This week I am doing a quick series on how I home school.
For Part One: Introduction
For Part Two: Why History?
For each time period/country we learn about, I have many topics or areas that I seek to cover. I am not pedantic about this. If there is no obvious natural way to cover them that is fine, but the list gives me a place from which to begin planning. I will be going through each topic over the next few days to show what it is I do with each one.
Major Events and Players
First, I look at any major events that have happened during the time period we are studying. This is good for their general knowledge and, just the fact that they are major events will inevitably make them interesting. This gives me a good starting point but is not the full story. I then look at the players, the people who were the ones making the history. These are infinitely more interesting than the events because we can all, as current history makers, relate to people who in essence have not changed much in the last 3000 or so years. Humans have always strived to push the boundaries of their existence, to discover more, explain more and ultimately achieve more. It is a drive intrinsically present in us all, and as such is fascinating.
Having jotted down a few ideas I check the book lists from places such as Sonlight and other history strong curriculums. This is helpful for choosing historical fiction for the children to read. I then order what I can second-hand from Amazon. Often Amazon bring up alternative books which I will often check out reviews to see if they might be suitable for the children. Finally I look for biographical accounts of the people I would like the children to focus on, always choosing primary evidence based autobiographical writings if I can. For example we read Marco Polo’s own writings about his travels and also read the words Confucius himself wrote rather than those written by others.
From here I think up lots of hands on activities to do with the children. In the main I choose activities which replicate the essence of the culture in some way. Like mummifying a whole chicken whilst in Ancient Egypt:
Traditional paper making whilst studying ancient china:
And a Mayan Dig whilst in Ancient Americas:
We even did a mystery type activity when we revisited Ancient Egypt last summer, learning about Howard Carter. The children did another archeological dig and through their discoveries had to surmise whether the Egyptians and Assyrians ever lived side by side.
I try to mix up and vary their activities so that with each study they are learning different skills. It’s a fabulous way to learn, which they hopefully will never forget.
Some of the individuals we always look into are the leaders of the countries we are studying. A couple of years a go the children carried out leadership studies of Hammurabi. They wrote an editorial about one of his rules:
And then completed the quest to dress up as Hammurabi using only black bags as their dress up:
I show you all this so that you can see how simple it is to make a heavy subject fun and easy. The children were about 8 here and traditionally would be thought too young for such studies. Not so if you include black boxes, tip ex and black bags. Oh, the fun that can be had!
Currently they are comparing the leadership skills of Richard I to those of Saladin. I’m sure we’ll do different activities to make it a little hands on also. Leadership skills are important to me because by studying the strengths and weaknesses of leaders gone by the children can learn what characteristics are needed for good leadership, and hopefully apply them to their own life. This is particularly important for Thomas who will be leading his own family one day.
Dressing Up and Re-enactment
It is usually my choice of events and people which dictates the dressing up or re-enactment props I buy or make. During the Middle Ages last year we concentrated on the Normans who were renowned for their Knights, so sure enough we bought knights dress up, learning about heraldry as we made our own shields:
When we learnt about Robin hood they all dressed up and we learned archery:
And messed about whilst dressed as Mayans:
We always dress up. It allows the children to explore further the lives of the people and to experience to some degree parts of their lives, to become them for a time. When we studied ancient Egypt the children off their own back opened up scribe shops in the back garden:
When they were learning about the Celts they built living and working areas outside, experiencing a little of the hardships:
And, my favourite by far, was when we were learning about the Nomadic Mongolians they built themselves a gur and proceeded to collect rabbit dung and persuaded their father to burn it in our wood burning stove just as the Mongolians did with cattle dung!
And poor Gary about to burn the dung:
This is fairly self-explanatory. I look for specific features which stand out in the areas we are studying. For example when we learnt about Egypt and Mesopotamia we did a huge project on rivers, mountains and the water cycle; when we learnt about Israel we covered coast lines and when we learnt about Rome we did a project on Mount Etna and volcanoes. Sometimes the era or area we study is calling for nothing more than map work, which traditionally we have a lot of fun with. For example a tasty, edible map of India:
Our rather large (about 3 meters by 2 meters) paper mache map of Great Britain and the surrounding areas to demonstrate the movement of the Vikings:
And file folder maps of Mesopotamia:
I have just written a post on how we are tackling geography this term, so for more information see here.
I guess our first explorer study was the Exodus of the Old Testament, from Egypt to Israel. Whilst not strictly exploratory the children did a large geographical and significance study on it, traveling on their own exodus, making manna to eat and an exodus blanket to sleep on:
More recently we have studied Marco Polo, where once again much fun was had following in his footsteps:
We again made one of our paper mache maps to show his travels, marking his route as we came to it in his autobiography:
His travel diaries gave us much material with which to choose activities from. We wrote a play for the road and created medicinal concoctions to help with health issues that might arise along the way:
We also made an oil lamp to light our nights:
These explorer studies link in well with our geographical studies, adding the wonder that geography sometimes lacks. For the explorers, I will work particularly hard to find primary evidence as it is the first impressions of the lands they explore that tend to be the most interesting. I loved reading Polo’s descriptions of the cultures and countries he came face to face with. Nothing can better describe these things than someone’s first hand experiences of them. Next year we will be, hopefully, reaching the explorer age and our studies will be all about the explorers. Being related to Shackleton (on my mum’s side), I am fascinated by the exploring age and cannot wait to get there next year.
As always, each topic is supported with dvd’s, picture books, Google Earth and any other related resource I can get my hands on.
Tomorrow I will cover a few more of the areas I look to cover each time I plan.