Friday, August 19, 2016

Curriculum: History

Once again, my history program is inspired by the one outline in The Well-Trained Mind. In case you’re not aware of it, The Well-Trained Mind claims that history ought to be studied chronologically over a four-year period. The outline looks something like this:

Year 1 -- The Ancient World (5000 BC - 500 AD)
Year 2 -- The Medieval World (500 - 1500)
Year 3 -- The Modern World (1500-1800)
Year 4 -- The Contemporary World (1800-2000)

Though I’m going to hold to this plan, I no longer think it’s imperative to teach history in this way. In fact, I think outside of the basic skills necessary to reading, writing, math, and Latin, almost all systematic study of any subject falls on deaf ears until kids are in high school -- possibly even at late as college. I don’t think kids have the analytical powers necessary for systematic study, and when that skill finally does come, if they have a mind full of good and useful facts and ideas, they’ll naturally connect the dots.

The reason I like this plan is because it works for me. It makes my life easier. I know what we’ll be doing over the next four years. Furthermore, the plan is easily adaptable.

Also, I don’t think grade-school kids can study history as history. That's something I learned from Andrew Campbell’s The Latin-Centered Curriculum. So my history study is going to focus more on mythology, legends, and biographies. My goal is twofold: to make them culturally literate, and to prepare them for a more detailed study of history when they get older.

Let me see if I can explain myself a little better. A child can’t learn algebra unless he’s already mastered the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; and those skills presuppose a more basic set of skills. Likewise, a child can’t study history as history until he’s learned a more basic set of information: names of people and basic geography, primarily. So my goal during the first four years of history is little more than reading biographies, legends, mythology, and learning geography. In other words, giving my kids what the desperately want at this age -- fact . . . facts that will be essential to the real study of history.

What I also learned from The Latin-Centered Curriculum is that sometimes it’s better to go slower and more deeply than to go quickly and only skim the surface. So even though I’m following The Well-Trained Mind’s history program, I’ve modified it.

This year -- which will be Year 1 -- instead of focusing on the whole of the ancient world, we’re just going to focus on the four great cultures that shaped Western Civilization: Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome. I’ve divided the year into four quarters, and each quarter will bring with it a new culture.

I’m using A Child’s History of the World as my basic spine, as well as Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: Activity Book One for projects and maps. I'll also be supplementing these basic texts with many books of legends, mythologies, and biographies that I’ll be reading aloud to my kids.

I plan to do history twice a week. Day 1 (Monday) will be focused on the chapter form The Story of the World, a project or map work. The day will conclude with Jem doing a narration of what he’s learned, which I’ll type up and put in a folder.

Day 2 (Wednesday) will begin with a quick review of what we studied on Day 1, then 30 minutes of so of me reading aloud, either a biography or a book of mythology. That’s it. I’m not going to ask any questions, or have Jem do anything extra . . . unless he volunteers.

All in all, I'm anticipating no more than 90 minutes a week.

Oh, yeah, I also made my own Staircase of Time -- the one at the beginning of A Child’s History of the World -- which we’ll be filling out over the next few years. Just as a map should give Jem a sense of place, my hope is that the Staircase of Time will give him a sense of time.

If I get around to it, I’ll take a photo of it and post it -- probably sometime next week.

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