As we approached 4th grade, I felt my rule-following self and rebellious self fighting each other (which is a pretty much daily battle anyway.)

I know that it’s “expected” to study state history in 4th grade, but I still remember my textbook. It was awful. And with a little research, I found out that Alabama textbooks are still awful. And I did not want to foist that piece of crap on my daughter.

Ali enjoys learning about the history of our state – many of our hiking trails go through old iron mining sites – Red Mountain Park, Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, and Tannehill,to name a few. Ali has asked me to google the history of each park because she enjoys understanding them.

I didn’t want to squelch that interest with the worst textbook on the planet.

So I decided, in a rather out-of-character move, that I would plan and create a hands-on Alabama History curriculum for my daughter, and in doing so, perhaps other homeschool families who want to do something a little different.

My goal with this project was to create a chronologically-ordered program that would be heavy on field trips (ideally one a week) and hands-on learning. In addition to the field trips, we would:

– Read biographies or other topical books on the subject of the week,
– Write reports on the field trips and books,
– Take photos and create projects and drawings of our journeys,
– Interview people who either lived through or are experts on different eras in Alabama HIstory.

By the end of the year, Ali will have created her own Alabama History textbook.


As a perk for tackling this all-encompassing program, I bought Ali something she’s been wanting for a while: her first camera. I made sure to get one with wi-fi built in (like mine but for 5% of the price) so that she could transfer pictures directly to her iPad for editing, and since I have a wi-fi printer, she could then print them from her iPad.

I put together a timeline-ordered spreadsheet with the help of Google, incorporating all of the field trips I’d also thought of. I’ve been tweaking it ever since, and will continue adding to it and changing it as the year goes on. I am positive that it will be a work in progress until we hold up the “Last Day of School” signs.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 4.08.11 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-16 at 4.08.27 PM

What? Can’t read my timeline? If you’d like a copy of the spreadsheet in its current form, click here. I’ll add newer versions to that folder as I go along, or as requested.

But, in case you want the short version, here’s our current list of potential field trips in chronological order…

Anniston Museum of Natural History
McWane – Paleontology Department
Fossil Hunt (Shark Tooth Creek?)
Moundville Archaological Site
Mobile – First settlements, forts
Horseshoe Bend – Indian Battles
Cahawba – Alabama’s first capitol / ghost town
American Village
Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum
Tannehill, Museum
University of Alabama
Antebellum Homes – Eufaula, Arlington…
Briarfield Ironworks
Civil War Battlefields?
Spanish Fort / Fort Morgan
Red Mountain Park
Ruffner Mountain – Crusher, Nature Center
Helen Keller House
Sloss Furnaces
Southern Museum of Flight
The Lyric Theatre
The Alabama Theatre
Jesse Owens Memorial Park and Museum – Oakville
Huntsville Space and Rocket Center
Civil Rights Museum / Civil Rights Walk downtown
MLK  Jr Jail Cell?
Montgomery – Legislature, etc
Muscle Shoals
Dauphin Island
ABC 33/40 (Newsroom, talk about 2011 Tornadoes)

(If you’d like to get notifications from me about our upcoming field trips so that you can join us, let me know.)

Since we’re going in chronological order, the first few weeks are all about dinosaurs. Alabama is actually the best place east of the Mississippi to find Dinosaur fossils, and we’ve been fossil hunting ourselves (finding plants rather than dino bones but still), so it’s a very relevant subject in Alabama History. Ali began reading a book on dinos, and then we set out for our first field trip last Friday – to the Anniston Museum of Natural History.


It’s a fantastic museum full of fossils, dino bones, dino models, stuffed animals from all regions, and couple of 2,300 year old Mummies (one of whose toes were beginning to stick out of her wrappings.) I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, but many things were the same. Right down to the tiny metal skunk hole (who doesn’t need to experience the smell of a skunk??), something I specifically remember smelling when I was their age, but my kids refused to stick their nose in the scary little door.

At least I can rest easy, knowing that I’m braver when it comes to skunk holes.

Ali did, however, put her arms into the “Blind Feelers”, where you feel the texture of wildlife without seeing it. She later wrote about it in her follow-up paper, the phrase that was the highlight of the whole essay:


Gah. Those Blind Fellers were so awkward.

She also put a few photo pages in her Alabama History book for illustration.


(Tip: Post-It Picture Paper is AWESOME for school projects – just peel and place. But it appears they’ve maybe quit making it? I just stocked up.)

Her selfie-in-the-mirror photo was my favorite from the whole trip. I mean, what photographer hasn’t had this as their profile picture?


Noah, who had moaned and complained the day before about having to go on a field trip, squealed with glee, skipped through the museum, and ran to me with a hug and a kiss and a “THANKS FOR BRINGING US TO THE BEST MUSEUM EVER, MOM!!” — several times!


He was mesmerized by it all.


My Mom was with us, and Noah told her it was even more fun than going to her house. Oops.

The gardens outside the museum are gorgeous, too, so we hung out there for a while and honed our photography skills.




(My photos above, not hers.)

(But she did manage to grab a picture of her brother touching a cactus. Which is an important skill for a photographer. Always be prepared when things might get interesting.)


