History and Geography Areas

History and Geography are often found under the heading of Social Studies, or at least they were for some time.  You often find Civics here as well.  Even Economics, especially when talking about the way it affects nations and individuals rather than its more accounting/mathematical aspects, can fall under this heading.  I like to think of this subject heading as what people have been doing all through time and where all of that has been happening.  History can be a lot of fun once you get rid of the drudgery that most of us remember from our own school days because at its heart, history is comprised of stories and geography is just the stage where those stories have taken place.  History takes time, though, and because little children have very little understanding of this concept, they really can pick up history wherever.  In fact, many homeschool parents have discovered that they LOVE history now that they have a sense of it in their own lives.  I suspect that the reason so many classical curricula embrace the chronological approach to history is to accommodate the renewing of the parents’ minds rather than establish this orderliness in the children.

If that last statement made you bristle, rest assured that I understand.  For some children, it really is best to go in order from beginning to end.  These are the ones who thrive on orderliness.  These will have been like this from your earliest memories of them.  Other little ones, though, really are more random.  With those kiddos, you can indeed pick up the study of history anywhere and plop down anywhere else–at least when they are little.  There does indeed come a time when you should study history in chronological order.  Your job as the parent and supervisor of your personal home education program is to decide when the optimum time for chronology should begin.

Different curriculum providers divide the historical time spread in different ways, but they usually have either a chronological or a spatial (usually inner to outer) design behind their plans.  If you check out the scope and sequence from several providers who work in a more spatial manner (notably Abeka, Bob Jones, Weaver, Alpha Omega, and nearly every government school’s curriculum), you will easily see this at work.  If you can’t get hold of the S&S for the curriculum you are considering, it’s easy enough to check out the table of contents for each of their offerings.  (BTW, CBD features samples that almost always include this TOC.)   Some take a topical approach, moving from the closest thing to the child outward.  In this sort of sequence, the very youngest children (grades K-2 or so) will often study the people in the community and then usually early American history, often tied to the big calendar events taking place throughout the school term.  Next, they might study other important people or places before coming back to more American history and then World history at some point during the secondary years.  Most of these providers major on American history.  This isn’t a horrible thing–for Americans!  After all, we do live here; we should understand how our nation came to be and who we are as a people.  However, there is so much more to history than just the few hundred years that America has been on the scene.  Then too, we weren’t acting under a basket.  This is the world we are talking about here; plus, the last century, for sure, has seen much more globalization that ever before.  All of these things should be studied.

The reason the spatial sequence is usually put into place is because the curriculum provider focuses more on getting the reading skills down pat than anything else.  Or they think that they are doing that!  You have to watch this though because not everyone who says they are phonics-based really is!  Whether they realize it or not, these publishers are often following more of a “whole-language” program than they realize, but not always.  Even some that are indeed more phonics-based will set their textbooks up this way by utilizing a carefully controlled vocabulary to ensure that nothing is too difficult for the average child to read.  The children’s readers will often feature people, places, animals, or other things common to the younger child’s world.  This isn’t to say that a younger child couldn’t be interested in historical events earlier, even while they are learning how to read; it’s just that these providers choose to set their wares up this way because it’s often easier to stick to the controlled vocabulary.

Another way some publishers approach history is a hybrid of the two types, with the spatial utilized for the younger children and chronological for older one.  Veritas Press, which is definitely a chronological provider, has their Kindergartener and first graders following a very relaxed approach to history by using a series of little primers that are unlike those most kids encounter.  The topics of these readers feature mythological creatures, famous people, amazing events in history, and all sorts of other things that are usually reserved for older students.  In this series, these subjects are written about in a way that is very decodable and relatable to the child, so it is possible to create quality materials.  These booklets are a home run for the child that loves historical things.  You have to call the folks at VP directly to get the primers without the Phonics Museum kits themselves, but they are available separately.  (P.S. In case you are wondering, I don’t object to the Phonics Museum curriculum at all! I am just so attuned to teaching reading from the viewpoint of a dyslexic student that I don’t use anything else anymore.)

