Most social studies textbooks are boring. And there's a reason -- the textbooks used in most schools are assembled by nameless committees.
Luckily, as a homeschooler, you're free to seek out well-written and well-researched social studies books and magazines relating to the topics your family wants to know more about.
The best history books are stories of people and cultures, great moments, dark moments - drama, comedy and excitement. They have a voice, a point of view, and an enthusiasm that makes the subject leap off the page.
Here are some my family and our friends enjoyed:
A History of US. Joy Hakim's 10-volume series about the United States is aimed at middle schoolers, but it's adaptable to younger and older students as well. And it was the basis of a PBS series. The books contain lots of helpful photographs, etchings, and maps.
Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. Susan Wise Bauer's three-volume history for younger children is a companion to her classical homeschooling guide for parents, The Well-Trained Mind. The books are also available in an audio version. Accompanying activity guides are available.
George Washington's World. Genevieve Foster's global history surveys were first published in the 1940s. Some have been updated by her daughter Joanna Foster. The books are illustrated with charming line drawings and make connections between goings-on in far-flung parts of the globe. Other titles include Abraham Lincoln's World and Augustus Caesar's World.
Cartoon History of the Universe. Larry Gonick's series of nonfiction history comic books for middle to high schoolers goes from the dawn of man up to the the Iraq War. You can almost call them anti-textbooks: irreverent, often funny, and full of challenging ideas. And it is amazing how much content Gonick packs into his drawing-filled pages. There's also a Cartoon History of the United States.
- The World in 1492. Sadly out of print, this survey is a collection of writing by such notable children's authors as Jean Fritz and Katherine Patterson. Each section looks at what was going on in a different part of the world just as Columbus was about to make the voyage that would literally change the course of history on every continent.
Bonus: Top Magazines About History and Culture
Magazines that regularly feature interesting articles about history, archeology, geography and culture are another good resource. You can find them in your library and online, or download them to your digital device. But a print subscription is a great way to build up a home reference library. Some worthwhile titles include:
Cobblestone: Focusing on one topic in American history in each issue, Cobblestone contains well-researched articles, time lines, primary sources, and maps. Grades 5-9
Dig: Dig focuses on new developments in archaeology, paleontology, and earth sciences. Ages 9 and up.
Faces: Each issue of Faces looks at the culture of one particular country or region, or explores a topic of global importance. Grades 5-9
National Geographic: The National Geographic Society has been around since 1888. Both its regular magazine and National Geographic Kids magazine (ages 6-14) are suitable for young readers. There is also a National Geographic Little Kids magazine for ages 3-6. Many parents feel the adult magazine, with its richer content, is the better value.
- Smithsonian: The magazine of the Smithsonian museum covers science as well as history and culture. Written for adults but fine for children.