My Life Timeline Activity for Children

Personal timelines can help kids understand history's building blocks

An example life timeline

THoughtCo/Amanda Morin

History is sometimes a hard concept for kids to grasp: not that events happened, but that they happened to real people and that to those people it wasn't history—it was their present. One of the best activities to encourage children to understand the idea of being part of history is to help them create My Life Timelines depicting their history and accomplishments.

Note: Children who were adopted might find this activity a little difficult, but there are ways to adapt it to make it more general. Instead of focusing on everything that happened since your child was born, consider using less specific terms, such as "past" and "present." That way your child can decide what events in his past are important to him without feeling pressured to know the details of what happened before he was adopted.

What Your Child Will Learn

Your child will get a sense of historical perspective while practicing sequencing and expository writing skills.

Materials

Collect these materials before you and your child get started:

  • A roll of butcher paper or pieces of paper taped together to create a strip 6 to 10 feet long
  • Pencils, a ruler, and markers
  • Scissors
  • Glue or tape
  • Index cards
  • Photos commemorating events of your child’s lifetime. (They don’t have to be big events, just a selection of photos that span the child's life.)

Starting a Timeline

Here are the steps to get the project off the ground:

  1. Provide your child with index cards and ask her to help you think about moments in life that are most important or memorable to her. Have her write her date of birth on an index card. Tell her what day of the week she was born on and the time if you know it, and ask her to add that information to the index card. Then, have her label the card with a phrase such as "Today, I was born!"
  2. Challenge her to think of other days in her life that were important in her personal history. Prompt her to think about things such as brothers or sisters being born, first days of school, and family vacations. Ask her to write down the events and describe them, one on each index card, without worrying about whether they are in order.
  3. Complete this process up to the present day. The last card might say, "Made a My Life Timeline!"
  4. When she’s finished coming up with events, have her place all the index cards on the floor or a table. Now, ask her to put the events in sequence according to when they happened, starting with the oldest (birth date) on the left and working toward the most recent on the right.
  5. If your child has trouble remembering which events came before others, help her identify when things happened. Providing her with the month and year will be a big help in putting her personal history in order.
  6. Look through the photos together to try to find one to match each index card, but don’t stress if there isn’t one. Your child can always draw an illustration of an event.

Creating the Timeline

Here's how to put the project together:

  1. Lay the piece of butcher paper on a hard work surface. (The floor works best.)
  2. Help your child use the ruler to draw a horizontal line in the middle of the paper from one end to the other.
  3. Start at the left end of the paper and draw a small line upward (vertically) from the middle of the paper. This mark will represent the day your child was born. Have him put the index card bearing his birth date above that line. Then ask him to make a similar line at the very end of the paper, with an index card bearing today’s date and a little bit about himself and his life today.
  4. Have him place the rest of the index cards in order between those two dates, making a small line to connect each card to the line in the middle of the paper.
  5. Ask him to match the photos or drawings with the events and put each one below the correct index card under the line on the paper. Glue or tape the pictures and index cards in place.
  6. Let your child decorate the timeline, trace the information he’s written with markers, and then tell you his personal history.