A friend of mine from college started Learn Our History in partnership with former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee with a vision to “help kids realize that history is relevant” and to offer an un-biased view of history in a way that kids would find fun.
Learn Our History produced a series of cartoons called the Time Cycle Academy, each dealing with a different episode in American history. The premise of the series involves a group of kids who made a time machine out of bikes, a laptop, and a trumpet and use it to travel back in time to help them do their history class assignments. Learn Our History sells the episodes in a one-per-month subscription.
The series is not specifically for homeschoolers, and in fact it seems more geared to kids in traditional schools whose parents are concerned about the type or extent of history being covered. I reviewed the Columbus, American Revolution, and September 11th DVDs for this post, but the company eventually plans to release around 70 different episodes.
Good things about the series:
- The history is fairly accurate. We do a lot of history around here, and while I would say that the cartoons are not as detailed as some other references, I didn’t find anything blatantly wrong or mischaracterized in the stories.
- Given Huckabee’s involvement I was expecting a lot more right-wingery, but I didn’t find much of that, which was a relief. There is quite a lot of patriotism, but not in a crazy or inaccurate way, and the series is pretty up front about being intended to promote patriotism (which I think is a good thing). Some critics seem to have an issue with that, but as a person who is neither left-wing nor right-wing, I thought the series struck a comfortable balance.
- The cartoons were really easy to follow. Although the website states that “children age six and below may not be able to follow much of the historical content” I have a hard time believing that the average preschooler couldn’t follow this. That said, I’m not going to have my kids watch the 9/11 DVD, because I don’t think they are old enough to handle it visually, and when they are I will prefer for them to see the actual footage. Other families may not have the same reservations about a cartoon version. Again, it’s not a content issue, just a personal preference.
- Although it didn’t seem to be on the main website, with a subscription you have access to supplemental materials like games, quizzes, maps, and timelines to build on the history covered in each episode.
Questionable things about the series:
- The biggest issue I have with the cartoons is the quality of the animation. It’s very rough. I am really careful about aesthetics for the kids; I think it’s important for them to be exposed to the best of all art forms. Even in cartoon as a medium, there are variations in quality, and this series is not the highest. If I didn’t know one of the owners of the company, I might not have tried the DVDs because of the quality of the pictures. That said, given that the content is educational, you might be willing to overlook the artistic deficiencies.
- Some critics online thought the cartoons were racist since the Native American characters all look the same – but having viewed three episodes I can say that ALL of the people in crowd scenes look the same – there just isn’t a lot of detail to the cartoons. Again, it’s just a point of aesthetics, but since you’d probably google the series before buying, I thought I would mention my response to that common criticism.
- The story lines involving the kids with the time machine are a little weak. Sometimes the whole this-is-REAL-history-not-like-what-you-read-in-books thing seems overplayed and some of the dialog is clumsy, especially when it’s used to define vocabulary (ideally, that would be worked in more smoothly so the kids would understand it in context, but that’s probably asking a lot for a short cartoon). Still, as Hannah pointed out, “the cartoon kids are just make-believe and the real story part is all right.”
The Learn Our History episodes cost around $10 each. If you would otherwise spend $10 a month buying random videos or renting video games from Redbox, I think you would get more out of the Learn Our History subscription.
If your kids watch TV or other DVDs pretty frequently and you’d rather them watch something educational that still seems sort of like a show or movie rather than a documentary, these cartoons would be a reasonable option.
If you have extra room in your educational materials budget and have visual learners or take a lot of car trips or just want to supplement what you’re already doing with educational cartoons, the Learn Our History set is worth your consideration.
If you don’t have wiggle room to buy supplemental movies and are interested in teaching your kids more history, or if you like the idea of DVDs but are also looking for comprehensive, detailed, literature-based history, here is what I would suggest:
- Story of the World: This comprehensive history is geared toward elementary (ish) age kids, and ties in what was going on around the world at given times, so kids learn a lot and develop a more nuanced and globally integrated view of history. We have the whole set in audiobook format and love it but it’s also available in book form. Check your library for the book or audio versions.
- D’Aulaire history books: The Learn Our History Columbus DVD covers the Vikings a little bit, but the D’Aulaire Leif the Lucky book does so with a lot more detail. D’Aulaire’s Columbus is also good. For the Revolutionary War era, we read the D’Aulaire George Washington and Benjamin Franklin books and got a lot out of them. The D’Aulaire books have colorful and detailed illustrations but plenty of detail, which makes them great if you have preschoolers and elementary-age kids.
- Read-aloud chapter books about American history abound, and are another great way to help kids really think about history and understand it better. Check out books like Almost Home, Carry On Mr. Bowditch, Calico Captive, etc. Reading classic, award-winning children’s literature is an excellent way to expose your kids to history.
- Talking to your kids about history you witnessed: Because of the work I was doing at the time, I pretty much lived, breathed, and dreamed 9/11 and related events for a couple of years and so I have strong opinions about terrorism and America’s response to it. Unfortunately I have to be careful about how much detail I go into when I talk about the subject or I will have to go to prison for a very long time, but I still think it will be valuable to share some of my experiences and perspective with my kids. So far we have talked about 9/11 in a limited way, because it’s covered in our Classical Conversations material. As I mentioned, ultimately I will prefer for my kids to see the actual footage rather than cartoons about what happened. However, if you were not closely involved with 9/11 and have more of a concerned citizen view, you might really like the way the cartoon handles the subject, and how it shows Americans otherwise unconnected to the event responding.
Overall, the Learn Our History DVDs may be a resource worth checking out. If you’re local and want to borrow one to see if you like it first, let me know.
Disclosure: Learn Our History sent me review copies of three of their DVDs but I was not otherwise compensated for this review. The links to other history resources in the post are Amazon affiliate links.