How do pupils understand historical time?

Some evidence from England and the Netherlands

By Marjan De Groot-Reuvekamp and Penelope Harnett, published 3rd June 2016

One of the key aims of the English history National Curriculum is to ensure that pupils ‘know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative’. Teaching chronology is also important in the Netherlands. In this article we cover some aspects of teaching and recent research from the Netherlands that can help inform our teaching about the understanding of time.

Chronology and the understanding of historical time

The understanding of historical time combines what is often referred to as ‘chronology’ (objectively measurable) and historically experienced time, sometimes referred to as ‘a sense of time’. Understanding time is not an isolated element. It is about the understanding of events, people and changes in the past and includes understanding concepts like causes and effects, changes, similarities and differences within and between periods, and how they affected people’s lives. In Dutch primary schools history is hardly taught to young children. Teachers often cite the fact that...

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