Literature Based Education – World History Anchors

History is one of the easiest subjects to teach using literature… but writing an article on a literature based education in history is another story all together!  There is just SO much material that it would be impossible for me to tell you about all of them.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try :)

Now I must confess, that while history can absolutely be taught without a syllabus or schedule, personally I like to have one.  I have said many times that history textbooks are nothing more than glorified timelines, but I have found that I like having a glorified timeline to keep me organized :)  So over the next few days I plan on telling you about the wonderful pieces of literature that I have found to help us be amateur historians as well as the glorified timelines that help us put it all in order.

There are a lot of different ways you can tackle history.  Some people like to start with their country’s history (in our case American History), the Classical Model suggests a four year rotation starting with Ancient History.  Some people like to tackle history one subject at a time and go in whatever order that strikes their fancy.  Personally I like to do a bit of all of the above :)  Today I’m going to tell you about my history anchors.

“Spine” is the term that most people use as to describe their history curriculum.  The part of the subject that everything is connected to and that everything branches out from.  Personally, I prefer the term “anchor”.  It is what keeps me tied down when I fly off into the vast expanse of knowledge.  I’m not limited by time, space, or even subject.  A lesson on the Gold Rush quickly turns into one on economics.  A lesson on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia turns into a lesson on the weather.  Our discussion about the pioneers morphs into a lesson on physics and wheel axels.  When we finish one rabbit trail we look to our anchor to point us to our next jumping off point.  We aren’t limited to the subject of history as the spine would be limited to affecting the workings of the body.  So for me, anchor is a FAR more appropriate term than spine.

The first history books I bought when we started homeschooling was Story of the World.  Year after year, purge after purge, Story of the World (all four volumes) has survived and I haven’t regretted it once.  While not always scripturally accurate, Susan Wise Bauer clearly loves history and has made it her mission to share that love with children.  Story of the World starts with nomads and continues chronologically up through the end of the first Persian Gulf War.  The assumption is that you are starting with a child of five or six with Ancient Times and will cover one book a year so that by the time you are in The Modern Age your child will be eight or nine years old.  The complexity and comprehension level of these books follow that assumption.

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That being said, I have had zero problems using all four volumes for all five of my children, no matter their ages :)  The stories are just what my children are drawn to and help history come alive for them.  I have not found the activity or test booklets to be necessary.  I purchased the activity books for volumes one and two, but ended up selling them because they collected dust… but then again, I’m not much of an “activities” kind of mom.  So if you love that kind of thing, they ARE packed with activities and adaptations (including coloring pages, timeline info, narration exercises, map work, review questions, crafts, additional reading and literature suggestions that correspond with the time period).

As my children grew (along with my love of history) I found myself wanting more than what Story of the World had to offer, so I began looking for history resources that went into a little more depth.  I had a few things that I wanted it to include:

  • Literature Based.  I wanted my children to learn from stories and when possible, the original sources.
  • Followed the Classical Model.  I like jumping from era to era in my own studies, but I also wanted the benefit of being able to see the patterns of history and how our actions affect future events.
  • Unscripted.  I don’t like being tied down to a script.
  • Easily adaptable.  I want to be able to take tangents and spend more than a week on something I feel is important.
  • Multi-subject.  I really hate how the traditional school system has segregated the subjects.  There is only one subject and that is Truth.  Truth in math easily corresponds with truth in art, or science, or language.  I didn’t expect anything I could find would be able to to connect ALL of the subjects together, but some at least.
  • Activities.  I DO like activities… I just didn’t want them to be so numerous that I was overwhelmed and felt like I was cheating my kids if I didn’t do ALL of them… and I didn’t want them to revolve around salt dough and glitter.
  • K-12.  I realized this would be a long shot, but if I only had to buy it once… that would be awesome.

Now there are SO many Classical history curricula to choose from.  SO many!  I bought and sold several different world history text books and after three years of dedicated search I finally decided on Tapestry of Grace.

