our history books for this year

I started this post in April. I was asked at the home school convention by several parents how I managed to combine guides with the age spread of my children. Did we skip certain books? What about those Genevieve Foster books that are used in several studies? How long do you read aloud each day? What do you do with the youngest one? I did my best to discuss with each parent how I worked with these resources to educate my children. So, I decided to write a post describing how this year went (still going, actually) and share the wisdom with which I was graced.

The past twelve months were a very stressful time for our family. I was emotionally, spiritually and physically unprepared for the challenges and changes we endured this past year. I am also struggling with “homeschool burnout” (and guilt for feeling burned out!). So much of my current identity is focused on being a homeschooling mother and less so on just being a wife, mommy or even a

pages from Sparkles notebook

woman. We are also about ten months into my daughter’s official diagnosis with an autoimmune disease called Ulcerate Colitis. Her illness has changed everything from eating to education.

I chose to combine three guides from Beautiful Feet Books to cover American History for ages five through thirteen. We are studying early American history. Littlest is going through Primary Early American History on his own. My older crew did this study a few years ago and I am delighted to read these books again with him. My two middles are working through the Early American Intermediate (we only needed the upgrade pack because I already owned Primary) set and my

Boots and the doomed lesson planner

oldest the Early American and World Junior High set. I carefully and thoughtfully wrote out a lovely lesson plan for the year. My whole crew would mostly cover the same subjects together listening along to some of each other’s read aloud selections. My lesson plan was brilliant. So, naturally, reality changed everything. By October my lovely lesson planner was in the garbage.

Throwing away my planner sounds dramatic and at the time I felt like a failure. Now that I am reflecting on the year, this was the moment when I let go of my needs as an educator and looked to the needs of the educated for guidance. Sometimes moments in life seem like a defeat but turn out to be great victories. Several curricula were dropped…when I say several I mean most. Only two curricula survived the great cut and one of them was Beautiful Feet Books.

watching American Ride together

Our history schedule is determined by Oldest’s guide. Of the three history guides currently in use Early American and World is my favorite. At the end of each section the guide has several movie and literature selections. From these pages I assigned books for Oldest’s literature studies and added others to our group read aloud time. One of the recommended books was Les Miserables. I felt the book was too large to read during the school year so Oldest and I spent the summer session reading the book aloud to one another. We celebrated the feat by watching the Hugh Jackman version of the movie and learned the proper French pronunciation of many names and places. I’m not sure that my Kentucky dialect of English can ever really accommodate French. Our summer session also included studies of

Middle Boy’s notebook…it is sooo messy.

the Americas before Christopher Columbus’s arrival and Kentucky’s Native American history. Though I will not discuss in this post our state history studies, I have woven it chronologically into out history studies this year and will continue to do so next year.

Using Early American and World as my inspiration I divided our history study in this manner with the number of planned weeks for each section given:

Section One: The World of Columbus and Sons (4 weeks)

In the intermediate guide section one includes the history spine (A Child’s First Book of                American History) and the first three books.

Section Two:  The World of Captain John Smith (5 weeks)

Intermediate section two uses the history spine and the two pilgrim books.

Section Three: George Washington’s World and Revolution Era (Poor Richard, Johnny Tremain, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch and The Great Little Madison). (17 weeks)


Intermediate section uses the history spine and all of the books from Benjamin Franklin to A More Perfect Union.

Section Four: Abraham Lincoln’s World (3 weeks)

Intermediate section includes the history spine and the final three books.

We are skipping in both guides the sections covering westward expansion because we will use Beautiful Feet Books History of Western Expansion guide once we complete these two guides. The junior high level book is already included with the western expansion guide and I’ll just add the Sacagawea book in the appropriate spot.

Two more resources we used throughout the study are Drive Thru History videos on American history and American Ride episodes. For section three I added Drive Thru History Foundations of Character kit.

learning to write

Oldest and I split the reading for his guide. He reads all of the Genevieve Foster books on his own and I read the four novels. Most of the questions we discuss orally. The guide does have answers in the back to most of the questions. It also gives several essay selections and I just pick a few for him to answer. I generally select one essay per section for him to type out and write in the expository style. These essays usually go through several drafts and we dig into the writing process. The one exception to this was the first section using Foster’s The World of Christopher Columbus and Sons. Oldest had just completed the Intermediate Medieval study which included the same book. We went over the

Sparkles working on her report

discussion questions and essay topics orally and I just had him read the sections he could not answer.

For the intermediate guide I am reading all of the books aloud. Oldest decides on his own the books he wants to listen to from their guide. For my middle two the essays for the course are mostly written narrations. All of the questions are discussed together during our read aloud time. This year they have been gradually shifting from narrations to the expository essay format (opening paragraph, hook, topic sentence, body paragraphs, outlines and such). Only on their last essay for the course will they go through the entire writing process and type the final version on the computer.

