B2HS: Build Your Own Timeline 101

August 26, 2021

 This is the 4th post in my Back to “Home” School blog series. So far this week, I’ve given advice to the new homeschooling mother, helped you to get your school materials organized, and given you tips to avoid burnout. Today we’re going to talk about timelines!

Timelines are essential when it comes to showing your children the grand scope of history. They help your children see connections, giving them a way to visualize when events overlap that they may have not realized when just reading about them separately. It is one thing to know that something happened in a particular year — memorizing dates is helpful for test taking, but if you want your children to have a deeper understanding of history then you really want to show them where the events fall on a timeline.

For instance, did you realize that both Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. were born in 1929? We may think of them as living in distinctly different time periods, but they would have been contemporaries had Frank lived past childhood. Timelines can bring these kinds of connections to your children’s attention.

In this post, I will show you the basics, as well as give you some examples of different ways you can make a timeline work in your homeschool.

How do you create a timeline?

Example 1:

857000_10200317515356377_1699091222_oTimelines can come in many shapes and sizes. When we first started out, I went the easy route. I bought the largest tri-fold display board from our local Staples for about $5, pulled out a yardstick and divided the workspace into sections, then drew lines and labeled dates. When we got to an event, we colored in the timeline figure, cut it out, and used a glue stick to attach it to the board. As far as a “functional” timeline goes, it fit the bill. It was also portable as it folded flat and could be stored out of the way when it wasn’t in use. Was it the prettiest? Nope. But it worked.

Example 2:

Eventually, our older kids outgrew the large wall-style timeline and switched over to a 3-ring binder Book of Centuries, available for purchase at BYL. This was also neat, portable, and worked well. By the end of their schooling, they had a fat binder full of their history studies.

Example 3:

We built this timeline for my now 11-year-old a few years back. She is very visual and I wanted a timeline we could have out at all times. Because we have very limited wall space, we came up with this idea. Two side-by-side bulletin boards covered in antique-style maps for a pretty backdrop to our timeline figures.

Here’s the walkthrough to building your own:

20150821_155947We gathered our materials – 2 “free” 23″ x 35″bulletin boards (notice they are kind of beat up), two 24″x 36″ antique style map posters ($9.55 each), 1″ colored scotch tape in 4 colors ($2.25 each), a Sharpie marker, ruler and thumbtacks. Not pictured are post-it notes, a pen, and our handy-dandy label maker.

20150821_171817We removed the frame from the boards so the edges were way up under the molding and cut the maps to fit. Then we tacked them on with thumbtacks. When we replaced the frame, we made sure the posters were smooth and tight inside the frame. Now we were ready to measure out the spacing to add the tape lines to mark the time periods.

When you create a timeline, you want to differentiate the major time periods. For an 20150821_175913elementary student, you can simplify it into four categories – Ancients, Middle Ages – Renaissance, Early Modern, and Modern. I like to color-code these categories. It really doesn’t matter what colors you use, as long as they are different. Once you have your categories, you can start to place your dates. I used colorful scotch tape for our categories. They just happened to have 5 different colors of masking tape at Walmart, so we picked 4 of them. We measured to make sure the periods would be evenly spaced — it will depend on how large of a surface you are working with. We ended up with about 4 inches between each category.

Once you have your colored categories, you can start adding your dates. This is the part that caused me the most stress. When you are creating a historical timeline, it can be difficult to figure out when to begin, how much space between dates, and how many dates. I like to keep things fairly simple – I look at what the earliest event we’ll be covering in history will be, and that’s our starting place. So for our timeline we started at 5000 BCE. Then the distance between dates will change depending on how many events you expect to add. These are the dates I used on our timeline:

Ancients                  Middle Ages – Ren         Early Modern              Modern

B.C.E.                                    C.E.                                      1600                                1860
5000                                       25                                        1625                                1870
4000                                      75                                         1650                                1880
3000                                      100                                       1675                                1890
2500                                      200                                       1700                                1900
2000                                     300                                        1725                                1910
1500                                      400                                        1750                                1920
1250                                      500                                        1775                                1930
1000                                     600                                        1790                                1940
900                                       700                                        1800                                1950
800                                      800                                        1810                                1960
700                                      900                                         1820                                1970
650                                      1000                                      1830                                1980
600                                      1050                                      1840                                1990
550                                      1100                                       1850                                2000
500                                      1150                                                                                2010
450                                      1200                                                                               2020
400                                      1250
350                                      1300
300                                      1350
250                                      1400
200                                      1450
150                                      1500
50                                        1525
.                                           1550
.                                           1575

20150823_115023I started adding temporary date markers with post-it notes so that it would be easy to adjust them as needed to be sure they all fit. You could add more dates if you have a larger space to work with, but I find these dates sufficient for the elementary-aged child, and they fit nicely on a tri-fold display board or my two bulletin boards. Once I arranged the spacing to my liking (about an inch or 2 depending on how many dates I was trying to fit), I created the permanent date stickers with my label maker.  You could just as easily write them on the tape with a Sharpie, but on this project, we were aiming for pretty. Since this timeline is hung up in our kitchen where we spend a lot of our time, we wanted to make it look as nice as possible. My handwriting is not the greatest, so we broke out the label maker. 😉

This is our finished product (along with my then 6-year-old who is the main student using the wall timeline):

20150823_144747The maps are purely decorative and will eventually get covered up by timeline event figures, but doesn’t it look nice? 🙂

Bonus Timeline Video on YouTube:

This is just one way of making use of a timeline. I understand that not everyone has wall space for something like this, or the patience to put it together. For some more excellent ideas, I asked some Build Your Library customers to send me pictures of their working timelines so that I could share some of their creativity with everyone for some further inspiration.

Example 4:

This timeline was created by Annie. She says:

AncientTimelineCollage“The cover and banner are from notebookingpages.com and the images were free printables from http://tendingourlordsgarden.blogspot.com/2012/05/story-of-world-timeline-cards.html, but I don’t have a color printer.  I just trimmed and taped together file folders, and guessed at most of it. It will be on a wall once we move, but for now, it is folded on a bookshelf when not in use.”

Example 5:

20150824_103033This timeline was submitted by Diana. She says:

“We used index cards paper-clipped to yarn on our dining room wall. It makes it easy to add additional cards later and gives us a room for a little review info (especially helpful for my husband and I!). It has led to lots of good dinner conversations and games. Our favorite is trying to guess which timeline card someone is describing.”

Example 6:

timelineThis is how Amy set up her timeline. She says:

Here’s a photo of a timeline my daughter, Ava (age 8), and I have been working on.  As I read from Story of the World, she draws a picture.  She then narrates a short sentence or phrase to caption the picture.  We did a timeline for Book 1 about 18 months ago then put it away (attached).  This week, we took it back out to review before starting Book 2.  Although I wasn’t sure what some of the pictures were about, she was able to tell me exactly what they were and how they each tied in with the event!  This is a favorite part of our week for me.

Example 7:

Finally, here’s Claire’s wall timeline. She says:We will be starting this week so there are no figures on it yet. I wanted to have the whole thing fully visible so I used an 11 foot long piece of paper and hung it in our hallway.”


Thanks, Annie, Diana, Amy, and Claire!

So as you can see – timelines can be as simple or elaborate as you want them to be. I hope that I’ve taken some of the fear and confusion out of the process.

Do you have any creative Timelines you want to share? Send us a message or leave us a comment and we can add your creation to the list above. Thanks!

Related Article(s): Back to “Home” School Series (B2HS)

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.

Have you seen my new book?

Browse the course work
people are raving about


About Build Your Library

Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history?

Read more