Ancient history

What we’ve done already

Our first year through ancient history was when my older son was in 1st grade, and my daughter was a preschooler. That year, I followed the Ambleside Online (AO) Year 1 plan more or less as written (this was in 2016-2017), so I won’t write out all the texts we read. It has a leaning toward ancient texts (Aesop’s Fables, Genesis) without being totally immersive. We also read Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World, Volume 1, The Ancient Times — we added it because my son was showing an interest in history.


Ideas for future immersion in ancient history

Next time through this era, my daughter will be in 3rd grade, and my son will be in 6th grade, and we’ll approach it very differently, pulling from the topics and books I’ve listed below to shape our year. It will be much more immersive, including reading from history spines as well as reading ancient texts and lots and lots of recorded myths. It will be an immersion in mythology! I’ve listed many big books of mythology below, but we may not read all of them in their entirety.

I also plan for us to learn a little bit of Latin using the first Lingua Latina book by Hans Ørberg. We don’t intend to become fluent, but I’d like us to all be exposed to the Latin language and get familiar with its influential vocabulary and grammar forms.

Here are some specific topics I hope to cover or touch on:

  • Ancient Egypt
    • Pyramids
    • Mummies
    • Cleopatra
    • Mythology
  • Ancient Greece
    • Homer’s texts
  • Ancient Rome
    • Plutarch
    • Latin language
    • Christianity’s roots
  • Ancient China
  • Ancient India
    • Buddhism’s roots
  • Ancient Americas
    • The Maya
  • Archeology in general — how it works, how we learn about ancient cultures and people from it

Just living ancient history book ideas

I’ve sorted these into broad maturity categories (elementary, middle/high school, upper high school/parent), based on how I will likely assign them to our children — although we will read many together. (The most mature books are ones I will probably be reading on my own, because I like to immerse myself in our eras as well!) I encourage you to gauge whether an excellent book might be suitable to read aloud with many children. Truly living books often have interest well beyond their “intended” audience age level, especially if read aloud. Some of these are non-fiction history spines or support texts; others are literature from the era. I aim to have a mix of all of these in our year!

Elementary (& up) level books

  • History “spines”
    • Story of the World, vol. 1 by Susan Wise Bauer — This is the series we’ve been using as a history spine for world history the first time we go through the sequence. The books are not perfect. They tackle large swaths of history, and as a result the books can feel like they jump all over the place. But the ideas are current with contemporary thoughts about ancient peoples, and they provide children with the concepts and names to start contextualizing how historical events and people “fit together.” The quality of the text is good — not excellent, but definitely good. At times, we’ve also listened to these in the car rather than reading them aloud — they are available as audio books read by Jim Weiss.
    • Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People by Eldon Yellowhorn & Kathy Lowinger — We will read the early chapters together and plan to read subsequent chapters in future years as appropriate for the era.
  • History “support” texts
    • Egyptian Diary and Roman Diary by Richard Platt — My kids love this series of “diary” books. Platt has intentionally included a lot of accurate historical details into the simple stories about fictional children. I like the editions that are richly illustrated.
    • Cleopatra by Diane Stanley — We love all of Diane Stanley’s biographies, which are well researched, high readable, and have beautiful illustrations.
    • Pyramid by David Macaulay — Detailed architectural drawings and stories about the building of the pyramids
  • Literature from the era (MYTHS & EPICS GALORE!)

    • Gilgamesh — I’ll choose from options written for younger audiences (perhaps one by Bernarda Bryson or Geraldine McCaughrean)
    • Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green — or similar book by another author
    • The Iliad & The Odyssey — Again, many options have been written for younger audiences, including versions by Gillian Cross, Mary Pope Osborne, Padraic Colum
    • Aesop’s Fables
    • Greek & Roman myths — There are so many options! We already own The Macmillan Book of Greek Gods and Heroes, which is richly illustrated, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales, which have rich language and are classics in their own right. Not sure what we’ll use together yet! (Also, my older child has read loads of Rick Riordan books and has a working knowledge of the Pantheon already!)

Middle/high school level books

  • History “spines”
    • The Way People Live series by Lucent Books — There are many options for me to choose from in this series, including many about ancient history (Life Among the Maya, Life in Ancient China, Life in Ancient Athens, Life in Ancient Egypt, Life of a Roman Slave, and more). The books are each written by a single author and have a clear narrative flow that is usually very engaging, with a focus on daily life and people in the context of big historical events. The stated goal of the series is to discover “the humanity in us all” and to replace stereotypes with accurate information about pockets of human culture. To use these as “spines,” I will schedule one or two per term for my older child (so three to six for the year) and pair them with a history timeline to contextualize how the pieces fit together.
  • History “support” texts
    • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse — Not from the era or even an authentic Buddhist text, but this is an influential 20th century novel that tells the story of the Buddha and is very readable
    • Plutarch’s biographies — There are many translations to chose from! I’m interested in the annotated version of Life of Publicola from A Charlotte Mason Plenary (it also has a corresponding picture study!).
  • Literature from the era
    • See items in elementary book list. We will likely read these all together and I hope to choose editions that are appropriate for both of my children to enjoy. In some cases, I may choose for just my older child to read through one of those books on his own, just depending on how the year fits together and our overall load of reading aloud.

“Upper high school/parent” level books

I’m not sure yet how I’ll immerse myself beyond reading these books with the kids!