It always seems like there is a lot to cover with history and there is. If you covered everything in history from every period you would have to read every newspaper and book from every country for every year you are studying. Of course that sounds extreme, but I see many teachers/parents get very frustrated and overwhelmed with teaching history because they try to use a similar method.
There are a few reasons I have seen for this over the years…
1. Teachers/parents lose track of the fact that the curriculum is designed to revisit topics in more detail in high school and in college. As Steiner pointed out, a student is ready to learn certain things at certain times in their life and a student learns best when that knowledge is not only progressive (and builds upon itself) but is also given to the student in stages. A student who receives too much information at one time will not be able to truly process this information. I have met hundreds of students in my career as a teacher and have seen this happen repeatedly – a student is “crammed” with information before they are ready for it and a year or two later they don’t remember any of it.
2. Teachers/parents pattern their teaching of history after the thick text books they remember from school. However, the reason these text books are so thick and written in the style they are written in is not always in the best interests of the child. Remember that text books often do not use one of the best resources available – complete writings from the period the student is studying. This is because a text book publisher wants to be sure they can copyright all of their material and make more money by convincing the school system that their material is better. Secondly, a text book is written by a group of people and as with all group projects it is a compromise and not a focused piece of work. A committee of people decide what needs to be included, there are arguments over someone’s choice to leave something out and in the end the book is much larger than it needs to be. Many grade school and high school texts are the size of college text books. Last, but not least, there is an overwhelming stereotype in the modern world that “more is better” (food, size of houses, malls, action movies, etc.) and a text book company would lose their edge if they tried to sell a textbook that was a natural size for their course. Imagine what would happen if every other text book company offered schools 300 pages and one company decided that 100 pages was enough. Who would make the most sales? Text book companies know this.
3. Teachers/parents forget that their goal during the early years is to provide a review of history and how we came into the modern age and not to make our students into expert historians. I see a lot of frustration from teachers who find there is so much information on a topic that they get lost in it and feel they are not able to do the subject “justice” for their class. This is OK. If the teacher/parent taught them everything they could they would be teaching a college course to a bunch of graduate students in history! Be sure to stay focused and keep the goals in mind as history is an easy unit to get lost in.
Most of the time, if you look at the subject and then look ahead to the rest of the student’s career you will realize that students will exposed to this same topic again in the future. Be sure to focus on giving them a solid and simple base that they can use in the future to build on and avoid crowding the student(s) with so many facts they get lost and have no base to build on in the future.