When we first started homeschooling, we had begun because my daughter, in particular, needed attention and structure. Before throwing up my hands, I called Sonlight Curriculum and spoke to one of their curriculum specialists. She advised me that maybe all my daughter needed was more time cuddling on the couch with me, and some additional structure to her day. It was the best thing we could have done.
We started with Sonlight’s Preschool, took it nice and slow, and then moved into Kindergarten (our first move to China occurred during this year). Then the real work of first grade began. We really liked the chronological approach Sonlight had taken with history. But looking ahead, I could see that Sonlight wasn’t going to strictly follow a chronological pattern with its history in future years. And we were finding Sonlight A LOT of work.
I took another look at our educational plan and decided, why not keep going with a chronological study of history? The Classical Method approached history that way.
Then I took another look at Classical Education–something I’d essentially dismissed in the past because it seemed too rigid. Maybe there was something I had missed.
While I still lean toward a Charlotte Mason approach, rather than a Classical, I have picked up a number of important tips along the way from the Classical Education method. And we do follow a Classical Education approach to the study of history: a four-year cycle that looks like this:
Year 1: The Ancients (6000 BCE to AD 500)
Year 2: Middle Ages and Renaissance (500 to 1600)
Year 3: Early Modern Times (1600 to 1850)
Year 4: Modern Times (1850 to Present Day)
This cycle is repeated three times between first grade and twelfth, going a little deeper each time. Be honest. Sounds a little dry, right? But the magic of studying history this way is the books we use: Living Books.
What is a living book? A living book is a story based in historical fact (often historical fiction) that makes history come alive! So for our study of Canada in the late 1600s, we have just finished reading Madeleine Takes Command. We also read non-fiction books, but they’re geared to appropriate ages and always interesting. Since we’re studying world history in parallel with our study of Canadian history–because both are important and help ground the student in how events work together–we also just finished the study of the Fire of London and the Plague of London. In conjunction with that study, we read You Wouldn’t Want to be Sick in the 16th Century. There is less of a focus on learning disconnected dry facts, and more of an emphasis on understanding the events that shaped our world. Nevertheless, as we use timelines, dates do tend to stick in our minds.
Living Books are a big part of how we study history, but narration and timelines play a role too. A “spine” forms the center of the study of history: a book that guides the studies. For our “spine” we have chosen Story of the World. One of the biggest reasons for this choice is the supplementary activities easily introduced to our studies by the activity book that goes with it. There are coloring sheets, comprehension questions, maps, game suggestions and recipes and an additional reading list that helps us locate quality living books–many of which are available at the library, if you happen to live close to a good one.
Using the activities from the Story of the World Activity Book this year, we have tasted pottage, made a native American Thanksgiving Feast, cut out paper dolls of soldiers of the 1600s, and played a board game based on the Thirty Years’ War.
History has come alive in our home.