Teaching history, geography, literature, and religion at home

Posted on September 8, 2011 by

As Catholic homeschoolers in the Charlotte Mason tradition, we prefer to integrate religion, history, literature, and geography together. We study our faith separately (at Mass, catechism class, and Bible study in the home), but we find that the children understand the relevance of the Christian religion and worldview better when it is analyzed in the larger historical and geographical context.

Literature, likewise, is best studied in the relevant historical period. Although we read books and write papers related to our other topics (math and science, for example), and we read other stories for fun, most of the reading and writing assignments are related to the history studies. Simply put, history is the core subject for our homeschool curriculum.

Like all things Charlotte Mason, there is a very simple method for doing this.

  1. Create a Book of Centuries for your homeschool (younger years), or for each homeschooler (later years). Use this to make a time-line of your studies.
  2. Begin with Creation, go on until you come to the modern era, and then repeat. Study history from the beginning to today, and note important figures and events as you go along. As you move from one century to the next, in chronological order, examine historical maps from that time, discuss what was going on around the world in the same period, and branch off into deeper study of significant topics.
    Use the following 4-year schedule, or something similar (Ambleside uses a 6-year schedule), repeating for grades 1-4, 5-8, 9-12:
    1. Ancient History
    2. Middle Ages (500-1600 AD)
    3. Early Modern (1600-1850 AD)
    4. Late Modern (1850 AD – present)
  3. Select an appropriate spine to use as a guideline. The Story of the World is the most popular one (and we really like it), but there are others that are probably equally good. Read a chapter in the spine (here is a list of the chapters for Volume 1 of the series), have the children narrate it orally and then in written form, document important details in the Book of Centuries, and then branch off into the study of the topic or continue on with the next topic.
  4. Research the details. Read biographies of famous people, watch videos about the way they lived, cover Bible stories and Church histories, play traditional games from the age, read classic literature from the period, learn about saints and other religious figures, research famous scientists and artists, go to a theater production or museum exhibition, cook related foods, dress up like characters in the stories, read tales and legends, study ancient maps and the relevant countries, etc. Immerse your child in each topic, explore it and discover it, and then move on to the next topic.
  5. Integrate geography and map-reading. Have your children complete a simple map-skills workbook before beginning their history studies, as reading maps and globes is an essential skill for studying history.
    Within each topic studied, it is best to select a related country for more detailed study. Study Greece and China with the ancients, France and Bolivia with the revolution, Canada and Japan with late modern history, etc. Locate it on the world map, have the children practice map memorization and drawing, read books and watch videos about it, and maybe read a biography about a famous native.
  6. If your children are different ages, have them all begin their studies together in the ancients, and assign them age-appropriate reading material and writing assignments. Since the cycle repeats three times, they will probably make it though one complete cycle regardless of where they start. The important part is that the studies progress chronologically, and that you don’t “jump around” in time and confuse them.
  7. Don’t worry about covering everything. You’ll hit all of the “big stuff” if you use your spine, and that’s enough. The most important thing is to use history to teach children the interaction of choices, behavior, and consequences.

To give you an example of how such a system works, here is the latest version of our History Plan for the Ancients.

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