Homeschooling: World History In A Spreadsheet

While we’re travelling, our kids can’t help but learn about history, but the sheer amount of events and their corresponding dates can be overwhelming. Does it matter that the battle of Gallipoli was in 1915? Who cares if Alexander the Great died in 322 BCE? Will it really matter if we forget that Ramses II completed the Abu Simbel temple in Southern Egypt in 1257 BCE? With all the information that we come across, it helps to be choosy; stick with the big events…the ones that shaped their time or future eras. As for how we remember these key dates and how they relate to one another, Dad has the answer: the spreadsheet.

As a retail business consultant I often create and use Excel spreadsheets that help me solve problems for my clients, so naturally when I thought about this problem, I instantly visualized the solution: a timeline in a spreadsheet. (No, I’m not kidding) Running across the top of the spreadsheet are columns for DATE, CENTURY, EVENT, PRESENT DAY COUNTRY, etc. and the rows run downward for thousands of cells. When we first started it, we stuck in family birthdays for the kids, us and their grandparents. After that, we just let our travels teach us.

Running in reverse-chronological order, here’s a sampling of some of the dates we’ve entered into the spreadsheet based on our travels:
1869 - Suez Canal Completed (Egypt)
1835 - Charles Darwin visits the Galapagos (Ecuador)
1799 - Rosetta Stone found (Egypt)
1783 - Simon Bolívar born (Venezuela)
1532 - Francisco Pizarro defeats Atahualpa at Cajamarca (Perú)
570 - Mohammed the Prophet is born in Medina (Saudi Arabia)
27 BCE - Augustus (Octavian) becomes the first Emperor of Rome (Italy)
31 BCE - Battle of Actium (Greece)

Most of the events are inspired by our travels but often the kids’ homework or a book they’ve read will trigger an entry. The Suez Canal, Galapagos, Rosetta Stone entries listed above were from our travels. My daughter’s 7th grade history book has a chapter on The Rise of Islam so we put in Mohammed’s year of birth after she finished the chapter. The Francisco Pizarro entry was put in after my son read Kim McQuarie’s The Last Days of the Incas. The Emperor Augustus and Battle of Actium dates are from all of us watching two seasons of HBO’s Rome series, which the kids have loved (see blog entry on this here) and has led to many dates in the timeline.

One thing I’ve learned from the experience is how hard it is to make a timeline; you’d think it was just a simple matter of putting one date after another. Multiple events in one year (i.e., 1492: Columbus discovers America and the Christians kick the Moors out of Spain) can be difficult to show and representing an era or dynasty (i.e., Egypt’s Middle Kingdom) is hard when the timeline is geared towards individual events. Because of the linear nature of the timeline, showing events and history by region or country is tough and grouping events within disciplines (science, arts, politics, etc.) is very tricky. (And when did they replace BC with BCE, anyway?) With all these challenges we’re not losing sight of what’s important – showing the kids how their travels relate to world history.

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