After this initial “learning to read” phase in grades K and 1, Veritas Press (VP) divides their history offerings in a chronological manner, but in a slightly different break up than most classical curriculum providers.  They consider Grammar stage, and thus, the first sweep through history, to run from 2nd to 6th grade.  They allow two years for ancients, a year for the medieval age, a year for early moderns, and a year for later moderns.  This means they spend more time on “snowbanking” people and events for later than others will. They then divide the secondary years in half with their Logic stage running from 7th through 9th grades and the Rhetoric stage from 10th through 12th grades.  During these years, students run through history’s epochs two more times using the Great Books of the Western World as their base.  While the VP people study the same aspects of history and follow the classical model, their divisions are not spaced equally like they are for followers of The Well Trained Mind (TWTM), Tapestry of Grace (ToG), and a few others.  These folks divide their stages of history into three distinct four year splits covering Ancients, Medieval, early Modern, and Late Modern.  It’s neat and tidy.  This works great for the oldest child in a family, but the rest of the kids only get that full chronological treatment in order if the family happens to have kids born every four years.  Since not many of us plan our kids with an eye toward teaching history in chronological order though, this practical working out of the plan weakens the argument about how kids need to learn this in order from start to finish every four years without fail.

My Father’s World (MFW), another curriculum with classical leanings, orders their history in a more similar fashion to VP than TWTM or ToG.  In fact, MFW, like VP, offers very relaxed curricular materials for the very youngest students. Where MFW differs the most is that they have a geography course called Exploring Countries and Cultures that they do before getting into history.  This makes a lot of sense in a way because it does help to know the people better when you already know what a place is like.  Their ECC plan is wonderful for younger kids; however, often older students find it quite painful, even when you use their 7th/8th grade options instead of the things geared for younger children.  My middle son and I suffered through North and South America then jumped ship over to Sonlight’s Eastern Hemisphere Explorer, which was lovely.  That was our experience.  Yours may very well be different.  Remember the golden rule of uniqueness.  What works for you won’t necessary work for me, and vice versa!

Speaking of Sonlight (SL), they are a literature-based curriculum that is slightly classical in nature.  You can make it more classical because of those classical elements already present, if that’s what you want.  They split the historical eras into an amalgamation of what Veritas Press does, as well as The Well Trained Mind, but they split their time in a different way.  In Kindergarten, kids study lots of things in the world around them, from all over the place time wise and topically, which is a wonderful introduction to “doing school.” From there, kids do a two year sweep of world history, then a two year sweep of American history.  After that, they spend a year on the Eastern Hemisphere with the goal of learning research skills.  Then they do another sweep of world history at a little deeper level.  SL just introduced a new core this term that fits in the next slot with a sweep of the history of science.

After Cores A-J , Sonlight switches to another way of ordering their cores, no longer using letters, but instead hundred levels for the ones definitely geared toward high school students.  The first one is a full version of American history, then comes a history of the church, as in The Church, not any particular church or denomination.  Instead, during this course students learn about what happened in the world of the Christian religion since the Bible was completely written down.  The next core after that is on everything that happened during the twentieth century.  The cores after this get more specialized into government and economics, British literature, and finally, worldviews, which also has an ancients component.

Sonlight publishes very full curriculum.  If you don’t need something this full, they have a sister company called BookShark that is lighter.  Take a look at their catalog(s) and their online samples.  Many people really love having a schedule already worked out for them.  Some people find their Language Arts to be out of step with the cores themselves, being more difficult to complete than the core work.  Their Creative Expression assignments can be troublesome because they are often assigned before the kid has finished the scheduled readings for a particular book.  These few criticisms won’t be problems for many and they don’t detract from the overall experience.  No matter what, they sure do pick wonderful books!  If I had begun homeschooling with them, I might have stuck with them for the long haul.  As it is, I ended up with many of the books they recommend and several IGs (Instructor Guides).  However, I was trained to homeschool by some of the original pioneers and am so used to planning things out on my own that having someone else’s schedule just messes me up too much.

While they align themselves with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy rather than Classical Education, Ambleside is another very full curriculum that is completely online and is very classical in nature.  The classical leanings should not be surprising because of Miss Mason’s own history and what she brought to her philosophy of education.  Ambleside often uses fully digital books, so it’s great for people with very little shelf space or who travel a lot.  I know, lots of people love the “real book” experience, and you can certainly order these, but it’s nice to have options when life throws you a crazy curve ball.  Some people have a hard time figuring out how Ambleside works, so I encourage you to take time to read through their pages to figure it out if this curriculum appeals to you.  Years 0, 3.5, and Pre-7 are the ones that most people seem to have the most trouble embracing.  Look at the schedules.  There is a LOT of reading!  As for what to DO, you really can just write about what you are reading.

