History seems like such an odd place to start when talking about curriculum because it is such an overlooked subject. For many, history is one of those optional pieces of the school schedule. For me, history is my guide. It is the spine for the rest of my curriculum. There are a few reasons I choose to do this, and a couple reasons to not do it this way.
We’ll start with WHY I choose to make history my guide. I like to cycle history in chronological order. This makes the most sense to me and it allows kids (and adults) to see how one event influences the next. You can better understand why World War II started when you see the events that lead up to it. Studying in a chronological cycle helps see how history repeats itself and how reactions against one thing typically lead to overreactions in the opposite direction. This is the only way history makes sense to me. I never really understood history until I saw it as one continuous story. Isolating events doesn’t fully make them understood. How could someone like Hitler ever make it to power? Studying history chronologically helps answer that question. Neo-Classical education models (like The Well Trained Mind) follow this chronological history cycle. You don’t have to school classically to follow a chronological history cycle.
Following a chronological four-year cycle (you may have 3, 5, or 6 year cycles) means that all my kids are in the same time at the same time. This allows for better discussion and keeps me from being pulled in a thousand directions. We’re all in ancient history this year. I’m not having to be in multiple times in history this year. Just ancient. All ancient. It also allows for field trips that benefit all the kids at once. And it makes it so the older kids can glean if they read to the younger kids or do a project with the younger kids. More educational opportunity when everyone is on the same page in time.
I also plan my science and literature around this history. It lets us deep dive without feeling overwhelmed. I’ve used programs in the past that bulked history up so much that is was all you could hope to do in a week. By scheduling literature and science with their history in mind, we can deep dive but cover more subjects as we dig deep. And we can understand the whole of what we’re doing in one.
Now, fitting literature in this way doesn’t allow for as much age customization in their reading. The Iliad comes when they’re in the rhetoric stage and we’re going through ancient history– whether they’re up to that reading level or comprehension level or not. It doesn’t allow you to build to a comprehension level. There is some dragging them into things they aren’t yet ready for. There are also some literature selections that likely don’t fit neatly into a historical box. So, there are some good reasons to not select literature based on history.
Fitting science in with history, there is the issue of what subjects should go where. And there is the possibility you skip an entire science subject. There will always be holes in any education. Keep that in mind. In any education, whether homeschool, public school, hybrid school, Sunday school– there are holes. You just can’t cover everything there is to know in the world. So, having holes isn’t a bad thing– so long as they don’t sneak up on you and cause you to overreact in filling the holes.
So, now comes the part of the show where you choose your history. You can go about it chronologically. You can go about it geographically. You can go about it based on interest. Just pick how you’ll handle it this year.
For chronological, there are a few ways to do that. You can cover the entire history of the world in one year. Choosing an ancient history book in term 1, middle history in term 2, and modern history in term 3. The downfall here is that 12 weeks isn’t a lot of time to cover it all. But you could cover one aspect of the time in 12 weeks. The second chronological way is choosing by year. In a three year cycle, you’ll cover ancient history in year one, Middle Ages in year two, and modern history in year three. In a four year cycle, you’ll cover ancient history year one, Middle Ages year two, early modern history in year three, and late modern history in year four. In a five year cycle, you’ll study ancient history year one, Middle Ages year two, early modern year three, modern year four, and local/national year five. In a six year cycle, you’d study ancient history two years, Middle Ages year three, early modern year four, late modern year five, and local/national year six. You can adjust those timelines to fit your needs. Usually, you wouldn’t want to do more than 6 year cycles because you wouldn’t have the opportunity to repeat them, which is important.
Geographically based history typically works from the child outward. So, they’d learn about where they live first, and then branch out from there. Just make sure you cycle back around to the middle because the second time through a history cycle, so much is learned. You could break this up into a simple four year cycle (state, nation, Western, world) or you could explore based on geographical region (North American History, South American History, European History, African History, etc.).
Interest based history is another option. It being an election year, you might want to take advantage and make the election process and the US government the focus this year. If you were taking a trip out west, you might want to study about Westward expansion and what was there before settlers traveled that way. If you were taking a trip to Europe, you may want to study European History or the World Wars. Interest based history will likely leave holes. But again, holes will always exist. Just be aware of the holes and don’t freak out trying to fill them.
Once you’ve decided how you’ll be tackling history, decide if you want a spine. A spine is just a book that covers the whole time period or event you’re wanting to cover. You may read more than your spine. The spine is just there to keep you on track. You may not want to stay on track. You may not want a spine. That is okay. You may choose to do a textbook as a spine and nothing else. That is okay, too. Here are some spines you might choose:
Story of the World– We personally use this as our spine. All four volumes span the history of the world in four years. We read a chapter or two of the spine each week for the first two cycles through history (K-8th, usually). We add on to this spine. They have Activity Guides to go along with this spine. (You can also purchase PDF versions here.) The Activity Guides have suggestions for additional reading that can be useful to go beyond the spine.
You don’t have to have a spine. You can just know what timeline, geographical area, or topic you’re covering a find books specific to that topic. Books for school don’t have to be textbooks. In fact, it is often better when they’re not. For younger kids, you can read the books to them. For older kids, they can read them by themselves. You can choose books or games that are on your child’s level. You may choose to read a higher level book to a younger child. Just keep in mind that some historical events are difficult for children to hear. Use your own judgement. You can always skip parts that make your child uncomfortable. Just don’t skip them forever. Some parts of our pat are messy, but we need to know them. Here are some Idea Lists to help you envision what types of books you might choose. You can choose books or games that are on your child’s level.
You can choose to add project or activities as you go. Or you may decide to keep it simple and only read from one history book twice a week. Really, the amount you do is up to you. Add documentaries and movies if that is your thing. You don’t have to do it just one way. Do what works for you. If that is reading a chapter of your spine a week while they color a coloring page and nothing more– that is fine.
You should also know that you can choose to do a pre-planned curriculum for one subject. If you really love a boxed curriculum, but it doesn’t quite fit– you can usually pick apart the kit and get just the subject on the topic you want.
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