How to Make a History Timeline

(There may be affiliate links in this post. Click here for more information.)

Well, it’s about time!

After years of historical knowledge going in one ear and out the other, I’ve finally found a system for learning and retaining history that works for me (and my kids, too)!

One of the key elements of this system is making timelines. (The other elements that work for us, notebooking and using chronological curricula, will be addressed in future posts).

I believe one of the main reasons I disliked and couldn’t retain history was because I’m an “overall picture” kind of gal and I had never been given the big picture of history – only out-of-order chunks. I memorized names and dates for tests and filled in the blanks on my worksheets and even did fun projects. But, to my frustration (as a child) and embarrassment (as an adult), I retained very little information about the history of our world.

I don’t even like playing Trivial Pursuit for fear that my historical ignorance will be exposed! 

(oops… the truth is out now)

Thankfully, the history curricula that we’ve used so far (Tapestry of Grace Primer and Story of the World) have both suggested creating timelines to keep track of historical people and events. 

We love using timelines because they are:

Effective

Like the saying goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words. Seeing the order of events and the time spans to scale is so valuable in understanding the flow of history. Visualizing who lived at the same time as another person or event provides context and connections between lessons.

Customizable

You can make it as involved and detailed as you want. Buy a pre-made timeline, find printable images (like these, for example) or have the kids draw it all themselves. There are options for every homeschool and budget. Make a large scale timeline to fit on your wall, a folding one that stores in a binder or small ones for reviewing key people or events – it’s totally up to you.

Compatible

Timelines work with any approach, method or curriculum you might use for teaching history. It’s a supplementary tool that adds depth to any historical study.

Easy

All you really need is a piece of paper and a pencil to make a basic timeline. Even a more elaborate one doesn’t have to take much of an investment in time, money or energy. 

Engaging

Unfolding a 14’ long timeline and running across the room to add people or events brings a kinesthetic element to your lessons. Each time your kids scan their timeline to find the right spot for their new addition, they’re getting a quick review and building their visual catalog of the people and events they’ve learned about already.

***

There are a number of great options out there for pre-made timelines. For example, we’ve liked AIG’s Big Book of History as an informative and colorful option for younger kids. 

But it’s also super-easy to make your own blank timeline so you can add information specific to whatever you’re studying. Here’s how we’ve made ours which can be unfolded to view all at once or folded up and put in a binder:

Step 1 – Gather Supplies

You’ll need cardstock, clear tape, a permanent marker, a ruler, a 3-hole punch, hole reinforcers and a paper cutter. 

Step 2 – Make a Plan

Determine what timeframe your timeline will cover. In this example, to go along with Story of the World Vol. 2: The Middle Ages, I chose a timeframe of 400AD to 1700AD. 

You’ll need to decide on a scale which will depend on the amount of information to be covered and the size of your timeline content. This might take a bit of guesswork the first time. We’ve found 100 years per sheet gives us enough space without being overly bulky. For this example, I used 13 sheets of cardstock.

Step 3 – Prepare Pages

3-hole punch one sheet of cardstock and strengthen the holes with reinforcing stickers on both sides of the page. This will be the page that holds the timeline in a binder.

DIY history timeline pages and paper cutter

Trim 1” off the remaining pages (in this case, the 12 other sheets). Using your ruler or other straight edge, draw a line (the long way) in the middle of each of the trimmed pages. Also add a line to the hole-punched, untrimmed page (this line will be slightly off center to line up with the other trimmed pages). 

Add dates to your timeline, starting with the untrimmed page. So the numbers don’t fall right on a page fold, I write the 100’s slightly to the right of the left page edge and the 50’s slightly to the right of center of the page (like in the picture below).

DIY history timeline pages with dates

Step 4 – Assemble Pages

Now that the hard part is done, you can just line up your pages and use clear tape to connect them. Just be sure to line them up carefully so they fold together nicely.

DIY history timeline assembly with tape

Voilà! A timeline! 

DIY history timeline project before and after

***

As for what to put on the timeline, we generally use pre-made figures and images found online. At first we glued or taped the figures into the timeline, but I’ve found it’s easier to print timeline figures on label sheets so the kids can just peel and stick! 

It’s pretty quick to compile and print timeline images before the school year starts so there’s really no more timeline-related parent-work needed after that – just open and go. By the end of the year you’ll have a great resource for review, discussion and portfolios!

Subscribe to be notified of new posts via email!

How to Make a History Timeline for homeschools