As we bring up the concept of figuring out a curriculum actually works, this is an ideal time to bring up how to do the Principle Approach.  First of all, you don’t start off PA-ing every single subject area.  Most people pick one of the content areas to begin with, such as history, literature, or science.  There are two history options you can go with to help you, both of which tell you exactly what to do:

  • Mighty Works of God You will definitely need both the student’s reader-like book and the teacher’s guide, which also comes with a CD of printable note pages.  The real meat is inside that TG.  Check out the sample to see what I mean.
  • Beautiful Feet The first link is to their getting Started page.  Here are several sample pages.

Both of these options will guide the new homeschooler, or the new to PA person, into what a Principle Approach lesson looks like, which will be heavy on research.  Remember, this method appeals to the curious.  The above two options do have differences in how their authors expect that curiosity to be satisfied.  MWoG is much more PA than BF is, but that’s only because the Rea Berg (BF) was writing curriculum for others who wanted to simply allow for a Providential view of history, while Ruth Smith (MWoG) was writing with the underlying objective of teaching the PA through her history program for little children.  If you are serious about wanting to try the PA, my vote would be to give of one Ruth Smith’s MWoG volumes a try.  Even though the readers are definitely geared to younger students, the information in the teacher’s guides is substantial and you can easily ratchet the level of learning up to satisfy even a high school student.  The best scenario would be if you also have a young student in the house who an older child could teach the lesson to after you go over it first.  (Remember William Glasser’s ideas about how much we retain when we learn something in order to teach it to someone else?!?)

Ok, well that’s about it for the history-based curriculum providers.  If you get any homeschool catalogs, you will know that there are many more options available.  Some of those options are more useful when you piece together various choices from different providers, while others will make for some great supplements or basics.  There are so many other history curricula out there!  Because it’s such a favorite of homeschoolers, many long-time homeschoolers have written their own history curriculum.  Many homeschoolers love Diana Waring’s offerings.  Others swear by Mystery of History.  Clarence Carson wrote a wonderful American history series called Basic History of the United States that has an accompanying volume called Basic American Government.  Notgrass is another good one.  Some people like to just buy a spine like a DK, Kingfisher, or Usborne history encyclopedia and and then build their own history program by perusing literature options that work with their topic.  Others like to have this work already done for them and go with something more like Trisms, TruthQuest, or BiblioPlan.  All of these are quite nice!  There are many more options as well.  Additionally, all of these history choices can be augmented by a topical book that provides some overview, such as The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun.  Here is a document that explains how to use this resource within the scope of a high school student’s history studies:  How to Use this Book of Time Effectively

We’ve already spent the bulk of this page detailing options for History but we haven’t touched on Geography at all yet.  Geography is such a wonderful subject area that most of us just didn’t get much of in the last 50 years or so.  Homeschoolers are really enjoying the resurgence of this subject area, often leading the pack in the National Geography Bee, which if you want to enter, you need to get things set up and moving in your neck of the woods.  Did you know there are whole companies devoted JUST to Geography?!  In fact, geography can be studied in several ways and it can fall under several academic headings.  Here are some options:

Some items you won’t want to miss looking at are:

  • The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide
  • Mapping the World by Heart
  • North Star Geography
  • Leagues and Legends (Veritas Press)
  • Galloping the Globe (World)
  • Cantering the Country (US)
  • Where in the World?
  • Runkle’s Geography
  • A Child’s Geography
  • Geography Songs

No matter what you choose, you will want to have at least one world map, a globe, and a map of your nation someplace.  As with everything, you have choices!  I picked a world map that put the Atlantic Ocean in the middle so that all of North and South America were on one side and all of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia were on the other.  It made more sense to me to divide the Pacific Ocean rather than divide a continent!  If you happen to live in the Eastern Hemisphere, you might prefer to have the Pacific Ocean in the middle and the Atlantic split into two.  (I don’t know if that exists, but it probably does.)  I like having a globe around just so that we can see the world without the distortions a flat map causes.  If wall space is at a premium, Sonlight sells a foldable markable map.  I’m not a fan because I don’t want all of our notes to smear and erase before I’m ready for that, but you can solve that by using WET-Erase markers rather than the dry erase type.

