Recently, Angie, a Homeschool HappyMess reader, sent me a series of questions that I thought might make an interesting post, and so with Angie’s permission, she and I will together tackle the intricacies of designing a homeschool curriculum..
Angie: Allia, I have been following your blog and am inspired beyond measure.
Believe me, I am grateful for your confidence in our humble homeschool. Homeschooling is a leap of faith. You have to believe in yourself and believe in your children. It is my hope, through this blog, that people can see themselves bringing inspiration and creativity to their own children’s education.
Mine is one step in an effort to right the wrong of boring, stultifying education whose tenants of secular equality for all has whitewashed history and distilled learning to nothing more than a series of meaningless platitudes, creating a generation of children with no interest in reading and little ability to write, let alone create. Break out the paint, glue and glitter, read original documents, apply literature to history, perform a science experiment…together we can explore the planet.
Angie: I have a few questions: Do you use the literature to guide the history lessons or do you teach history in a chronological order (like other classical homeschoolers) and choose literature that corresponds with that time in history?
I am a strong believer in the benefits of teaching history in chronological order, after all, that is the order in which it all happened. Like domino’s, each event was the catalyst for the next, each shift in beliefs, a result of the immediate past. That being said, I have found that if followed too literally, it is difficult to ever get out of the Middle Ages, let alone Ancient Mesopotamia. So, although I enjoy reading A Child’s History of the World, by Virgil M. Hillyer, and my children love The Story of the World (especially on tape), by Susan Wise Bauer, sometimes (often) I will jump around.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Hall of Armor
HappyMess boys wearing “real” armor!
I am an even bigger believer in grabbing opportunities as they present themselves, and building a quick mini-lesson around an exhibit, or a play or an article in the newspaper. History, and science are so much more interesting when a child can see the immediate application of the knowledge.
Joan of Arc, MET
HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET
History at the MET
Museums are a great place to learn about the past. Here we find that ancient peoples had similar aspirations as ourselves.
History books that we have enjoyed include: The American Story, by Jennifer Armstrong and A Young People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. There are countless wonderful books about ancient Egypt and Greece and about every corner of the world. I like to choose books with engaging pictures as I usually begin every History lesson with shared reading. Initially, it is the parent, or teacher, who breathes life into the history lesson. A good history lesson is like a piece of theater, filled with anticipation, suspense, surprise and resolution.
We have found that many literature books dovetail nicely with our studies. When reading historical literature we concentrate on understanding the feelings of the characters, asking ourselves, Why did they make these choices? Respond in this manner? How is this different, or the same from our experiences, desires, actions? Frequently we will read a book that is so compelling, we will read the literature first and then research the time period afterwards.
Celadon pottery at the MET
This was the case with A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. We read the book, chose a quote as our school motto, and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to view original pieces of celadon pottery.
Oh..and built an entire book club, around that experience, and created an Outreach Program, Wonderland BookSavers, that has so far, since September, donated 4,000 books to needy children both in the US and abroad…
and created a 7 minute documentary film and a Destination Imagination theatrical presentation…see the importance of just one piece of quality literature…?
So, what was the answer? Usually I am running at least two concurrent history programs. One is plowing forward through time, looking at facts, geo-political factors, resulting changes, etc., the other is inspired by current events, great literature, museum exhibits or lectures on a topic.
Additionally, Homeschool HappyMess kids participate in National History Day each year. This leads to very in depth research into a specific topic. This year we are focusing on the TET offensive and the media misinformation that surrounded that event, causing the American people to further turn against the Vietnam War.
Our older children have created a theatrical piece in which the “war fought in the living rooms of America,” literally comes home through investigative journalism. They recently won First Place for their local presentation, and are off to the State competition next month. Working on projects and competitions allows the student to “own” a piece of history.
We are also engaged in learning the fine art of the “research paper,” through a project on the Economy of Ancient Ephesus, as an offshoot of the study of Latin and a subset of the history of the Roman Empire.
History is the wonderful and terrible story that envelopes us all. There are 1,000 ways to study, memorize, examine, and theorize about history. Choose any path, as they say, “All roads lead to Rome.”
Angie: How do you relate the sciences?
Well, we again take several different approaches to the study of science, for younger children I am content with doing fun experiments and visiting hands-on science museums and randomly choosing interesting science books or biographies from the library. My goal is simple: awaken curiosity and provide answers about our physical world. Science and history can often be studied in tandem, as is the case with Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Copernicus. Science, like history, is not a series of facts but a series of people.
Our 3rd grader is also following the BJU curriculum. This provides many interesting facts and experiments in a more organized fashion. Again, we read books, biographies and enjoy the world. As our students get older we follow specific studies so they can learn the basics of chemistry, biology and physics.
Angie: How do you go about choosing your reading list for the year?
I love classic literature. Generally those books, which have been known and loved for decades, are well written, use correct English grammar, have interesting vocabulary choices, reflect clear values and tell a compassionate story that resonates with young readers. In other words, they are worth struggling with and will make your student a better reader and a more thoughtful person. My annual reading list is comprised of those pieces of quality children’s literature which are at the appropriate reading level. I mainly choose books the child can read himself, but also include a few that can be read aloud and discussed. For our book club we have focused on books that reflect a message of personal growth and responsibility. These books have included A Single Shard by Park, from which we took as our motto, “One hill, one valley, one day at a time…,” Old Yeller, by Gipson, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Carroll, Classic Poetry, Ancient Greek and Roman Myths and now, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. With each book, our book club performed a community service project…but that is a long story for another day…
Angie: Also, a fun one: is your schoolhouse an outbuilding or connected to the main house?
HappyMess schoolhouse visitors
In this case, since homeschooling has taken over our lives and thus, every corner of our living space I think it might be more accurate to say that our home is a modified outbuilding connecting to our schoolhouse.
Angie, I hope this helps. Thanks for your faithful reading! Allia
Let Me Count the Days: Homeschooling is sharing the experience of growth with an unseen, but forever perspicacious community.
Filed under: Art, Contests, Current Events, Field Trips, History, Humanities, Literature, Theater, World Awareness | Tagged: Destination Imagination, field trips, History leassons, homeschool, homeschooling, inspiration, literature and history, metropolitan museum of art, national history day, Wonderland BookSavers | 7 Comments »