Friday, July 20, 2007

History Helps

Some of you have asked me to explain how we study History in the elementary years using Charlotte Mason's methods. I will explain what we do but I forewarn you that I keep things very simple in our little school. As I've said before, "efficiency" is my middle name, so if you are expecting something fancy, you will be disappointed.

I offer these ideas as just one way to teach history. There are many, many effective alternatives. Some moms have fewer children and more time to do large projects. Others are very crafty. There is not just one right way to teach history. Choose what works for you and enjoy the time with your kids. We chose this way because I want to have enough time to spend on many other areas as well.

First of all, in order to help keep the time frames separate in my children's minds, we study World history on Mondays and concentrate on American history at the end of the week. We also keep a wall timeline for world events, but separate, personal notebooks for US history. Although it was a concern of mine at first, my children have never confused the two time periods. I think this is because the times-culture, clothing etc... are so utterly different from each other; or maybe it is just that children are smarter than we give them credit.

For World History, I read the week's passage from Child's History of the World and then my child narrates, colors the picture on the colored timeline index card and we tack it to the wall timeline. We don't do anything else, but immediately move on to the next subject. This takes 20 to 30 minutes. Occasionally (usually once per term), we make one major crafty project together that goes with the time period. I remember making a salt dough map of the Egypt and the Nile River one year. For the Greek period, we baked clay pots from Sculpey clay and painted black images of people and animals on the sides in the style of Greek Art. One year we made a Roman soldier's armor. But I kept it to just ONE organized project per 12 week term that took two or three days to complete. This helped keep me sane and the kids happy. They almost daily acted out stories from the school books with dress up clothes, cardboard trumpets or Playmobils, etc…but most of the time I had nothing to do with these little quick projects. WE DON'T DO ANYTHING ELSE.

For US history, each child begins keeping a notebook called "MY AMERICA" in year one when we began reading This Country of Ours and continue the book until the end of year 3 when we finish the history book as well. This binder is medium-size and is where we keep our Thursday copywork. Every day of the week, the copywork subject varies- poetry, literature, scripture, and history. Thursday is the day we have 'history' copywork.

I use special paper for this notebook depending on age and ability. For year one, my child is just learning to write, so I use paper with only 3 large lines. There is a place to draw a scene at the top of the page and there are writing lines at the bottom. For second grade, we use 4 lines, usually during term 1 ,5 lines for term 2 and 6 lined paper for term 3, gradually adding more lines as the ability to write neatly and quickly increases. In third grade we only use 6 lined paper. In fourth grade we do not record the 20th century in this book.

Once a week, after we read This Country of Ours and my child has narrated orally, she works for 10 to 15 minutes copying a phrase or sentence that we choose together from the book while looking at the model I have written on the dry erase board. Then she works for 10 to 15 minutes drawing a scene or person from the day's reading. Sometimes we add clip art to mix it up a bit. I've used pictures from old history textbooks that we have found at library sales and bookshops.

Each page is kept in a clear protector and we make simple dividers from construction paper to represent major historical time periods.

Grade 1 The Explorers, Colonies
Grade 2 Colonies, Revolutionary War
Grade 3 A New Nation, Civil War, Growth of America

The notebook includes three basic maps too. We have a map showing the 13 original colonies and each time a new one is studied, we add its name to the map. It also includes a map of the Civil War. We highlight the major battles mentioned in This Country of Ours, using a different color for the North and the South. Lastly, each time we learn about a new state added to the Union, we write its abbreviation on a blank US map showing state borders and we color the state.

So this notebook includes history copywork, drawn narrations and a few maps-nothing more. I feel historical sequence, rather than dates, is important at this stage so we don't write most dates down.

This year, my third child came to the end of her study of US history and her book is now completed. It ended at WWI. She is pleased as punch with it. I've learned that our children's successes often depend upon my expectations. If I settle for semi-neat writing and pictures hastily scribbled on the page, that is exactly what my children will give me. But, whenever I choose to believe in my children's incredible abilities and encourage them, all the while, expecting perfect execution, they deliver. They enjoy doing their best when they are allowed to work strenuously in short intervals without the chance for fatigue and boredom to settle in. These are very important principles in a CM education along with a gentle but unwavering momma.

Now, here's a little Show and Tell for visual learners like myself.

(click on each picture to enlarge)

A section divider
First Grade- We used 3 lined paper all year.

Second Grade -we used
4 lined paper for term 1
5 lined paper for term 2
6 lined paper for term 3

Third Grade- We used 6 lined paper for all three terms. Notice the gradual switchover to cursive.

one step at a time...


  1. I like the idea of different projects for the different histories and only a few crafts. Thank for the visuals, it helps. LOL


  2. Thanks for posting this info. I love to see how others do things.

  3. This is exactly what I was looking for as we begin our school year. I don't like doing involved history projects and I feel so much guilt over it! I like the idea of doing one project every 12 weeks. I think I could handle that. :) I do love notebooks, though, so this is perfect.

    Thank you for posting this. Thanks especially for the examples. I am such a visual learner!

  4. Linda,

    This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing what you do for history. I'm planning to do both American history and world history this coming year for the first time and am glad to hear it's not confusing for the kids. So far, we've only done Bible history and world history.

    I've been enjoying reading your blog ever since I discovered it several months ago!


  5. Thank you. What a blessing to find your blog!

  6. Jeanne S.20.7.07

    Thanks so much, Linda. This is very helpful.

  7. Thank you, Linda. This is so helpful as I look ahead to next year.

  8. Lindafay,

    I like the idea of ONE major project for history per 12 weeks. As an ex-KONOS user, I was stuck in the mindset that hands-on was an all-or-nothing thing. ;-) Sometimes it takes someone to mention something like this to get my brain working again!


  9. Betty23.7.07

    Hi LIndafay!

    I'm trying to put together a binder that contains "my brain on paper" so that I will be better organized.

    I have the StartWrite program to make my own copywork, and I really like that you have copywork from different subjects for each day of the week. How/when do you plan this? Also, if we do studied dictation, do you use one of these entries? How is this better than using the same copywork selection for the whole week (besides it being boring)? I thought by doing the same selection for the week, they would be better prepared for dictation, but truth be told, I usually forgot about dictation at the end of the week. I hope to do better this year.

    Grace and Peace,

  10. Hello Mrs.
    I love this post - mainly because I love history so much. That is my second favourite subject in school. I could spend hours and hours reading a history book. I often ask people about this event and they have no idea. It's rather strange to me. The great thing about loving History so much is that the Bible is one big history book. I mean to do a creation history lesson, just read your Bible and plan around that. All kinds of fun actitives to do.

    Your projects look awesome. I wish we lived closer. I would love to be able to learn and do stuff with the girls. They're so fun!

    Well, anyway, just stoppin' over to say hello!

  11. Love your notebooks!
    Beautiful handwriting too.
    I just posted our notebooks recently.