All of the aforementioned history and geography choices are made so much better by the addition of a timeline!  Options for these also abound.  You can do a timeline in several ways: in a book, on a wall, on a foldable board.  You can create them with images you purchase or with images you find on the ‘net.  You can even simply write the information down in a book and skip the images like I explain in the document about the Book of Time.  You can create timelines for specific subject areas, or keep them all in one big book.  There are so many options it’s dizzying!  The one that WinterPromise sells is beautiful.  It has space for you to put lots of information in between the washed-out, old world map pages.  You have to see it.  They also sell some great add-ons for their various programs that work quite well with any other literature based provider’s wares.  (They used to take forever to ship things, so check this before ordering.)  You can make your own timeline book using Guest Hollow’s Timeline printable pages.  For timeline figures, you will probably end up with something done by the folks at Homeschool in the Woods.  They create the figures for just about every publisher out there–and they are very nice.  If you buy from them, though, you can get a CD with the figures and choose who you want to use instead of being locked into who your chosen publisher provides. You can also buy kits that allow you to just cut them and stick them wherever you are affixing them.  Here are some free ones I found online.  There’s just something about seeing people and events laid out in chronological order that makes it click!

When you decide about your timeline, let me fill you in on a little detail that I didn’t know about early on: Don’t use FunTack.  It peels the paint off the walls and it will stain the paper or card stock with an oily patch that you can’t do anything about.  I’m not buying new “guys” at this stage of the game.  Let this be a lesson to you though. Use something else to affix the “dudes” to the wall if you go that route. Once I figure out how to upload photos to the website, I’ll take a few of our timeline.  Oh, here’s another little gem of information:  Don’t expect a timeline to be completed in just a year or even two.  Ours has been up since we moved into this house 15 years ago and it’s STILL not done.  It was started by one child, extensively contributed to by the next child, and now being worked on by the last–with me helping all these years–and with a stack of “dudes” all cut out and ready to be colored and hung.  We’ll get to them eventually.

Let’s talk about the other areas that fall under the old heading of “Social Studies” for a bit.  We all want our children to grow up to be contributing members of society.  We want them to be well-adjusted individuals who go on to adulthood in the best meaning of that word.  It follows then that they will need to know about civics, current events, economics, and to a certain extent, psychology and sociology.  Remember our definition of this academic discipline is that it has to do with people: what they do, who they are, where they live, and how they behave.  For my own kids, whenever we have had an election, we have been involved in some way.  Sometimes that has meant we discussed the candidates, what we could see about what they believed, and the various issues that happened to be on the ballot at the time.  Other times this has meant actively contacting our representatives about something.  Of course, we’ve done our share of coloring maps on how various elections have gone, but civics entails so much more than that.  It means that we understand what is going on in the world, the nation, our state, and our community.  How do you learn this?

For our older sons, we had them involved with Boy Scouts and we used the three Citizenship Merit Badges (Community, Nation, World) to help them gather basic information on this.  You can find the merit badge workbooks here.  Even though your student won’t earn badges if they are not part of the BSA organization, there are tons of other ideas for homeschool-friendly unit studies there.  We also instituted current events in our homeschool.  Our local newspaper is horrible so we opted for a weekly news magazine instead.  You can go either way.  You can even use your news feed on your homepage.  Whatever you do, discuss the things going on in the world with your kids.  This really is the only way to learn citizenship because it is so connected with how we treat people that it is “caught” rather than “taught.”

Along the lines of things being caught not taught, nothing is more like this than finances.  Right?!  Another wonderful merit badge to have your kids work through once they are old enough to have regular income from odd jobs (or a real job outside the home) is the Personal Management one that I mentioned on other pages.  That badge is about far more than just finances.  Let the kids learn what it means to create a budget.  Let them manage the household funds, or at least a portion of them.  There’s no substitute for hands-on learning in this area.  We have to stop being so uptight about talking about money–at least in our own homes!  How else are our kids going to learn how to figure this out?  It is best to begin this discussion before the pressure of Junior year and the lure of college comes into play.  Yes, college is a wonderful thing, but debt is not!  Even debt for the purpose of education isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or has been purported to be, at least in recent years.  Some kids in college now will never be able to pay off their student loans.  How will your kids figure out if it’s worth it for them to go to college if they have no idea how economics works?

While many of the economics topics that I’m talking about more correctly fit under the topic of consumer math, the underlying presuppositions behind these decisions belong with the social studies areas because they are directly tied to people–what we want, when we want it, and how we are going to go about getting it.  While you are discussing these things, it’s also good to get into major purchases (like houses and cars) and how to go about making those.  Add in discussions about career planning too.  How do you know what you want to do with your life?  You’ll need to have money coming in from somewhere because it sure doesn’t grow on trees.  There is just so much that comes into play when you start thinking about this far-reaching subject area!  Once again, curricular ideas abound, but really, the best teacher will be experience with real money in real time.  As your kids get older, think about ways they could explore these things in a real way rather than in a manufactured manner.  Real books coupled with real experiences managing their own hard earned money on their own time will combine to create a much better course for your student.