Building Your Own Learning Plan, Part 2 (History & Lit)

Alright folks, here is the promised nitty-gritty for building your own “living book” learning plan for history and literature!  It’s not as hard as it sounds, believe me.  Remember what I said yesterday about not reinventing the wheel?  Well, here is where that advice comes in handy!

I discovered (while doing things according to someone else’s plan) that I don’t like dragging books out over extremely long periods of time.  I don’t want us to rush through our books, but I think sometimes reading a book over the course of a year (or more) can become tedious and actually cause a loss of interest.  This has been my experience, so I decided to take things into my own hands in terms of planning and scheduling.  Again, your experience may be different and you should never lose sight of the fact that you are free to choose how your family will do things!

Now, I want to reiterate that there is nothing wrong with purchasing a ready-made option.  However, if budget is an issue and you want to be a little more in charge of your kids’ education, you can still pull together a self-created CM plan.  There are three ways to go about this:

1. The “Type A,” very scheduled method.

2. The very relaxed, “go with the flow” method.

3. Something in between those two options.

The first step is to decide on a few important details:

  • Decide if you will cover the same period of history together as a family (at varying levels), or assign each child a different period.  I have personally done both and find it MUCH easier to move through history together as a family.  Your mileage may vary.  This is a big decision and families with many children really have to ponder this one.  If you have older (and independent) learners, it might not be a problem for you to juggle several different periods.
  • Determine where you want to start with history.  A lot of people like to start chronologically with ancient history and move forward (most likely cycling back at a later time).  Others start with their favorite period.  Maybe you want to use a typical scope and sequence to help you decide.  Most school districts offer a scope and sequence for each grade upon request.  It doesn’t really matter how you decide, just decide.

Now, if you are on the relaxed method (#2), you will simply find good living books and read them at your own pace until you are done, having the children narrate along the way.  You don’t really plan a schedule, you just read until finished and then move along to the next book.  This reminds me of my sweet, wonderful, beautiful friend Molly!  She always seems so very relaxed to me.  Her family is always reading amazing living books and enjoying life.  I admire her very much and I do strive to relax every now and then.

If you are a you are a “Type A” kind of person (#1, like me!) you might try something like this:

Decide on your historical period(s) and make a rough plan for the year.  I match up most of my literature to the historical periods we will be covering, so I need to have a history plan in place first.  This year, my family plans to cover ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and the medieval period (or most of it).  If I plan for approximately 36 weeks of school (the average school year), that means I will schedule roughly 9 weeks for Greece, 9 weeks for Rome, and 18 weeks for the medieval period.  It’s a very loose plan, but it’s enough to start.  Determine what you want to cover and how long you want to spend on it – everything else falls into place from there!  Remember, you are free to think outside the box, and you are the expert on your kids.

With a rough plan in place, I begin looking for books.  I keep in mind that learning about history from men & women who lived during that time period is preferable, according to Charlotte.  I like to have a spine for an overview of historical events and then I find interesting biographies to flesh it all out.  Most of you are probably familiar with the popular spine options.  Use the book lists and book finders available to you on one of the many, many CM friendly sites to search for good living books.  This is where you can use the wheel someone else already built! Search on amazon and don’t forget to look at the suggestions that pop up.  Use the book finder on SCM.  Look at what books are packaged together on websites that sell curriculum.  Don’t forget that there are many gems on Project Gutenberg or in used/antique/thrift stores.  I search for well-reviewed books and then try to find them at my local library.  Saving money and finding quality books is always my priority.  The same method applies to finding biographies.  Have older middle school & high school students read autobiographies & speeches whenever possible.

Once I have a history spine for each child (or group of children) and a couple of quality biographies, I begin planning how many chapters we can cover.  This is where I make adjustments to my plan.  I may have allotted 9 weeks, but realize to really dig in, we may need 12.  Or we might only need 6.  It really depends on the books and your flexibility.  How many days each week will your students cover history?