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Tapestry of Grace is not a textbook.  It is:

…a plan of study that helps parents provide a Christian, classical education using a guided unit study approach, with the history of the world as the core organizational theme. From Grades K–12, all students cycle through world history every four years, with all ages studying the same slice of history each week, each at their own learning level. Detailed lesson plans and discussion outlines enable parents to be their children’s primary teachers and mentors…

Is it perfect?  No.  Not by a long shot.  But after having narrowed down several different programs I just went with my gut.

What I love about Tapestry of Grace:

  • It follows the Classical Model.  Along with the four year cycle the Classical Model also caters the work load to the “phase” of your child rather than their “grade”.  This helps me cater to my kids without the fear of them being “behind”.  Grades are such a drag!  TOG specifically uses four phases: Lower Grammar, Upper Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.  I like to further adapt the levels to the TJED Phase of Learning.
  • Biblically Based.  Far too many secular curricula completely ignore the biblical timeline and the impact that Judaism and Christianity played in the progress of world history.  They will touch on Judaism and Christianity in the historical sense, but in an attempt to keep it “free from religion” they leave a far too much out.
  • K-12.  I only have to buy it once!  You can also buy the digital or print copy with a licenses to print copies for your immediate family use, so no need to buy separate workbooks for each child.
  • Literature Based.  There are a few central books (books that cover multiple eras and are used throughout the year) but there are also countless literature suggestions based on your child’s level and the time period you are studying.  Classics, not textbooks.  YAY!
  • Multi-Subject.  TOG covers the following subjects using history as it’s jumping of point: History (obviously), Literature, Language Arts (comprehension, analysis, vocabulary, etc.), Geography, Art, Writing, Government, Philosophy, and Church History.  Do I do them all?  NO!  TOG is set up in a way that it is easy for me to pick and choose which subjects we will cover with TOG on a weekly basis.  Personally I have separate writing programs that I love so we use that.  I also don’t do the church history (which I will get into later).  Depending on the subject and level we are working on that week I may or may not use the government and philosophy.  Sometimes I don’t like the literature selections or plan on using it later on for something else.  The beauty is that the way TOG is set up makes it easy for me to incorporate (or not) whatever subjects I want without the other subjects suffering.
  • Activities.  It’s like Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear.  SOW had too many, some of the others that I looked into had to few, TOG is just right :)
  • Unscripted.  I am teaching my children, not Suzy Author.  I am free to use the extra reading suggested or not and can easily follow whatever rabbit trails the literature takes us.  While the curriculum is set up to follow a weekly schedule I have found that we are in no way negatively impacted when I want to spend two weeks on King Henry VIII and go into more depth than if I only spent one.
  • Written with busy moms in mind.  There IS some prep work.  I’m not gonna lie.  But I was easily able to plan and print three “weeks” worth of lessons in just an hour or so one afternoon (though I probably didn’t have to take that long, I just really dig that sort of thing.  I LOVE planning!  Following though is a different animal entirely :)
  • Written with busy moms in mind part 2.  Every week there is a section for you, the mom/teacher to read so that YOU are familiar with what is going to be taught without having do read all of the source material yourself.  Obviously it’s BEST if you can read the same things your kids are going to be reading… but seriously, how many of us have time for that?  This cliff notes version of what we are studying helps me get the gist of why the Prince Charles’s title Prince of Wales, what sort of corruption went on under President Grant’s watch, and how the timing of Marx and Darwin impacted social change in Europe.  If I want to go into more depth, I can check a book out from the library :)

What I don’t love about Tapestry of Grace.

