Step into My Time Machine

Can you keep a secret? I have a time machine in my garage. It’s taken us on journeys as far back as prehistoric time, and as recent as my college years. You may have a time machine in your garage, too, or the beginnings of one. I converted my old blue minivan into a time machine a few years ago, but it’s done its most extensive traveling over the last several months. Would you like to know how?

Building your own time machine

There are lots of ways to convert your ordinary vehicle into an amazing time machine, including audio files or DVDs, but my favorite way to create a time machine is the simplest of add-ons; a book. A history book, to be precise. When you open a history book inside your car, truck or van, magic happens.

Let one passenger or another begin reading aloud from the book, and suddenly everyone in the vehicle will be transported to another time and place. Everyone, together, will learn about life in this other world, and for the length of the chapter or the entire ride, you’ll all be sharing in an experience*quite different from any reading session you may do at home.

Perhaps it is the small, enclosed space that is so transformative. Maybe that is what makes the stories come to life. Or perhaps it is the tendency to go beyond what’s on the page, engaging in discussions that might not happen anywhere else. Whatever it is, there’s no denying the difference between riding in this time machine and just reading a book on one’s own.

Around the world 30 minutes at a time

As I mentioned, my own time machine has been running for years, but it’s only recently that it really started getting a workout. My kids started world history about the same time some changes happened in our lives that put us on the road more often. With lessons and appointments scheduled out of town, we found ourselves in the van for half an hour or an hour at a time several times a month. I figured we could either sing along with the same old music and play the same travel games, or we could get some of our schooling out of the way by reading from our big, heavy world history book on the road.

Of course, like most kids, mine groaned at the thought of doing school work on the go, but they soon saw the benefits of having that work done when they got home and having more free time to play. And*it wasn’t long until they started to enjoy reading history together.

We could typically cover at least a chapter or two every half hour that we were on the road, and that included lots of discussion and plenty of time for questions. Over the course of this one class, we covered so much material, in much greater depth than we might have if I had just assigned reading.

Bonus features of your time machine

One of the greatest bonus features of studying history in our time machine was that all three of my kids got to learn simultaneously in a natural way. We didn’t have to create a time for them to be together. The older two took turns reading aloud while my youngest listened on, in a way that probably would have never happened at home because they would have balked at having to read the book to her, and she would have refused to sit still. In the time machine, none of this was a concern.

Another awesome feature of our time machine was that I discovered a weakness my homeschoolers had and was able to fix it. Because they get most of their news and current events visually – we don’t have network or cable TV at home – they didn’t know how to pronounce a lot of the names of people and places that we came across in the reading.

I’d taken for granted the ability to pronounce things like Versailles, Portuguese, and Tiananmen Square. Words that I’d grown up hearing on the evening news were, in many cases, mysteries to my kids. Thankfully, as they read aloud, I was able to correct their pronunciations on the spot, and as such their vocabularies continued to expand.


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Making connections as you go

Perhaps, as you took world history, you never thought much about the connections between farmers in Latin America and those in Ireland centuries before, but after having traveled for some distance in your time machine, perhaps you will see that both populations were oppressed by wealthy landowners who lived in far away lands. You will see that both populations starved while working hard to grow crops the landowners would sell to foreigners for a profit. Or maybe your children will remember having read of the farmers in Europe on a previous trip when you get around to studying Latin America and the same tale is told again in another place and time.

Doing history from your time machine gives your kids’ brains multiple cues to remember the stories they have heard. They might remember reading about ancient China on the way to their doctor’s office, and having chicken lo mein for lunch. These cues actually help the information stick in their long term memory, and make it more relevant to them as they remember in the future.

You may make important connections, too, as you listen to your child read about a historical event that was a current event when you were in high school or college. You may be able to bring perspective on what it was really like to live through that time, and how you reacted to the story on TV.

Bring your time machine to life

Like any great tour guide, you can make a journey in your time machine more exciting by doing a little research and preparation ahead of time. Check out what subjects are coming up in the history book you’re using. Learn a little more about that period of time so you’ll be ready to have an engaging discussion. Or better yet, invite someone like a grandparent or older friend who lived through the events along for the ride.

Lots of subjects lend themselves easily to studying on the go, but in my experience as a homeschooler history is the one that works the best. So take advantage of all the benefits studying history in your vehicle can offer, and turn your car into a time machine this year.

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