Littlest was just learning to form proper letters at the beginning of the year and began his reading lessons. I quickly learned that his schooling needed to be just the two of us and early in the morning. The Primary guide is designed to take about two years. We spent nearly two months reading Leif the Lucky. I used a hi-lighter to write the assigned copywork and he would trace over with a pencil (or crayon, marker, oil pastel or another hi-lighter…whatever kept him engaged). Littlest does not like to color so we ended up skipping most of the coloring pages and just focused on oral discussion and character lessons. By the time we finished his first book the older kids were already studying Jamestown and the Pilgrims. He did not want to read about Columbus so we skipped it and moved onto Pocahontas. I figure we can read Columbus in October. As Littlest moved through the study he began writing the copywork on his own and occasionally coloring a picture. By the time we read about Jamestown he managed to write two proper sentences on his own into his history composition book (Yay!!!).

Group read alouds for not used in the guides:  The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow by A. French, Usborne Illustrated Norse Myths, D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, Luther by F. Nohl, The Adventures of Marco Polo by R. Freedman, The Second Mrs. Giaconda by E.L. Konigsburg, I, Juan de Pareja by E. de Trevino, Eating the Plates by L. Penner, Cromwell’s Boy by E. Haugaard, John Wesley by M. McNeer and L. Ward, William Wilberforce by J. and G. Benge.

Books we gave up on (we just could not turn another page): The Black Arrow by R. Stevenson, The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty, The Life of Washington by J. Pollard (this is the only book we dropped from the guides—sorry Josh and Rea!), The Last of the Mohicans by J. F. Cooper.

Documentaries: Conquest of America from the History Channel, The Quest for Gold by National Geographic, and In the Footsteps of Marco Polo. This documentary was our favorite and enjoyed by the entire family. I hope to get the book one day to read on my own. History Channel Instant Expert The Mayflower, The Pilgrims from PBS, Pocahontas Revealed, Monumental from Kirk Cameron, Constitution USA with Peter Sagal, A Tale of Two Cities (movie and Zeezok guide), Slave Ship Mutiny, Liberty Heroes of the American Revolution, America’s First D-day: Washington’s Crossing, Amazing Grace (movie and Zeezok guide).

Non-traditional resources: My oldest loves games. Some of the Assassin’s Creed games covered the historical periods we studied this year. We felt that he was mature enough to handle the content in these games but he was not allowed to play them around his siblings. AC: Unity covered the French Revolution and Paris. While playing this game he read The French Revolution by Phyllis Corzine. AC: Black Flag covers roughly 1715 to about 1725. He learned a great deal of history covering ships, naval battles, pirates, privateers, and early democratic sentiments against imperialism. His book covering this game was The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard. He could not stop talking about this book so I have added it to my reading pile. The last game was Assassin’s Creed III which covered the American Revolution. I did not assign him a separate book for this game since we are reading several books covering this time period. One of his assignments from the Johnny Tremain book was to draw a map of Johnny’s paper route. Instead of drawing the route he was able to show it to me on his game.

Currently, Oldest has two and a half weeks left to get through section three and another two and a half weeks of work to finish the guide. Other than Littlest (he is currently reading Pilgrim Stories) everyone will wrap up with the beginning of the Civil War. After our two-week break in July Oldest will begin his final paper (MLA style) for the course and he’ll most likely finish it up during the first ten weeks of our next school year. The guide suggested a report on Abraham Lincoln but he chose Robert E Lee instead.

Combining these guides and getting everything done in the school year proved impossible for us. Due to our Sparkles’ autoimmune disease we could not read our history books together daily. Some days she was so ill she could not ever leave her bed. A lesson plan is impossible to keep with a chronic illness. Her disease changed everything from eating to education. We simply did what we could each day. In late January I took on a part-time job. Personally, I am suffering through burnout (and even feel guilty for it!!). I was physically, emotionally and spiritually unprepared for the challenges my family endured this year. So much of my current identity is focused on being a homeschooling mother and less so on just being a wife, mommy or even a woman. As we begin to (finally) wrap up this school year I am considering taking a longer break than usual. I want to do fun things with my kids and husband.

I do not want to end on a sad note. The year was hard but full of growth. Our favorite homeschooling moments are when we all sit together and read from these books. Those moments of togetherness are precious to me. As the years pass they each become a little more independent. They are supposed to develop their own interests and become their own person. I am looking forward to our next two studies with Beautiful Feet Books (Western Expansion and Modern American & World) because we will all gather together around amazing books.