I prefer teaching history in a classical/Charlotte Mason style — chronologically and with lots of living books. We had tried many different ways of studying history, but it always felt like we were just brushing the surface in much the same way I’d complained about the public schools doing. It wasn’t until we read Johnny Tremain during our study of the American Revolution that the link between living books and history really clicked for me. Living books make history come alive! Historical fiction, biographies, picture books — these are all fantastic tools for teaching and learning history. I’ve been amazed at how much I’ve learned since we began studying history this way.
One of my favorite resources for grades K-5 or 6 is Story of the World. SOTW is a history text written like a story book that follows history chronologically through four volumes — The Ancients, The Middle Ages, Early Modern Times and The Modern Age. Each volume has an accompanying activity guide filled with maps, coloring pages, hands-on projects, and supplemental reading suggestions.
Another fantastic resource are the TruthQuest History Guides. TruthQuest guides offer literature-based history study from a Christian worldview. However, if you prefer a secular history program, the TruthQuest book lists could effectively be used, leaving out the author’s commentary. The guides vary in the age-range toward which they are geared, though most contain some literature suggestions for either older or younger siblings to join in on the study. There are guides for each period in history, corresponding well with the SOTW books, making it easy to combine the two books to teach a wide age range in your own home. My family will be studying Ancient Egypt and Greece with TruthQuest and SOTW this year, my younger two primarily using SOTW and my middle schooler primarily using TruthQuest.
In our home, we try to read one historical fiction book and one biography with each history “unit.” I basically decide what constitutes a unit. With Truthquest, for example, it was each main topic. So, while we studied American History, the Civil War was one of our units. During this unit we read Across Five Aprils, which I highly recommend and a Sower Series biography on Abraham Lincoln. For younger children — or even for older children desiring a good, concise overview — I also highly recommend the David Adler series “A Picture Book of…”
An excellent way to pull all your history studies together is through the use of timelines. Homeschool in the Woods offers a beautiful and extensive collection of timeline figures. With over 1,260 figures, it’s really hard to find something that you’d like to study for which there is no corresponding figure. This wonderful site also offers one of the best timeline helps guide that I’ve ever seen. Whether you prefer wall, notebook or file box timelines, this site has some ideas for you! The figures are also nice for notebooking or enhancing a written narration page.
I’m often asked about teaching geography. One of the best ways to do that is by using maps when studying history. My favorite resource for historical and blackline maps is Knowledge Quest. They offer map series for every period in history, many featured in the SOTW activity guides. These are perfect for notebooking, geography studies or supplementing your history studies with geographical information. The Knowledge Quest site also features a wonderful article comparing and contrasting several popular history programs, including Story of the World, TruthQuest, Tapestry of Grace and Sonlight.
As an aside, Bright Ideas Press also offers many excellent geography resources, including Hands-on Geography, which my family has enjoyed.
There are a variety of history programs out there for the homeschooling family. However, for my family, studying history through living books, including historical fiction and biographies has, hands down, been the best way to bring history to life!
The Sower Series biographies published by Mott Media
The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne
The Dear America series, various authors
The My America series, various authors
“A Picture Book of…” series by David Adler
Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.