Before we left, I knew one thing we had to do. I have a photo of myself and a friend, at age 7, on one of the benches along a path at the museum. I had to recreate that photo with my lookalike daughter, even though she’s two years older than I was in the picture.

Anniston Museum of Natural History 1988 and Now

Yup. Two years don’t matter much when it comes to mine and Ali’s twindom. But she has way cooler shoes.

I’d love to know your interest or non-interest in following our Alabama History journey. I want to document it somewhere, but a weekly or bi-weekly post here seems like I might annoy a bunch of people with the history of a state they don’t live in. But on the other hand, my blogging mantra has always been to blog what my life is about right now – and for the next year, a big part of it will be Alabama History. But if I do, I promise to still blog about many, MANY things that don’t have to do with school. Any feedback is welcome!

20 thoughts on “Hands-On Alabama History: Week One.

  1. Even though I will never use your curriculum (I have a 9th grader in Illinois), I applaud you for sharing it! I love color coded schedules of all sorts and had to stop myself from downloading yours (really Jen, what are you going to do with an elementary level Alabama history?)

  2. I AM SO EXCITED. I am struggling with my words today so I don’t have anything coherent to contribute, but, EXCITED.

  3. I’d love to see all of the Alabama History posts! Can’t wait until ya’ll make it to Montgomery! Let me know when you want to come so I can set everything up for you! :)

  4. I definitely want to read the Alabama History posts! My sons, currently 4th and 3rd graders, did AL history last year, but I’m always looking for ideas to continue studying things we’ve previously studied! We live in Trussville and also homeschool! I look forward to reading more.

  5. I’m SO excited to see this Alabama History journey unfold!

    (Also, if you do any of your field trips on weekends, my boys and I would be interested in tagging along.)

  6. I want to know when you are heading for Montgomery. We can meet for lunch at the alley downtown and then she can explore the history at the Riverfront. Also, there are great photo ops down at the riverfront.

  7. I am just beginning to homeschool my son. He’s in 4th grade and we live in Alabama! I would definitely be interested in knowing all about your trips and curriculum.

    1. Nichole- HI! I am curious what made you start homeschooling your son at this age. I have always toyed with the idea but since my oldest is going into 3rd grade I just did not think it would work to take her out of what she has always known and does enjoy. We do so much in the summer, as far is a little trips and trying to still stay fresh with school material and I enjoy it so much. My husband would likely never agree though..

  8. I love reading any and all of your post. I don’t have kids…but I love seeing what all your kids get into and what they say! I homeshcooled 4th, 5th, 6th, & 8th and I wish I had cool field trips like these! Also, American Village used to be my families property. My Memaw used to tell me all kinds of stories about running all over that place, playing in the creek and playing with paper dolls on the roof of the house with her aunt (who was her age.) Oh and as a child she and her Aun Elsie used to hold onto the cows tails tightly and as the cows ran they would ski on their feet all over the property!

  9. I don’t live in Alabama, and hence know very little about Alabama histroy, and would love to learn more as you explore!

  10. Have you ever read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry? It’s set in Alabama, and is a pretty dark, but accurate depiction of the racial tension during the early 1900s. I read it when I was about Ali’s age and it made quite an impression on me, and led me to a profound interest in Harriet Tubman.

    That museum looks so awesome!

    I know I’ve been following you for a long time when I notice how much Ali’s handwriting has come along, haha

  11. I don’t live in Alabama but would love to see your posts. It inspires me to learn more about my own state. And, I’m an adult and can skip a post or two if I get bored. ;)

  12. I’ve lived in Birmingham all my adult life, but did not grow up here, and thus was deprived of the Alabama history course. I’d love to follow along. These sound like great field trips(I’ve been to a lot of them with my kids on school trips, but might have to visit a few more)- do you think you will repeat many of them when Noah is in 4th?

  13. I would have read your Alabama History posts happily before because I’m always excited to read anything related to homeschooling, but now that we are very recently Alabama residents (and homeschoolers, of course), I really hope you share as much as you are willing, I have a lot to learn if I’m going to teach Alabama history next year!

  14. How did polar bears end up in the Africa section??!!?? We might need to do an African animal unit next time I’m in town….

  15. I love this! We are doing a few Alabama history field trips this year. You might want to check out the Ft Toulouse Ft Jackson Frontier Days the first week in November. That one park covers history from AD 1000 to the end of the Creek War. The website for Frontier Days has lots of info including activities and a teacher guide, too. I will be posting about our adventures on my blog. We are in Montgomery.

  16. Love it!!! I would suggest though that you maybe wait until the summer time to visit the Helen Keller home in Tuscumbia, because they have the Helen Keller Festival every year and put on a play on the grounds of the home-place, complete with sign language interpreters throughout the play (language credit, maybe??) A tour of the home is included in your ticket price and the play is at night and is a really great production. You might plan to make the Space & Rocket Center on the same weekend, since it’s only about an hour away. Just some thoughts!

  17. Hey! I’m a little late to the game here, but we would love to tag along when we’re able. My kiddos are in 4th and 9th grades. As a native of Alabama, I definitely remember those awful textbooks and have no intention of punishing my children with them :) Looking forward to exploring Alabama this year!

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