A five-year history sequence

As I describe in my account of our learning journey (so far!), when I decided to design our own reading lists each year, I also decided to ground our readings in a shared historical era. This era would shape the history (and some literature) selections that we all read in a year — some all together and some that the children read apart (to meet their unique developmental levels).

I wanted to keep as much of our learning experience as possible together, for a few reasons:

1. Reading all together is super sweet!

As I explain in the nitty-gritty details of our days, we start every school session cuddled on the couch with me reading aloud (some homeschoolers would call this “morning time”). This special, cozy time together is the foundation of our learning life together, and I want to prioritize it as much as possible.

2. It’s simpler and takes less time in our day to cover material!

If we can combine our readings into that couch time, then it gives us more time in the rest of our day. If I had to read aloud to each child for the same amount of time, our school day would spill past lunch and detract from important time for activities or unstructured time.

3. We can expand our learning together!

If we are all “on the same page” with our history, then we can schedule field trips and other activities to supplement our learning that everyone has the context to enjoy. For example, this next school year we will be studying the 19th century, and we recently visited Fort Clatsop in Astoria, Oregon, the site of Lewis and Clark’s winter camp. Both of my children understood what they were seeing and thought it was super cool, because we read about Lewis and Clark together already. Another fun activity we do together is keep a wall timeline of the era (and also a map) that we add to throughout the year as we read about different events.

4. My brain doesn’t get overloaded!

I’m not really sure how parents “handle” teaching their different kids so many different subjects at once — one studying medieval history while the other is studying 20th century (or even one student studying trees while another studies whales, etc.). I love having the luxury to immerse myself in what we are learning as well, staying focused on the one era. I often will read books from that era myself in my own free reading time (and include some examples of those in the historical era break-downs).

So, how are the eras organized?

Based on how many existing history books are organized, I’ve selected five eras for us to study, one year at a time (so the whole sequence takes five years). The labels given to these chunks of time are definitely influenced by the Euro-American version of history (and we go heavy on those topics because they are our own tradition), but I aim to broaden the scope of what we study to include important people, stories and events from other parts of the world.

• Ancient history — everything before about 450 (big stuff!)
• Medieval history — about 450 through 1492
• Early modern — about 1600-1850s
• 19th century — about 1800 – 1900
• 20th century – today — about 1900 through today

There is a lot to cover in these periods of time! We will never learn about it all, but we can dip in for a year and immerse ourselves in the stories, people and places from the past. However, the 19th and 20th centuries each get their own year, because I feel like these more recent eras are incredibly important to understand in terms of our current moment. The history is still very fresh and very influential, and I want time to go deep into those centuries.

For each historical era, I choose a history spine (or key texts) and also lots of supplementary historical texts (which might be picture books or biographies or other interesting books about something important in that era). I also look for literature from the era to read (specifically literature actually written then — I avoid most historical fiction). Again, some of these books will be read altogether, and some will be read individually by each child (or read aloud by me to the younger child).

If we continue homeschooling through high school, each child will go through the sequence twice, adding complexity and depth to their understanding of each era the second time through by reading more mature books.

In the pages where I go into the details of how we approach each era, I include several different kinds of information. I’ll talk first about what we’ve actually read or studied for that era already (if we’ve been through it). Then I’ll provide ideas I’m considering for future study, which will include basic topics and book ideas sorted by maturity: elementary, middle/high school, and mature high school/parents.

Many of these books could be read aloud for a broader range of students as well, depending on the students and their maturity level. My goal is always to have as many books as possible that we can enjoy together, so consider the “sorting” as a useful guide rather than a hard delineation of appropriateness. An excellent picture book read aloud may appeal to a middle schooler, and a more mature text read aloud may also appeal to an elementary student. Don’t feel constrained by my guides!