So this is where I part ways with Charlotte Mason (and a lot of other popular curricula). History is NOT the pivot upon which our curriculum turns. It is of equal, not greater, importance with other content subjects. I don’t try hard to match literature, music, art, or anything else to certain time periods. Unlike neo-classical curricula like The Well Trained Mind, I don’t plan to cycle through history chronologically three or four times over twelve years. Unlike Sonlight, I don’t schedule much (if any) historical fiction as required reading. We own plenty of historical fiction, but the kids read it as free reads. And I’m not a fan of specializing in our own country’s history while excluding most of the rest of the world. My own history education was the typical American-centric Columbus-Pilgrims-Slavery-Pioneers-Wright Brothers over and over, with a semester of Eastern Hemispheres, and one measly year of World History. Charlotte Mason seemed to have a similar view; she thought that there was just too much world history for children to connect with, so they should focus only on their own country and delve deeply into the lives of a few important people. I just flat out disagree with that; I want my kids to have a much more global overview of history. So, I make it up as I go along, and don’t worry about following Charlotte Mason’s history method. Here’s an overview of our themes for each year, and some of the material we use:
The tools we use for learning history are biographies, narratives, and a timeline. The Eclectic Manual of Methods (beginning on page 211) heavily influenced my use of biographies, and probably my overall approach to history. My kids also engage more with biographies than with narratives; none of them (so far) are history buffs, and they are pretty young to be interested in causes and themes and repercussions of events. I love the older Signature bios and Landmark books. They are well-written and cover a decent variety of people. We use some picture book bios. Narratives are what a lot of people consider spines, except I don’t tie in anything else. We just read through a longish book like A Child’s History of the World, or Our Island Story, or Makers of the Americas, narrate, and fill in some people or events on the timeline. They also use the timeline across subjects. So if they are listening to hip hop for music, reading Vikram Seth’s poetry for the term, and looking at Mary Cassat’s paintings for picture study, they might put those in the appropriate century.
Year One: Stories of historical characters (world and American) using Fifty Famous Stories Retold and Viking Tales, and picture book biographies of Pocohantas, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Buffalo Bill. We also read short bios of saints for Spiritual Reading, so they get a little bit of Christian church history. We begin a timeline which continues through Year Three.
Year Two: World History using the first half of A Child’s History of the World, world biographies using Signature biographies, and more church history with bios of saints. Little Duke (which I may drop in the future) has early English and French history.
Year Three: World History using the second half of CHOW, continue world biographies using Signature biographies. Begin British history with Our Island Story. The Geography/Cultures focus for the year is Russia, China, and India so the kids get a little exposure to the history of those countries.
Year Four: History/Geography/Cultures are very combined this year. We finish OIS and British history. There are three Western focused narratives (one per term): Builders of the Old World, Medieval Days and Ways, and Makers of the Americas. For Geography/Cultures, there is an explorer biography scheduled every 2-3 weeks, with a focus on the “New World” explorers such as Cortez and Pizarro, but also including Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Zheng He, Captain Cook, David Livingston, the North and South Poles, and the Himalyas. This is the year for a new, more detailed timeline. Every three weeks, the student picks about six interesting characters or events to add to her timeline.
This is as far as we have gone in practice; Year Five and up are all in the planning stage right now. I’ve probably forgotten some odds and ends which also tie into history, but those are the main themes.
Year Five: North American History. The first term will be pre-Columbian history, probably using Native Americans: An Illustrated History and two modern Native American memoirs, Maria Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina and Code Talker. The next two terms will be mainly with Landmark books up to 1776. Geography/Cultures is Book of Marvels: Occident. One of the Science themes for the year is inventions, so that also adds to the history. We begin Plutarch this year, and which is supposed to continue through high school, for a bit of Greek and Roman biography.
Year Six: North American History from 1776-present, mainly reading books from the Landmark series. They were finished in the 1960s, so I’m not sure what I’ll use to bring it up to present day. I want to include the development of modern Mexico and Canada since they are our geographical neighbors. State history seems kinda silly to me, but our state is obsessed with pioneer history, which would tie nicely into this year. Geography/Cultures is Book of Marvels: Orient.
Year Seven and on: This is still two years out, but I have some goals and ideas. One goal is to begin reading primary sources. Another goal is to start reading opposing viewpoints. They will read Daughter of Time this year; it will be a good intro to how history is very open to interpretation. I’m hoping history will become somewhat interest-led at this point. Some ideas are studying the history of art (or music, religion, architecture, technology) , “sideways” history with Genevieve Foster‘s books, the history of a particularly interesting culture or region, how things affected history (like the potato, diamonds, malaria, air conditioning, drought, etc.). There are all sorts of interesting ways to look at history. I think continuing to read more extensive biographies (like Unbroken) will give the kids a deeper connection to specific eras or events. Homeschooling at the Helm is a good resource for developing interest-led studies, and I think age 13ish is an appropriate age to start encouraging our kids to start having some input in what they study.
And that is how we do history…so far 😉