In our homeschool, learning from history happens intentionally between the ages of about five and twelve. History offers us everything. Apart from events of the past, history also gives us people to study, art, architecture, food, fashions, science, inventions…I could go on…and on…and on. Literally every ‘subject’ under the sun can be found within the realms of the past. I love it!
In history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see, and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through to avoid.”Livy
In the main, we use history unit studies for the bulk of our elementary school years. Although, this ebbs and flows dependant on what else is going on in our family. My older three only learnt using unit studies and project based learning. My younger two had more variety with the addition of text books and workbooks which we used when Charlotte was so ill. But, in general, our default for this age is history unit studies which include a little bit of every subject under the sun.
Learning From History:
How I Choose What to Study
One of the most frequent questions I am asked about our homeschool is how I choose what we study. This is an easy question to answer. I follow where history takes us. We began at the beginning of the Old Testament in Turkey. This is thought to be the location of the garden of Eden and the resting place for Noah’s ark (Mount Ararat). Following where the Bible took us we spent as long as we needed in each culture (Turkey, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, Persia, Greece, Italy and currently the Romans which lead us to Briton.)
When Things Go Array…
Occasionally I take detours. Israel was hard going for me as I was pregnant, sick and on house arrest with complete placenta praevia. So I stopped, regrouped, bought the children a lap book and we learnt about Ancient India from my bed:
We’ve learnt about British history for a couple of years, after we had followed the Romans there. We have studied the Celts, Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Normans and the Crusades. And the Crusades took us out into the world again…
Do You Ever Get Bored?
Being British, our history is not nearly as exciting to me as the exotic lands abroad. This has meant a quick revisit to China with the medieval explorer Marco Polo, using him as an excuse to get out of England! And again one summer when we exited England only to find ourselves in 1800’s pioneer America. By doing this, I am acknowledging that my enthusiasm for a subject doesn’t extend indefinitely. Often taking a break from something I have lost interest in, rekindles it enough to return to later. If I am not over the top excited about school, how can I expect the children to be?
Are We Learning Too much From History?
Another question I have received was about whether I felt our school was a little top-heavy in history. I have not a leg to stand on. It is.
However, funnily enough I do not seek to teach history in my history lessons!
Ha, you weren’t expecting that were you?!
It matters zip to me whether my children know (for example) the dates of the Battle of Hastings or not, however it is important to me that they are able to think critically, so I used this battle to teach them how. You see, for me history is interesting enough to use to teach the children (many different) heavy concepts in a fascinating way.
History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents; and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions.”Georg Hegal (1770-1831)
History is less about history and more about the people who lived that history
Let me explain.
All I remember about history in school was lists of dates and events. Needless to say I stopped officially studying it at 14. However, I have always enjoyed the story of history, the players who have fundamentally affected the world in which we live today. I believe whole-hearted that the past has much to teach, if one can ignore somewhat the dates and dig a little deeper to the events and those who took part in these events.
Every period, every culture, has something unique to offer us as home schoolers, and if it’s not obvious, I’ll dig a little deeper until I find what I am looking for. Often I’ve not got a clue what that something is that I seem to be seeking so earnestly for. For example, when I was planning the crusades. I didn’t go into the planning knowing that I would be concentrating on the Pope’s speech with quite such alacrity. I simply read, and researched and researched and read, until something spoke to me. There was something about the pope’s speech that got to me and I began thinking about the possibility of studying it in greater detail. This lead on to the inevitable comparisons there are to made to Queen Elizabeth I speech and Hitler’s speech, not to mention Winston Churchill. Oh, the possibilities just excited me!
Wait…You’re Going to Teach a Speech?!
I hear you, honestly, I do!
Speech study, in and of itself was not going to excite my three tweens, as they were back then. So I looked a little deeper into the reasons why it had captured my attention. It’s persuasiveness, almost dangerously done, stood out and a lesson about propaganda was born.
And the children?
They loved it!
It has had the added benefit of teaching them that they should not accept everything they see or hear at face value. And they learnt that on the whole the majority of printed literature has an agenda of some sort.
Through designing a poster, they began to understand that there was power in the words they used and that images increase this power.
And (I hate to go on, but I don’t seem to be able to stop myself) the children also received a lesson all about persuasive techniques, which handily tied in with my goals for their writing that year. Cool, yes?
Ordering the Chaos
Following and learning from history is an unusually sensible thing for me to do, because without me even trying it exerts a form of order.
I try to plan a year in advance.
No, maybe not the individual lessons, but I choose the time periods I will be concentrating on, the cultures I will be studying and most importantly I buy in the main resources for the following year. For example, when we were going to learn about the Renaissance, concentrating on the Elizabethan times, we were so excited! With the vast exploring and literary works this promised to be a very exciting era. We already had many resources pertaining to the explorers of the time and to Shakespeare. I was able to then collect items so that by the time we come to study this era, I’ll have everything I need.
A Little Ad Hoc?
Maybe, but this way of preparation works well for me. I can trawl charity shops and pick up bits and pieces for very little money knowing they will be useful in the coming year.
It also gives me time to familiarise myself with the time period by reading up on it.
In addition, the children are able to use the summer holidays to get a head start on their reading, which means they are kept out of mischief over the summer and they are fully prepared for the coming year’s study.
Utilising Everything and Everyone at my Disposal
It also gives me the time to collect items from Amazon, dvds and also find out if I know anyone that might be able to help in any way.
For example, a decade or so ago, the lovely lady who owns the post office in our village came and talked to the children about India, bringing bindis, clothes and toys from India for them to play with. Our butcher has helped us on many an occasion, most memorably by obtaining a whole chicken, legs, head and all, for us to mummify.
I am very aware that I would be limiting my children’s education if they just had me to teach them so I utilise everything and everyone I can think of. We are a resource rich home school, probably because we don’t use any curriculum and because we do many, many hands on activities. Collecting things over the year spreads out the cost somewhat. Nevertheless, school remains one of our largest expenses.
What About Teaching to the Child’s Strengths and Interests?
Teaching from history is the perfect method to use regardless of the child’s strengths and interests. It is the the reason we use it extensively throughout the elementary ages. I believe history to be so encompassing it covers the interests of scientists, writers, artists, linguists, geographers, aspiring psychologists…literally there is something for everyone.
I always ask the children what they would like to learn. This is important for our family because I eventually want to hand the reins over to each child to fully direct his or her own learning. Project based learning is the perfect spring board for this.
Project Based Learning when Learning From History
Alongside our history studies, the children choose something they’d like to focus on. This usually plays to their strengths and interests. I remember Thomas opting to study Alhazan, a well known scientist, whilst Charlotte opted to recreate a play out of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Lillie inevitably chose something artistic. Often, their choice of project coincides with their choice of topic to present on for their end of unit presentations.
Last but not least…
I will be writing more about our morning meetings (read aloud hour), the children’s quiet times and their project based work in further posts, but needless to say, they all dovetail together nicely when the focus is learning from history, culminating in an end of unit presentation.
Seriously, homeschool rocks!