A Homeschool Mom Teaches WWI History

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At the risk of losing some respect, I am going to let you in on a little secret:

I know very little about World War I.

It’s true.  Despite the A’s and B’s I received in high school history, I have retained little to no information about The First World War.  Care to know exactly how little I retained?

I had no idea the Ottoman Empire was still in existence in the 1900’s.  No idea.

I couldn’t name more than one or two of the countries fighting with the Allies or Central Powers.

An Arch Duke was assassinated? I had no clue.

And I am going to stop right there. Go ahead and pick your jaw up off the floor right now because I am finished truth telling for the moment.

Now here is the real kicker.  Are you ready for it?

Three of my children are studying World War I right now and I am their teacher. 

Me. The mom with no knowledge about World War I has taken on the task of teaching my kids about The Great War. 

Ideas for teaching WW1 from a homeschool mom who forgot everything about it.

Teaching WWI: A Houseful of Learners

I had no idea how much learning was in store for me when I signed on for this homeschooling gig. Learning history has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my homeschooling journey and I have embraced it. It has been my second chance to learn history with a real understanding and enjoyment of it.

I have realized that if I am not going to outsource (find an outside class) for a topic, then I am going to have to dive in and learn alongside my kids.

And that is what I have been doing each year as we learn about history.Admittedly, there are history topics that I enjoy more than others and it is tempting to stick with what I love, but sometimes I have to venture into topics that I feel less than excited about. WWI is one of those topics and it is the current topic of the history lessons in our house.

Admittedly, there are history topics that I enjoy more than others and it is tempting to stick with what I love, but sometimes I have to venture into topics that I feel less than excited about. WWI is one of those topics and it is the current topic of the history lessons in our house.

I hesitate to say that I am “teaching” my kids about World War I because “teaching my kids” is an inaccurate image. Instead, of teaching my kids, we are learning about World War I right now. 

Together. And we are having a great time.

So how do I do it? How do I teach a history topic to my K-6th graders when I know nothing about it?

{This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.}

Teaching WWI: Find a Text

When I dive into a history topic to study with my kids, the first thing I look for is a book to guide our journey. My personal preference is to find a non-fiction text to act as the “spine” for our learning journey. We’ll certainly add in additional reading along the way, but one main non-fiction text typically drives our learning.

The World Wars from Usborne was the perfect choice for this history unit because my boys were dying to study WWI and WWII. This book covers both topics with detailed information and plenty of illustrations.

Teaching WWI: Select an Approach

Once I find a title, I choose an approach for learning. Sometimes I dive in before I begin teaching the kids. I might pre-read our non-fiction book, do online research, or read a book on the topic written for adults.

I admit that when it comes to World War I, I have not been very motivated to dive in on my own. Instead, my kids and I read the textbook together, talk about the information, and follow the suggested internet links.

For this topic, the book is only one of our guides.  My 10-year-old is the other.

Yes. You read that correctly. My 10-year-old is my other guide.

David’s obsessive reading of Nathan Hales Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood has filled his head with facts. He regularly shares this knowledge (including interesting pronunciations) with the rest of us.

If someone in the family had to be the teacher for this topic, I would nominate him.

Teaching WWI: Take Notes

When I am confused, I make a “cheat” sheet.

Just the other day I finally put the book down and told my kids, “I am lost.  I just can not keep the countries straight in my head. I need to stop right here and make myself a cheat sheet.

And thanks to a few basics on Wikipedia and my son, I created a poster for myself.  Right there on the floor in front of my kids. 

Teaching WWI: Notes I took for myself.

If they had mistaken me for an expert prior to this moment, the illusion was now gone.

As we read, I keep adding little notes and facts to our poster. It is hanging in our family room by the TV so that I can look at it anytime I need to get things straight in my head again.

I really love that my 10-year-old uses the poster to teach me. He began lecturing me as soon as I hung it up. It almost seemed like he thought it was a teaching tool for him!

Teaching WWI: Bring in the Experts

After creating my poster, I explained that I was going to search YouTube for a video about WWI. I wanted to back up and revisit the “big picture” before we continued our reading.

Enter John Green.  Of course.  Crash Course History.  I love these videos.  Fortunately for me, John Green has a series of videos on World War I and we started with the first one. These videos are best viewed (in my opinion) once you have a little bit of knowledge about the topic.

We watched three of them so far and we are saving the one on America entering the war for later. We haven’t reached that point in our textbook, so we’ll wait and watch it when we do.

