Friday, August 21, 2009

Semi-schooling history

After finishing the 4-volume, 4-year cycle (that we took 6 years to complete) of The Story of the World earlier this year, I decided that this would be our year of unschooling history. Not because I don't like studying history with my kids. We love history. I have never understood people who say they dislike history. I stare slack-jawed at homeschool moms who say they don't know how to teach history. I can't even comprehend their problem.

But we have some other things to focus on right now and we really don't need to move right back into a full-on study of history. Except I really can't unschool very well, so, we have a bit of a plan. I can't manage without some sort of plan. I don't have room for all our history books to be out of boxes and available all at once, for free perusal during the year. So, we're dividing up the year, and world history, by quarter:

Q1, July - September: Overview and Ancient
Q2, October - December: Medieval
Q3, January - March: Renaissance through Civil War
Q4, April - June: the rest

Obviously no one can effectively teach world history in a year. But I'm not really trying to teach it. I just want to keep the history fire burning till our next academic year when we will focus on American history.

Our read-aloud is a wonderful narrative history book: A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich. It's an overview, designed to create a love of history in kids. It's written a little below my kids' reading level right now; I've had it a long time, and foolishly waited till we were finished with Story of the World before starting it. (That was a dumb thing to do and I regret it. I frequently remind homeschooling mothers that they should not make themselves slaves to the curriculum; why didn't I listen to my own advice? I should have just taken a break from SOTW to read this beautiful book.) But they are enjoying it, and I am happy to say that a good bit of it sounds familiar to them. My boy retained more of ancient history than I thought he would, but then I shouldn't be surprised, he's always had a good auditory memory. My girl was little when we started our history cycle so it's not surprising she doesn't remember so much. Still, she's taking it in now.

As I read, I am having the kids make a simple outline of the book - just writing down the important people and events of each chapter. These are skills they haven't really picked up yet.

We're also watching the dvd course World History: The Fertile Crescent to the American Revolution by The Teaching Company. This is a series of 30-minute high-school level lectures. It's a one-man show - the teacher presents his lecture in period costume, and assumes the role of a character of the time he's lecturing on. It's engaging, sometimes funny, and the kids are getting a lot out of that too. There is a student workbook to go along with the course, but we're not using that now. Maybe in a few years we'll come back to that.

For the rest, the kids are mostly reading on their own. They're using the internet, too, more than they have in the past. The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of the Ancient World is a great tool for this. Lots of text and great illustrations, and links on (nearly) every page to find out more. I hear "hey, come look at this!" a lot when one of the kids is reading it or looking something up.

Of course we use lots of good books too. I read them The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum - one they could have read alone, but my memories of The Iliad and The Odyssey had faded a little and I wanted a refresher. I'll probably read some others along the way, too. But mostly they are doing their own reading. Narrative histories, biographies, historical fiction. Lots of books I wish I had time to read too, like The Bronze Bow, The Golden Goblet, Mara, Daughter of the Nile, In Search of a Homeland (children's version of the Aeneid), and Black Ships Before Troy. Some I'd like to reread: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, among others.

One fabulous library find is Battle At Sea: 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare. This is keeping the boy really engaged. It's a gorgeous - and useful! - book and might have to find its way into our permanent collection.

Our box of ancient history books is overflowing. Some books might get a cursory glance as they really are for the younger set. There might be some sentimental value attached to Growing up in Ancient China but I don't think it will really be needed. Maybe I can put that and a few others into my pile to sell at a curriculum fair next year. Some books won't be used for a few years yet. I can't wait to get into the Greek plays but have to be patient for a little longer. But I also found my college edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh which we read in a picture-book version years ago; I think it's time for the real thing now - I'll read this one to them. And the "Oxford Profiles"- Ancient Egyptians: People of the Pyramids, Ancient Greeks: Creating the Classical Tradition, and Ancient Romans: Expanding the Classical Tradition - are a good fit for this year, at least as "browsing books" though likely not for complete reading yet. (We will use them more extensively next time around.) We bought these years ago for much less than they are priced now. Probably as we were packing to move I wondered why I was carrying these books around, but of course now I'm so glad to have them.

Browsing through the "Profiles" book on the Greeks, I came across the listing for Pytheas, who is believed to have voyaged from Greek Marseilles up to what is now England. That reminded me that some time ago I picked up The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek so I'm previewing that to see if it's a good candidate for reading aloud.

Yeah, it'll be hard to fit all these books into the next month and less-than-a-half. But I'm not looking for comprehensive reading. I have to remember I am just keeping the fires burning.

So far it's working out pretty well.


Sandy said...

I decided too, that history this year would mostly be reading. They're doing some notebooking pages to serve as a record of their learning, but otherwise, nothing formal. Other subjects seem to be taking a front seat this year, mainly writing, science and art. I need to look for that naval warfare book for my boys.

~*~The Family~*~ said...

I am so glad to see that it took you six years to finish story of the world because think that is the pace that we are on and I have been feeling guiltyab about it but not any more! Thanks!

HomeGrownKids said...

I've given you a Favourite Blog Award!

Anonymous said...

Oh, those history books. They're so much fun! Glad you and your family make time to read such good books. I kept many of ours (especially the D'Aulaire books) even though my kids are too old for them now. I'm hoping to share them with grandchildren someday....besides, I just can't bear to part with them!

Nice post :)

Anonymous said...

That last post was from me....


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