History is one of my great enthusiasms. I could spend far more time than I already do reading and pondering history. Cultural history and personal history embedded in good cultural history are some of my favorite things to read. In fact, the older I get, the more likely I am to drift over to the new non-fiction shelves at the library to check out the latest biographies or history books – first, before I head to new fiction.
The sweet girl, now eleven, enjoys listening to history, but it has not become one of her great learning and reading passions. Yet. (I live in hope.) While she’s taken more ownership of almost every other major subject in her schooling – math, science, language arts – she still needs me to take her by the hand in history. She will read and write what I assign, usually good-naturedly and sometimes grudgingly, but what she most enjoys is listening to good history narratives read aloud. We also talk history a lot at mealtimes and other family times.
As we study medieval history this year, that means we still do a lot of read-aloud time. I read from various books – good secondary sources, and sometimes also primary sources – and she draws while she listens, stopping me occasionally to ask questions or make a comment. Or I will stop midway through and review with her, asking some prompting questions, always pleasantly surprised by how much she’s heard and retained. (That’s partly due to the narration techniques we put into place during the grammar years. Good foundation!) Sometimes I give mini-lectures if it’s an area I know well, like church history. Sometimes we listen to Diana Waring lectures on CD, something she has enjoyed very much.
Although I let her draw while she listens, I do try to keep visuals open in front of her, which I refer to, and she stops and looks at while we work – maps, encyclopedia pages, books from the library. I’ve also been encouraging the pretty much every-lesson-use of her timeline. In earlier learning years, we would take a day every so often and do lots of timeline work at once; nowadays she keeps her timeline book handy and when I’m reading or sharing information, I will suddenly say – “and that’s probably an important date for your timeline.” She’ll pick it up and add it. (My secret goal is to have her begin to figure that out and do it on her own before the end of year…we’ll see how it goes.)
Lesson planning for this kind of learning has taken me a while to figure out, because I’m an intuitive kind of history teacher…I think “let’s just read that until it sparks something else interesting and then we’ll find something to read about that…” I think I’ve finally discovered how to make this work though. Here’s a rough idea of how I currently lesson plan for history. If you’re an intuitive history teacher, or have a semi-reluctant history student, maybe this will help you too.
- When I prepare my history lessons, I think through where we want to go next geographically and chronologically. Once I’ve made that decision, I think through the important people and events I will likely want to cover within the new section.
- I survey my resources and decide what books we will likely draw from. Right now I use several main resources a lot: Story of the World 2 (Medieval Times); Romans, Reformers, Revolutionaries; and the Greenleaf Guide to Famous Men of the Middle Ages. But I am also likely, on any given day, to pull from Monks and Mystics, English Literature for Boys and Girls, Blackline Maps of World History, and any number of library resources which I try to put on hold about two weeks before I may need them.
- I think through any primary sources or supplemental resources online that might help us.
- I note chapter and/or pages numbers in my resources, so I can flip right to them and not spend inordinate amounts of time hunting for things once we’re settled in for a learning session.
- I think through anything I might want her to actively do (besides listen) during the session. Probably timeline, sometimes map work, sometimes further independent reading or writing. I’ve not been having her outline much this year, probably because that’s a skill she’s still actively working on learning in our writing curriculum (and she’s doing a fair amount of it there). This may be something I have her do more of next year.
I also am discovering that it’s nice to sketch out what I think a lesson will look like and keep it handy to refer to, but that I often move in different directions, as the need or enthusiasm arises. So I keep my original lesson plan written down, but at the end of lesson time, I write down what we actually did and how that will work as a springboard for the next lesson.
Flexibility is the key here. I might discover, as I did today, that I want us to spend a whole other session on a given topic before moving on the lesson I had originally scheduled next. As long as you keep a tentative goal in mind, in terms of what you hope to cover for a semester or year, slowing down (or speeding up) really isn’t that big of an issue. I’d rather have us pursue a learning trail that really catches her interest than rush past it in an attempt to stick to some pre-written lesson plan.
As an example, here’s what I thought we were going to do today in history. My original plan read:
Wednesday, January 8 – The Vikings invade England (SOTW) and Alfred the Great. We’ll use both SOTW and Diana Waring (beginning around p. 133) for this day. We’ll also spend a little bit of time enjoying some stanzas from G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse (about Alfred the Great) which can be found here at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1719/1719-h/1719-h.htm Time permitting, have S. read the Alfred the Great chapter from Greenleaf and do some writing in her notebook.
Here’s how I amended this lesson at the end of the day:
We DID use both SOTW and Waring on Alfred and the Vikings, but I decided to read the section from English Literature for Boys and Girls instead of having Sarah read from Greenleaf. I’ve assigned her that reading…and some of the reading from the Alfred the Great Jackdaw…in preparation for a description she’s going to write of Alfred. We didn’t get to the Chesterton, but I think I will pull some of that together Monday. With our French studies beginning then, I think I will likely only have S. work on her Alfred report that day, rather than pushing ahead to Battle of Hastings.
While I’m aware that this kind of flexible planning might not work for everyone (and would, in fact, probably drive some types of teachers/learners crazy) it works for us. And one of the beauties of homeschooling is that I know I have the freedom to change this up if it’s not working well, or when it’s time to challenge her to even more independence in history learning.