There are so many more documentaries, videos, and sources of expertise out there in the online world. I have no problem turning to the online experts when it comes to learning.

Teaching WWI: Follow Curiosity

History often stirs up curiosity. It may be your own or your kids. Follow it.

There was a day when I planned to read 3-4 sections in our book so we could catch up a bit. The first section we read was titled, “Sky Fighters” and I was intrigued.  My boys were immediately naming planes. They had heard of the Camel and Fokker planes and were very enthusiastic about this section. I was familiar with the Red Baron, but couldn’t remember much.

BAM.  We were curious and we followed it. I went ahead to consult the experts online and found a great documentary to watch over lunch:

We didn’t get to my entire reading my plan for the day. Instead, we dove into dogfighting and flying aces.

Following curisoity is always more engaging and more memorable.

Teaching WWI: Read Books

If my 10-year-old could figure out the details of this War, then I could too. I decided to follow in his footsteps and I picked up Nathan Hales Hazardous Tales. I read Treaty Trenches, Mud, and Blood.

Guess what?

I loved it. This graphic novel helped me sort out so much confusion in my mind and I now have a much better idea of the big picture when it comes to WWI.

Unfortunately, I still am not really, really interested in the topic. If I was, I could read more about it for myself. Instead, I am going to stick with our main non-fiction text, but I keep bringing books home to engage my son who is intrigued by the topic.

Here are a few books that have made their way to our house:


Teaching WWI: Find an Experience

Experiential learning is an ideal goal, though some topics are easier than others. 

Now, I’d love to take them to France, Belgium, and Germany, but that isn’t really realistic. Instead, we looked around the local area and learned that we are the fortunate beneficiaries of impeccable timing. The museum in downtown Raleigh opened a WWI interactive exhibit for children this week.

We will head downtown and experience the trenches while learning about WWI at this new exhibit. This is perfect timing for us. WOW!

Situations like this don’t always work out, but I sure love it when they do.

In the meantime, the boys have created their own trenches in the living room so they can reenact battle scenes while I read from our main text.

And that, my friends, is how a “just a mom” is “teaching” her kids about WWI.


Tips for teaching WW1 from a homeschool mom who forgot all of the history lessons about it.


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    1. Wow! I had no idea. Thank you so much. I am going to check this out. What great timing!

  1. Me too! We just finished a week ago! I knew nothing about WWI (despite getting all As in all my classes… clearly getting As in public school doesn’t mean much. I was good at memorizing and forgetting right after) except an arch duke was Assassinated. Didn’t know what country, by whom, ornwhst an arch duke was! I learned along with my kids and it was eye opening. We did what you did- spine, field trips, books, and also listened to Sergeant York’s story on Adventures in Odyssey audio CD.

    1. I love how homeschooling allows us to learn alongside our kids! I’ll have to look up the audio you mentioned! Thanks!

      1. I’m about 95% certain that we never even touched on WW1 in my public school education. Thank you for sharing how easy it can be to learn together about subjects you don’t know.

  2. Lots of exhibits, etc on WW1 going on as we remember the 100th anniversary of US entry into The Great War.
    My grandson likes all those historical novels by Nathan Hale. We were looking yesterday for more WW1 resources, so thanks for the timely post!

  3. Thought I’d share a resource my sons love: True Stories of The First World War (scholastic) and Christmas in the Trenches. Just for kicks and giggles read, “Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt throws a picnic!”

  4. I just got done reading Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. WWI occurs during the time period of the book. I have never had any interest in WWI until now. It’s fascinating. She turns her castle into a hospital for returning soldiers. It is an amazing non fiction story. And…. her husband discovers King Tut’s tomb. I have no idea why we did not learn all this way cool stuff in school.

    I just ran across this on Amazon Prime, and am going to give it a try… The Crimson Field

    In a tented field hospital on the coast of France, a team of doctors, nurses, and volunteers work together to heal the bodies and souls of men wounded in the trenches of WWI. The hospital is a frontier: between the battlefield and home front but also between the old rules, hierarchies, class distinctions, and a new way of thinking.

    1. I am going to have to look into these titles. Thank you for sharing. And I also wonder why we didn’t learn this way in school, though I wonder if my 16-year-old self would have been interested either way…I don’t know.

  5. Wow! Thank you!!!! My 7th grader wants to learn about the World Wars. All I had was a few chapters in The Story of the World and the Usborne “The World Wars” book. I was DREADING trying to help him learn about the wars, but with all your resources and thoughts, I’m now looking forward to jumping in!

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