Friday, August 04, 2006

How and When to Begin a Book of Centuries

I believe the idea of keeping a chronological record of history in notebook form is a very effective tool in helping a student assimilate and recall the major people and events in history. This, combined with narration, eliminates the need for quizzes, worksheets, complicated history projects and extensive planning on the parent’s part. It is not the same as notebooking, or scrapbooking— methods that produces a beautiful work of art but require a lot of time from the student and parent. The Book of Centuries is simple, only taking about 30 minutes a week of an individual’s time and a parent does not need to supervise. No two century notebooks are alike, as creativity is encouraged. The student may choose what to place in it and how it will look.

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion about when to begin a Century Notebook. In Charlotte Mason’s schools, The BOOK OF CENTURIES was not started until around 5th grade or the age of ten and was kept throughout the remainder of the student's education, being added to as each year progressed. It began with Ancient History, had divisions for major eras and also a division for maps. Each two-page spread represented a century. The student added small, hand-drawn sketches of items from that time period.

In our home school, we do the same with just a few changes. One, being that we allow more pages for later centuries since we have more information to add than the earlier centuries. Also, I have found that a little variety keeps it interesting for the children so we do not just draw objects, but people and events, too. Sometimes, we use stickers we have found (e.g. a crown could represent a king, a sword or gun could represent a war) or we cut out pictures from old history textbooks. (and you thought we didn’t use textbooks in our curriculum ). We keep a picture basket for this purpose. It just has a hodgepodge of pictures and stickers we have run across and saved over the years. The children choose from this if they don’t wish to draw that day.

We chose to make our BOC rather than buy one because each child should have her own copy and that can get expensive. Also, you are very limited in how much you can put on a page and if errors are made they mar the book. With a home made one you can add and take away as much as you like.

There are so many ways to make a Book of Centuries. Many consist of just a blank page with a single line going across but I think high schoolers would prefer this more categorized approach. I will give just a short explanation of ours. I made a handwritten template and photocopied it, but if you are computer savvy you can make a snazzy typed one. (If anyone does decide to make a computer-generated template similar to ours, will you pretty please share it with me?)

Here is a picture of one of my daughter's notebooks:

Notice the left page is divided horizontally into 5 sections:

Wars, Conflicts, Politics
Notable Men & Women
Art and Music
Religion, Philosophy
Discovery, Inventions, Technology

(The top line has 10 divisions that are left blank so that you can just handwrite the dates in it as you go) The right page is slightly different; it does not have words on it. You would need to make 70 copies of the left page and 70 copies of the right page; this includes a few extras in case of errors. Insert them into page protectors and place a divider in the back labeled ‘MAPS’. You can also add dividers for major historical eras if you so desire.

Creation until 3000 BC only one two-page spread is needed.

From 3000BC to AD 1500 allow a 100 years per two-page spread.

From AD 1500 to AD 1800 allow a fifty-year span per two-page spread.

From AD 1800 to AD 1900 allow a twenty-year span per two-page spread.

From AD 1900 to the present allow a ten-year span per two-page spread

*If you don’t do this, you will have large empty sections during the early years, while the later years will be crammed with too many entries.

My children have a 30-minute block of time scheduled on Mondays so that they can record people and events that they have studied the previous week into their BOC. If they want to spend more time working on it, they certainly may, but this is done after morning school hours. By the way, whenever they choose to draw an entry, they sketch it on a separate page, cut it out and glue it into the notebook to keep it neat.

Do not limit it to just your history studies, but include scientists, mathematicians, artists and musicians as well. The possibilities are endless. Even mom could keep a century book of her own and then her children would REALLY be motivated.

Hope this is helpful,


Update: Some kind readers have made a Book of Centuries template using the divisions listed above. Go to  Scribd to download your own copy. Thank you, LoriCarr and MmeLabonte! one step at a time...


  1. previous commentors2.1.07

    Posted by humpty
    April 5, 2006 - Your blog is my FAVORITE!

    Posted by humpty

    I use My Father's World (Kindergarten) which is Charlotte Mason, but my other favorite site is Ambleside Online. I homeschooled my boys K-12 using just about everything, always looking for the "right" curriculum. I've used texts, workbooks, unit studies, and by-the-seat-of-your-pants method. I never heard of Charlotte Mason until my sons were in highschool. By then, I was hopelessly ruined. I did not know that I would be teaching again (grandson) but I have kept up with methods and fell in love with CM. The only reason I am not using AO (even though I glean and use the booklist) is because I feel too old to do it again by myself. It's funny, though, I get energized when I go to the AO site and also when I read your, and others blogs. I know that I will be "doing my own" CM eventually even if I use the MFW as my core. I read everything on your site about timelines/book of centuries today and the art masterpieces link is wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

    April 5, 2006 - Oh my gosh! The audio books!

    Posted by humpty

    I just went to the link you have on free audio books. These are fantastic and I am downloading them for when my g'son is older. Wonderful!!!!


    April 5, 2006 - for humpty

    Posted by lindafay

    Hi Liz,

    Your words are sweet. Thank you!

    I can relate to your feelings about being drawn to AO and CM. Even though I looked into and tried many other programs, I kept coming back to Charlotte Mason's ideas. After I read her book about education I was completely hooked. Just consider my weblog 'BAIT' and I am trying to catch you. ;- )


  2. April 6, 2006 - Untitled Comment

    Posted by reformingmama

    Loved this post on the Book of Centuries! I can't wait to do this when our children get older! :) (We've quite a ways to go, as our oldest is four! ;) but nonetheless, this is something I'm very excited to do! :)



    April 6, 2006 - One more thing...

    Posted by humpty

    I am missing "Somewhere in Time."


    April 6, 2006 - to humpty

    Posted by lindafay


    April 6, 2006 - Bait

    Posted by humpty

    Thanks for the hint on how to get links on my blog page. You just keep putting that "bait" out their and I will keep hitting on it!!!!

    April 7, 2006 - Great Idea

    Posted by sprittibee

    :) I also did a post on timeline helps at my blog, but I really like your idea, too. The idea I covered was from a website, and I put a photo of the timeline idea we were thinking of doing. It is a bit more compact than the notebook - in a little index card file. Not sure which would be easier, but we really want to get one going.

    April 7, 2006 - Forgot the link...

    Posted by sprittibee

    September 20, 2006 - Wow!

    Posted by dixiemom

    This is just what we were looking for! Thanks so much. BTW, your blog is gorgeous. I've added you to my friends list so I can come back and visit often.

    I have been trying, unsuccessfully, for several years to do various timelines. On the wall, notebook...I alsways wanted to combine events from all over the world on one timeline. I just couldn't figure out "how." Thank you for the great idea, and thank you to the person who made the printable! My favorite thing about the internet homeschool community is the free sharing of ideas.

    Thanks so much for this!

    I am curious about the pdf. It has 3 pages that are very similar.
    I can understand why the two (headings on opposite sides) but why the 3rd?


    Is55:13, You are most welcome!

    Malissa, I don't know why Lori made it that way. I haven't used her color template-mainly to save on ink. I used the other one. You can ask her if you want to. Her blog is

    Thank you for the updated version/descriptions of the BOC! I like the way you added all the other subjects. I couldn't get the link to the pdf's to work, said the link had expired. Do you have any suggestions on how I might get to them?

    Barbara, I am no longer updating this blog. You can find current links at in the History category.