  • Anti-Mormon.  There is no way around this.  It is written by mainstream Christians who have a somewhat warped view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and what we believe.  From what I understand there is also some anti-Catholic sentiment though I don’t know where that would be (I was focusing on the anti-mormon stuff, but I’m sure there are a lot of Catholics that can point my Catholic readers in the right direction… you can also google it :)  I almost didn’t purchase this because of ONE anti-mormon book selection for Church History Rhetoric studies.  But then I realized I was just cutting off my nose to spite my face and according to other LDS users, it was extremely easy to omit or correct the false teachings of Tapestry of Grace (one or two weeks of yuck out of a four year cycle isn’t bad).
  • Biblical Based.  I know that I mentioned this in the under the stuff I love about it, but I also don’t love it.  I feel like there is a disproportionate amount of time studying the important leaders of the Reformation.  No doubt the Reformation was incredibly important, not just for Christianity in general but also for worldwide literacy, the rule of law, and the ushering in of the Renaissance.  Without a doubt William Tyndale is as important an historical figure as Johannes Gutenberg but I could have done without a lot of the “worship” of some of the reformers.  One of the reasons why I looked so far and wide for a good secular Classical world history program is because often the Christian based ones focus TOO much on biblical and church history and gloss over some of the other parts.  But in general I found the secular programs to gloss over far more of the christian/biblical/reformation than the biblical based programs glossed over other things.  So I decided to download the table of contents to one of the secular curriculums that I liked and if I ended up missing anything with TOG, I could easily add it in.

So that is why, even though it’s not perfect, I chose Tapestry of Grace to serve as my History anchor.  I’d also like to tell you about a few of the others that I researched.  If Tapestry of Grace isn’t right for you, hopefully I can still point you in the right direction :)

The Classical Historian

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I was SO pumped when I discovered this one!  The Classical Historian is a secular curriculum.  I love it because it uses a SIX year rotation instead of a four year cycle (which allows for American history in more depth).  It is also heavy on the socratic method, meaning there is a LOT of discussion with the students.  I love that!  History is extremely important in this family and we discuss history and it’s meaning all the time.  I also like that the Modern American History uses as it’s text the Patriot’s History of the United States.  This is a book I already have and have read some of.  I have found it to be the most balanced and unbiased American History book out there.  It doesn’t hide from the bad things our country has done, but also doesn’t deny the good things.

The Classical Historian is also very heavy on the writing.  So if you are looking for something that combines history and writing, this is the one for you.  As I mentioned before, we already had something that we liked for writing, so that particular aspect didn’t appeal to me.

The Classical Historian NOT literature based.  The text books are wonderful resources but if you are looking for something that combines history with literature this is not for you.

I ended up not going with The Classical Historian (because I didn’t need writing and wanted literature) but I DID decide to adapt Tapestry of Grace to a six year schedule and I also ordered the Teaching Socratic Discussion DVD curriculum (for me to learn how to be a better teacher/mentor) and some of the suggested texts separately to use as desired (World History Detective and Western Experience).

History Odyssey

The next program I want to tell you about is History Odyssey.  I am going to be perfectly blunt, the ONLY reason why TOG won out over History Odyssey is because you have to buy the separate levels separately (and the format is a little different at every level).  History Odyssey is a secular program.  It uses several of the same literature choices as TOG and gives you a four week trial to see if it will work for you before you commit.

In my opinion History Odyssey is a first rate program and while it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that TOG has, it is still extremely thorough.  If money is tight and/or you don’t care about having to buy separate levels, I highly recommend History Odyssey.

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Tapestry of Grace, The Classical Historian, and History Odyssey were my top three choices.  They are by no means the only resources out there.  A few other literature based history programs are:

My only complaint about the Classical Model of history study is it is too light on American History for my taste.  I appreciate the idea that American History should be taught in the context of greater world history but if you are trying to cram all world history into a four year cycle, a LOT has to be glossed over or skipped all together.  As an American and a Patriot I feel it’s important to know more than just the highlights of American History (this, in addition to the socratic approach, is the main reason why The Classical Historian appealed to me so much).

So that is my brief (ha ha) summary on World History curricula.  Next time… American History Anchors.

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Comments

  1. I loved reading this post because it gave me a peek at curricula I’ve never really seen. I had not even heard of The Classical Historian. I did consider TOG at one point but we usually just end up pulling together our own history plan each year. We did SCM for their Middle Ages unit. We’re fans of living books too. History needs STORY.

    • Agreed! I actually have SCM for the Ancient and Middle Ages, but wasn’t impressed with their offerings (if any) for the time periods we are currently studying (post Civil War). I didn’t want to have to jump around from one to another every year (with the exception of an American History program).

  2. I’m looking forward to learning more about your recommendations. We are really enjoying Story of the World this year and I try not to feel overwhelmed by all the arts and crafts! :)

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