Do It Yourself History and Literature
By: Christine Pritt
Are you struggling to find the perfect history and literature program? It is really not difficult to put something together that will meet your family’s needs.
I always liked to have everyone studying the same time period, because it was easier for me and it was fun to have the whole family involved in learning. I used a four year cycle. We did ancient history one year; middle ages, renaissance, and reformation the next; then explorers through 1815, and finally 1815 through the present. I looked for materials at different levels – picture books and coloring books for the littlest ones, easy readers for elementary children, and so on. You can get many ideas by looking at curriculum providers, such as Veritas Press.
To plan your curriculum, you first need a “spine,” a basic history textbook to give an overview. For younger students, a book like A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer or The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer makes a good spine. For high school, a popular text is Western Civilization by Jackson Spielvogel.
Look at the table of contents in your spine. Make a list of the time periods covered in each chapter. Look for primary source documents. These are original documents from the era, such as letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and speeches. For younger students, you will want to use excerpts, just a paragraph or two to introduce them to the material and give them a feel for it. Photographs and cartoons are also fun to use. There are many primary sources available online. For US History, the National Archives (http://docsteach.org/documents) and Library of Congress (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html) have excellent digital collections. For world history, check out Fordham University’s online collection at http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/mod/modsbook.asp.
Once you have an outline of time periods to cover and some primary sources to go along with each, you’ll want to choose literature. A basic high school anthology will contain poems and short stories organized by time period. I like Holt’s Adventures in American Literature and Adventures in English Literature. You can add some novels and plays, and, for younger students, some historical fiction. I would choose one book from each era, either a literary work or a historical novel, to read aloud.
Your child needs to write something every day. The literature textbook will have discussion questions along with the works. Choose some for your child to answer in essay form. Do the same with the questions at the end of each chapter in your history spine. This lets you check reading comprehension and provides writing practice at the same time. You can also find essay questions by googling the name of the work and “essay topics.” Students can compare and contrast two historical people or events or can write their reaction to one of the primary sources. Read over the drafts, marking any spelling and grammar errors, and have your child revise them. Assign some creative writing as well: have your child imitate the rhythm and rhyme scheme of a poem or write a story set in the time period.
Planning your own curriculum takes some work up front – I would spend August reading literature and looking for primary sources – but it is worth it. It allows you to decide what works to cover and gives you the freedom and flexibility to include the whole family. You will find yourself immersed and involved in a new way, and you will all have a richer, deeper experience as you learn together.
Christine Pritt lives in Walkersville, where she has been homeschooling her six children, with lots of help from her husband Mark, since 1998. Anna (23) graduated from Harvard and is teaching in Boston. Jacob (21) is a computer science major at Harvard. Emily (19) is a sophomore at Princeton. Sam (17), Noah (15), and Carrie (13) are still at home.