How to Keep a Timeline Journal (Book of Centuries)

I didn’t learn a lot of history in my years in public school. Don’t get me wrong, I went to class and even earned A’s! However, I had no real interest or passion for history, so I didn’t really learn it. History felt very segmented to me. I knew a few bits and pieces but I never managed to hold a general timeline in my memory. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it wasn’t until after I had kids that I realized the “Dark Ages” came AFTER the Ancient Greeks!

When we started homeschooling with Classical Conversations (CC) in 2012, their thirteen-minute timeline song enthralled me! It was amazing (yes, amazing) to hear the history of the world laid out like that! Suddenly I had a real interest in history! All the new history grammar we were learning was so much easier to remember when my brain had a filing system to store it all in.

Recently, I was sitting in the back of a Challenge class and noticed a mom next to me writing entries in a little book. While on a break, I asked her what it was and she showed me her Timeline Journal. I had heard of the idea of a Book of Centuries many years before, but I had never seen anything like it in person!

Making a Timeline Journal

I was so inspired that I came home and made my own. Over the next few months, I delighted in adding people and events to this little book. Over and over again I was surprised at what ended up next to each other in my book!

This year I’m aiming to have my 7th (CC’s Challenge A) and 9th-grade (CC’s Challenge 1) sons start their own Timeline Journals. Asking them to hand-write in all the dates seemed like too much, so I created my own template and printed it off for them. I gave them some suggestions, which I’ll lay out for you next. However, I also explained that it was theirs to keep and fill in as they wished. It wouldn’t be graded or monitored, but it would really make my heart happy if they shared with me whenever they found something to add!

If you’d like to start with our printable book, you can find it here. It has the dates filled in on a light 1/4 inch graph paper

What to Include in your Timeline Journal

Brainstorm some ideas of what you and your students might include: the birth or death of a famous person, the year a piece of art was created, the reign of famous kings, the dates of major wars, the date a book they are reading is set in, the date the author wrote the book, famous church councils, approximate dates in ancient church history…

When entering a famous person into your journal, I suggest you enter them according to their death date, since people often perform their most influential works closer to their death than their birth. (I wish I had done this.) I also include dates of what they are famous for on the same line. For example, when entering George Washington, in the 1799 section, I’d write “George Washington (1732-1799), President from 1789-97”

How do you decide if an event is interesting and important enough to add to your book? If you find yourself thinking, “Wait, that’s the same time period as this?!” Then add it! If it’s a date that you find fascinating, then add it! There’s not a right or wrong answer to this. It’s purely subjective! I suggest that everyone decide this for him/herself.

If you find your student isn’t adding anything to their book, start making suggestions or a weekly quota! If you’re in Classical Conversations, here’s a helpful list of ideas of what you might enter into a Timeline Journal each year

What about interesting quotes? I’m not going to police my sons’ Timeline Journals, but I tend to think that a Commonplace book is a better location for quotes…

How to Start Timeline Journals with Your Students

Instructions: Write in events. Continue forever.

It really is that easy! Explain that this should be the sort of thing they work on for many years– not something they create all at once. The value is in the long, drawn-out process of creation! Discuss how creating this book over the years will help them see connections and remember the historical timeline better.

Show your students some examples of Timeline Journals and Books of Centuries. (There are a bunch of photos online.) They can add sketches or tape in small images (just leave room to write more in future years!). Each book will be unique to that student.

Need some ways to kickstart the habit of writing in your Timeline Journal?

  • Consider setting aside a specific block of time each week to add some items to the book.
  • Whenever dates come up in a conversation, pull out your own Timeline Journal and enter the event.
  • Once a week ask your students to share what they added to their book that week.

Every child’s ‘Book of Centuries’ should bear witness to ‘a liberal and generous diet of History’…The children should be free to enter on their pages events and drawings which have interested them in their wide general reading of History (that ‘inexhaustible storehouse of ideas’) and of Literature.

The Book of Centuries and How to Keep One by G. M. Bernau

Decide on the Book Details

Now that everyone is sold on the idea, there are a few practical questions we should answer:

1. How will you space out the dates

Decide if you want to space the dates evenly or not. Charlotte Mason liked to have a literal 100 years on each page. However, when I started keeping my own Timeline Journal, I found that this left way too many blank pages early in the book and not nearly enough space to write it all in at the end of the book. So our books, a little over 80 pages each, start off with a page every 500 years, then 250, 200, 50, 20, and finally 10 years per page.

Again, if you’d like to start with our printable Timeline Journal book, you can find it in our shop.

2. What size journal?

Next, you’ll want to think about the size of the book. My book is a 5.5″ x 8.5″ disc-bound journal because that’s pretty much how I make all my journals. My 9th grader chose a book just like mine, but my 7th-grade son is trying an 8.5″ x 11″ spiral-bound journal

Timeline Journal- blank

3. How will you bind it?

I’m a big fan of disc binding! It allows you to easily add and remove pages like a 3-ring binder, but you can still fold it over on itself like a spiral book. I own the disc binding punch, so I can create it all from home!

My second favorite is spiral binding, but I have to do to Office Depot for that…

You can also use a simple 3-ring binder.

I don’t suggest a simple staple because you want this to be a book they keep and work on for years!

4. What will you call it?

There are some folks out there who insist that a “Book of Centuries” must be 100 years per page, so I call mine a Timeline Journal. I gave each son a choice on what they wanted to call their book: a Timeline Journal or a Book of Centuries. We printed the name on the cover, but the name is fairly unimportant to me and I imagine the cover will end up decorated anyway.

5. Will you color-code it?

Color Code your timeline journal

Consider writing different categories in different colors, or adding a colored dot by different categories of entries. If you’re going to do this, it’s best to decide ahead of time! For example, your categories might include

  • Bible/Church History
  • Science/Math History
  • The Arts
  • Literature
  • General History (the catch-all)

6. Do you want tabs?

Very quickly, I found that I needed some tabs to make finding dates easier. I choose seven years that were evenly spaced and round numbers and placed some sticky tabs on them! I highly suggest you do the same!

7. Will you leave the backs of the pages blank?

I’ve seen some really neat Timeline Journals where the creator only printed dates on the front of each sheet. The back was filled with sketches of items mentioned, glued in pictures of famous works of art, and folded up pieces of paper with additional information! I wish I had done this with mine too!

Now it’s your turn! Get a Timeline Journal set up and start adding to it!!

I’d love to see some photos of your books!

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