The Reason For Writing This Ancient History Curriculum
You’ve landed right if you want to learn about ancient civilizations with games and interactive history! The introduction and history program that follows is purely secular; history should be learned outside a religious worldview and without preference.
Most modern schools struggle to squeeze social studies and science into the primary education years, mainly due to the high expectations of math and language arts by administration, districts, and state laws. This means that most children are starting middle school without a strong foundation in history.
Most history curriculum is very dry with text passages, vocabulary lists, and reading comprehension questions. They focus on knowing the essential names and dates instead of giving contextual information to use what they are learning to apply to their lives. They don’t support asking questions, digging deeper into topics, or providing further learning opportunities and engagement.
This is especially evident with the neurodivergent population. I noted that most other subjects taught in school had curricula specially adapted to students who learn differently. Still, I could not locate a secular history program designed in a different way for students with autism, ADHD, and other neurotypes typically found in special education.
I wrote this program with the idea that what is important to learn in history is not the dates but the context of events. I realized that by providing dates, previous curricula assume a relationship is formed in the student’s mind, providing the context, but this is not how students experience these courses. I say this as someone who has taken these courses and from discussing it with many people, mostly neurodivergent, and why history was perceived as a difficult subject.
I exited university with almost 3X the credits in history needed for a degree. I kept taking more history courses because I was interested in and enjoyed these courses. However, it wasn’t until I was into 300-level college courses and beyond that I was encouraged to ask and answer questions that helped me dig deeper into the meaning behind the events. I believe this is one of the deeper problems, and I want students to know how to ask and answer questions and question the information they see and put it in context to understand it further.
Resource Types and Planning
The most important thing that can be incorporated into a history curriculum is the immersive and interactive experiences to pique interest and engage students.
Games can be a great way to do this. However, the games that provide an immersive history experience can be controversial. It is essential to understand that we are relying on these games to teach the material; they are a way to provide opportunities to question the content provided and ask deeper questions.
It is important that these games are fun and engaging. Having opportunities to play these games for fun outside of class and learning times is also essential.
Here are some games that I have incorporated:
- Civilization VI (or use Civilization V)
- Trekking the World
- Sweep the World
- Minecraft Education Editing (or use Minecraft Bedrock Edition)
The two board games (Trekking the World and Sweep the World) are geography games rather than history ones, but they will help students become familiar with the world and general locations of things that they can use to connect historical events as they learn.
There are also online interactive games used for one or two topics, but they will not be used throughout to connect all the civilizations and cultures like the ones listed above. I highly recommend using them in the units listed to provide something new and interesting.
The relevant parts of the games should be introduced at the beginning of the week to allow students to play around and explore it on their own before it is time to address them in an academic capacity.
There are new words or words that will be used in new ways for each topic. Writing or typing them reinforces the ideas presented. This is one of the typical ways that history is taught I don’t love, but if you give students the list of words at the beginning of the unit and allow them to work on it and reference it during the unit, it becomes more of a resource than a “do it and forget it” assignment.
We do need to have work done in a traditional way to show students are learning the concepts that are expected.
Reading a short passage in a textbook and answering questions related to that reading is an essential skill in their educational journey. This aspect of the work is one that I have limited as much as possible, preferring videos and exploring primary sources over textbook reading.
Adding imagination to history can bring it alive. There are two ways that I have added that:
- Avatar Worksheet
- Creative Writing Assignment
The Avatar Worksheet is an opportunity to imagine a child of similar age in the culture or civilization they are studying and relating it back to themselves. They need to consider things like what their home looks like, what clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the games they play for each topic covered. By the end of the year, they will have a binder full of kids in history.
The Creative Writing Assignment each week is very flexible, encourages students’ writing, and provides an opportunity to have fun with history. The idea is to allow maximum creative license within the topic covered using the information they have learned to show mastery of the topic in an alternative manner.
I firmly believe in the power of options in children’s schooling and lives. Especially for students with disabilities whose lives are likely more controlled by others than neurotypical children.
Having small projects to choose from is one way to provide that ability to choose. They can decide what they want to do but also how they want to learn.
Give them access to the projects at the beginning of the unit and set the due date at the end of the unit. Learning how to plan their time is essential in middle school.
The learning objectives will be taught in multiple ways, allowing different learning types to learn how they connect with most and find things they are interested in.
Some ways they will learn:
- Lecture Videos
- History Recipe Videos
- Textbook Passages
- Primary Sources
- Art from the culture or civilization being discussed
- Solving Mysteries
The lessons, as written, will involve all of these materials listed. If your student needs alternative ways to complete assignments, you can always pick and choose between what is listed. I have also listed additional resources and materials for further exploration of the topic that you can pull from.
Scheduling the Topics
I have written each topic to ideally cover one week, spending under an hour (30-45 minutes usually) each day. This could be condensed into as little as 2 days each week, depending on your schedule. Everything covered is flexible, and you may not feel the need to dive as deep into one topic as another.
Some topics may feel like they lend themselves to additional time spent, while others may not feel like you need as much time on. Each topic is written as an independent unit, and you can skip the topics that don’t fit into your plan or don’t feel as important to cover. Some units are written longer, which will be noted at the top of each one.
Using the Lessons
The lessons are written directly to students with an adult supporting them.
For the most part, I have pulled resources from many locations, many of which are free to access, and I have put them together to round out the information presented. I do not claim to own any of the resources; they may become unavailable if the people who own these resources take their websites down or move the resources.
If a resource is unavailable, I recommend using one of the resources listed for further exploration.
Teaching and Planning
I have chosen to take as wide a range of various early civilizations as possible. I think it is important for students to have a broad base of knowledge to build on as they learn about the world and go further in history.
I have placed high importance on learning about the culture and civilization over the leaders and dates.
I recommend using timeline apps; there are many good ones in both the Google Play Store and the App Store. I have included timeline activities in the lessons but have not emphasized years. Timelines are a great way to compare and give context to the events we discuss.
Each unit has its own learning objectives. In the curriculum overall, the goal is to understand:
- Understand that ancient civilizations led to modern cultures and countries.
- Connect ancient peoples to the current.
- Create a base of knowledge to understand later events.
- Understand how we know historical facts.
- Learn how to ask and answer history questions.
- Understand how different ancient civilizations interacted.
Below are the units for ancient history. If there is no hyperlink, I am working on writing or improving them. Within each unit, there will be access to the worksheets I have made, videos are embedded, and resources used are linked. Some links to purchase products will be affiliate links, which means I might get some money if you choose to purchase, but it does not cost you any extra.
Early China Civilization
China: Walls, Roads, and Trade
Ancient Arabia and Ghana
Kingdoms of Kush and Aksum
Early Indus Valley
Minoan and Mycenean Civilizations
Athens and Sparta
British Isles Celts
Ancient Germanic Tribes
Roman Cultural Implications
Fall of Rome
Ancient North American Societies