[this is a revision of my original post where I mistakenly stated that Charlotte Mason recommended a four-year cycle through history. This is a later development that CM proponents have used to balance history for grades 1-12, especially in homeschools. I apologize for any inconvenience this caused. – MCG, May 8, 2014]
In a post a little over 2 years ago, I mentioned my deep love for history, especially American History. I mentioned how, had I learned history the way I teach my homeschooled kids, I probably would have majored in history, possibly even going on to a Masters and Doctoral work.
Yes, I love it that much.
My kids, on the other hand, aren’t quite as enthusiastic. But they still understand the great benefit to learning history:
Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.
Edmund Burke, English Statesman/Philosopher (1729-1797)
- Ancient World (Greece, Rome – we would add Asia and Meso-America)
- Birth of Christ, later Roman to early Middle Ages
- Middle Ages through the Renaissance (again, adding in America and other continents)
- Modern Times
I like this way of cycling through history – as the student develops and they re-study an era, the resources can grow progressively more detailed. The one thing I don’t like about CM’s history is that it has a heavy focus on Western Europe, particularly British and Protestant views of history. With that in mind, I add in American and non-European texts, legends and events to round out the subject.
Even though I have multiple ages that I’m homeschooling (now I’m down to just an 11- and 14-year old), we learn history together in order to maximize the learning process. In this way, we can watch documentaries, read historical fiction and journey to historic spots to supplement our book learning.
This year, we are “owning” the Middle Ages. Now, it would be tough for us to find field trip opportunities as we can’t exactly afford to head to England and Sherwood Forest, the Middle East and the Holy Sepulcher, or France and Agincourt. We can, however, read living books and watch classic movies and documentaries and read historical fiction.
And that is what we are doing this year.
We have a couple of books we’re using for our “spine” for history (the texts which help us jump off onto rabbit trails, discovering what interests us and broad brush-stroking what doesn’t):
- Famous Men of the Middle Ages (and the accompanying teacher’s guide from Memoria Press) – a classic by John Haaren & A. B. Poland. This book is great for its chronological arrangement of some of the major “players” during the Middle Ages; somehow relating history to the “actors” involved helps us own the history. Here, we find great stories about Attila the Hun, Charlemagne, Pope Urban and Joan of Arc. Here the people come alive for us.
- The Middle Ages by Dorothy Mills (as edited by Memoria Press), is a thought-provoking overview of the major events of the Middle Ages. Mills uses lots of contemporary chronicles, diaries, letters and minstrel tales to relate the era between the Fall of Rome and the beginning of the Renaissance. Her style is chatty and works well as a read-aloud. A timeline at the end of the book helps to relate all that was occurring concurrently between the emperors, the English, the French, the Norse, the Popes and Islam.
- The Story of the World: Volume 2 – The Middle Ages by Susan Wise Bauer is already considered a classic for those trying to give their students a “classical education”. Bauer is currently a teacher at the College of William and Mary so her book allows for more current scholarship than the other two spines we’re using. I like the way Bauer weaves legend into her tales of fact. This is a great spine and has an accompanying activity book with great ideas for supplementing the reading. Were Charlotte Mason alive today, I think she’d wholeheartedly approve of Bauer’s text.
Along with these three “spine” texts, we supplement extensively with reading classic historical fiction, especially the wonderful (if a tad fanciful) books of Howard Pyle, Barbara Willard, G.A. Henty, and Louis deWohl. These books, some of which we read-aloud and some I assign as individual reading, allow us to empathize with the protagonists, vicariously live the experience of going off to battle or shopping in a town’s annual market.
We further supplement with classic films such as Robin Hood, El Cid, and Joan of Arc. Documentaries are also a “family affair”; most of these are watched through Netflix or Amazon instant, but we also borrow a fair number at the public library. Some of the best-liked include The Dark Ages: An Age of Light, the History Channel’s The Crusades, and many movies about Catholic saints (particularly the ones done in Italy with English subtitles) such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Rita, and St. Patrick. Various television shows round out our viewing including Merlin, Robin Hood, and Cadfael.
The benefit to the historical fiction books, movie and television series is that we can use them to verify their truthfulness (or lack thereof). We can question the way the Crusades are presented or the fear of Islam or Joan of Arc’s mission from God based on our factual readings and learning.
I don’t give tests, oral or written. That said, there are a few ways I “track” the learning process: we do oral reports when Dad gets home, write skits and stories that coincide with events we just learned, and we write journal entries for the major players (prayers St. Augustine would have written down … a diary entry just before St. Louis went into battle … the journal entry after Columbus was granted permission to sail off to find the Indies). We also draw maps and keep a “Book of Centuries” to record all the events and see the interconnectedness of it all. We build models of famous buildings, re-enact the Crusades in Lego and learn to play games like chess and Shadows Over Camelot.
Some of these activities are done separately and some are done all together; some we enlist family members to participate in and some we rely just on the two left home being taught. The more we can get others involved, the more fun it becomes to talk about what we’ve learned and share insights, debate “facts” and generally truly live and really “own” the Middle Ages!
Mary Gildersleeve is a hand-knits designer, free lance writer and home school teacher living in a small rural county about an hour south-west of Washington, D.C. She earned an MBA from the College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA) and a BA in Print Journalism from Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington). She has two published books: Great Yarns for the Close Knit Family: over two dozen original hand-knit designs inspired by a dozen fantastic family read-alouds and In His Image: Nurturing Creativity in the Heart of Your Home. She is married, has 5 children (11 to 24yrs) and keeps busy homeschooling her younger two children, working on the computer, writing articles, and knitting…knitting…knitting . For more information, check out her website: www.marygildersleeve.com
© 2014 by Mary Gildersleeve