How to Make a Big History Timeline for Your Wall

We have a hallway upstairs that is rather drab with nothing on the wall, so for quite some time, I was eyeing that hallway with the keen observance that only a homeschool mom can have. Pretty artwork? I couldn’t afford that even if I wanted it. No, it was the perfect spot for a history timeline. This past spring, I finally got around to making that timeline, and once I was finished, I realized I had room for one more!

I’m a very visual person, so this timeline is a huge help for me as I try to grasp history — a subject that I wasn’t particularly interested in as a youth. Now I’m married to a historian and a history professor, so I’m not worried that my boys will not learn about history, but if a timeline helps me, I think it might help them too. It’s also something we can refer back to time and again, and we can see where the stories we’re hearing about the past intersect. They will no longer be separate stories, floating around in “the past,” which could mean yesterday, last year, or hundreds of years ago. With the timeline, we can see that Thales lived much earlier than Sir Isaac Newton, but he lived only approximately 100 years before Pythagoras. It may be hard for young people to grasp the length of time that comes before they’re born, but I trust as my sons mature, ask questions, and study this timeline, they will begin to understand it.

You can see the timelines I made in the photo above. The one on the bottom was my first and most ambitious timeline. My husband was rather dubious when I told him that I wanted a timeline that would illustrate time from the approximately the dawn of civilization to 2000C.E. To say that I’m squishing time into a small space is an understatement.

My plan with these timelines is to add points of history to them as my boys learn about them. I will keep them on the wall for the entirety of the boys’ education, so this will be a slow, on-going project. The bottom timeline may fill up to the point where we have no more space left, but that is why I decided to also make a timeline (the top one) from 1700-2000C.E. I imagine that we’ll be concentrating most of our efforts on these years, so I don’t have to squeeze all the major wars and American history into that small space (in red below) on the bottom timeline.

How did I make the timelines? I did it using a little math. First, I measured the wall and determined that I had about 11 feet (or 132 inches) to work with. Then I determined how many years I wanted to illustrate on the timeline. My husband says that there is no way to know exactly when the dawn of civilization occurred, but 3000 or 3500B.C.E. would be sufficient for my purpose. So, I had about 5,000~5,500 years I wanted to get onto the timeline.

There are 100 50-year increments between 3000B.C.E. and 2000C.E. With 132 inches of wall, I used the equation 132 divided by 100 to figure out that I could tick off every 50 years at about 1.3 inches. You can certainly do that, but this is not how I ultimately did it.

From 1000B.C.E. to 2000C.E., I have every 50 years spaced apart by 1.5 inches. From 1000B.C.E. to 3500B.C.E., I began counting the years by hundreds (again, at every 1.5 inch). There are no early records, so dates this far back are all guesswork, and most of our studies will not take us this far back. I marked it clearly on the timeline when I made this change. (See below.) By doing this I had a little more room between years, it was easier to measure, and I was able to get all the way to 3500B.C.E.

For my 1700 – 2000C.E. timeline, I had a generous 2.1 inches to represent every 5 years.

After determining the space I had, I used the following materials:

  • Long roll of white craft paper. I happened to have a Melissa & Doug Easel Paper roll on hand.
  • Tape measure
  • Tape
  • Pencil
  • Something flat with a straight edge, such as a folded piece of paper.
  • Tacky Adhesive, such as this, for mounting on wall. Although you can pin it up any way you like.

And this is how I made the timeline:

  • I laid the paper out on the floor, and I stretched out about 11.5 feet (more than I needed) of the tape measure in the middle of the paper.
  • I used a little tape to hold down both ends of the measuring tape, and later I simply trimmed each side of the paper, so if the tape messes up the paper when you pull it off, that’s okay.
  • I traced a line on either side of the measuring tape, and then I put a folded piece of paper under the tape measure to use as a straight edge to help me mark off the points where I wanted the numbers to go at every 1.5 inch. (Again, see pictures for illustration.)

Voilà! After it was complete, since it’s so long, the whole family helped take it upstairs and mount it on the wall with the tacky adhesive. It’s heavy, so whatever you use to hang it up will have to be strong. We used a lot of the tacky adhesive in several places along the top and bottom of the paper.

I used a similar method to make the 1700-2000 timeline. You can certainly use this method to make a timeline during any period of history, and it can be as long or as short as you like.

TIP: Use a pencil and don’t press hard. You’ll thank yourself later as you want to rearrange items on the timeline or especially if you make a mistake while writing out all those numbers. (I’m speaking from experience!) As my husband said, “It’s not a piece of art. History is messy.” 

As you can see from my photos, we’ve already started to add a few points of history to our timelines, and we haven’t even done any formal history lessons! It took awhile to get into the habit, but whenever we learn about history through a documentary, book, or even an online article, we make a point to add something to the timeline. My nine-year-old is starting to warm up to history, and I think the timeline is making it fun for him.

If you’re a parent who wants to brush up on your history, or a middle to high school student looking for a good starting point, be sure to check out my husband’s website, History for Homeschoolers. It’s free, and the lessons are based on his 18+ years of teaching college level history classes. Read the about page for more information.

8 thoughts on “How to Make a Big History Timeline for Your Wall

  1. Making a timeline has been on my mind for a few years now, thank you for this post and the links. I am going to make sure we get to starting in the winter. And your husband’s site looks great!!! I may need to check out his book, I grew up near the river.

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  2. This is so great! I was never very interested in history growing up either, but I have been learning a lot with my boys as they explore it and I had been trying to figure out how to make it more visual for me and for them. I really like this idea. We don’t have a long hallway, but I’m sure we could carve out a little space for something like this somewhere. Thanks for getting me thinking!

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