as a bridge to older generations. To learn how to start your own chapter, visit nationalhistoryclub.org and download their useful guide.

The National History Club is a rich resource for “home scholars” who want to stimulate the study of history in their own communities.

Joyce McPherson is the creator of the online programs “Homeschool Tools” and “Shakespeare Tools,” as well as the author of a series of biographies for Greenleaf Press. With her husband, Garth, she homeschools their nine children. She can be reached through teachingtools.org or at mcpclan@comcast.net.


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