Some books have many, many chapters. You may not need to read them all. Refer to history encyclopedias or history timelines to make sure you cover major events.  As an example of my current plan, Cole is reading “The Story of the Greeks.”  There are 117 chapters in that book.  I don’t want to spend a year covering ancient Greece, so I pared it down (with the help of a timeline and by browsing through the book) to 45 essential chapters.  We can reasonably cover that in 8-10 weeks.  For biographies, he is reading a few of Plutarch’s lives each month.  That’s it! Two-four books will cover more than enough history.  My girls are using Story of the World, Volume 1.  I wrote down the chapters about ancient Greece and plotted how many we need to cover each week to last 8-10 weeks.

Don’t worry too much about gaps in learning.  No school or teacher can cover everything, and neither can you.  Trust me when I say that history textbooks only gloss over a timeline of events.  You will be immersing your children into a living history.  The difference is remarkable, not only in the quality of what you will learn, but how well it will be remembered.

When it comes to literature, I use amazon and other book lists (Beautiful Feet is a great option!) to find books that correspond with our history.  For ancient Greece and Rome, myths are an obvious choice.  We are also covering the Iliad (Greek) and will cover the Aeneid when we get to Rome.  I want to squeeze in the Odyssey, but I am not sure if we will have time!  I am using child-friendly versions, but older students should read the real works by Homer (Iliad and Odyssey), and Virgil for the Aeneid.   High school students might also want to read other works directly from the great minds of those times.  Plan out your literature in the same way you planned history.  How many days each week do you want to cover literature?  Will students read some of it on their free time?  Will you need to pare down, or give yourself more time?  Don’t forget to add in 2-3 Shakespeare plays for the year.  Once you start digging around, you will find more than you can possibly cover.  Make a few choices and go for it.

Some of you might think that matching literature to history sounds like a unit study approach, but it’s not, really.  Charlotte did have her teachers read literature from the period of history the students were learning.  It just helps to create a cohesive approach.  However, the teacher should never make the connections for the students!  They are very capable of sorting out the information on their own.

In addition to reading the history and literature of a set period of time, I also try to accomplish some hands-on activities and outings.  Cook a special meal, create something interesting, or plan a special field trip.  The point is to do things your way and enjoy the time you spend teaching your children.  This is where you need to remember (once again!) that “you are free.”  If your family wants to spend and entire year on a certain time period, do it!  Why not?  You absolutely can!  My family is technically spending about 13 weeks in Greece.  We love it!  You may feel that way about Egypt, or the history of the United States.  Go nuts!  There will always be plenty to learn and no one is setting your timetable but you.

Now, if you are someone who is somewhere between very relaxed and very structured (#3), you will probably just stick with the rough plan and then read books at your leisure.  You know what you want to cover for the year, but you might not care how many weeks or months it will take.  You have a goal in mind, but you don’t feel the need (like me) to schedule every week down to the chapter.  That’s ok, too!  Homeschooling is all about being flexible.  I just know that if *I* don’t have a solid plan, we don’t accomplish much.  LOL.

Tomorrow we will tackle living science, artists, composers, and poetry!


3 thoughts on “Building Your Own Learning Plan, Part 2 (History & Lit)

  1. Maryanne Caminas Nehls says:

    great post Becky! i am def, type A…if i dont have everything mapped out in front of me, i cannot relax…lol, i feel like i will mess up something if i dont have it on a schedule. Can’t wait for the next blog!

  2. Carol Ratliff says:

    I have recently just “stumbled” upon your blog and I am so thankful I did! Great insight and encouragement – thank you so much! I just started implementing CM this year, I had used “complete sets” prior to this year. We are using AO for the literature, history, science and all the “extras”. We are using BJU Math, English and Spelling. I fell in love with the CM theory when I first started HSing but never implemented it until now (and even know its not FULLY CM….one day….). Thanks again!

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