When my homeschool days are boxed up and beautifully archived in family scrapbooks and digital iMovies, I know there will be certain bits and pieces of these years that stand out more than others…moments that are permanently etched in my mind…memories of learning and laughing together that not only molded the minds of my kids but also shaped the content of their character and helped to forge our relationship.
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I know this because I can already look back on the brief nine years of homeschooling that we’ve shared and can pick out a few of these very moments. Not surprising, so many of them are woven with one common thread…one curriculum guide, to be exact. It is a book list, of sorts, that a homeschooling mentor casually mentioned to me and a few other mommas over coffee and brownies one day. She had no idea that I had tucked the name TruthQuest from Rainbowresource.com away in my mind and would revisit it over and over again for about a year before finally ordering a copy of TruthQuest’s American History for Young Students for my very own.
It’s been eight years since that conversation, and I can honestly say, if I had to choose one curriculum that has most shaped the way my children have learned to view the story of the world and God’s plan in it all, I would have to say it has been TruthQuest.
"I’ve read your 2015-2016 curriculum list and you aren’t currently using TruthQuest history guides. So it must not be too meaningful," you might be saying to yourself.
Well, yes. And no.
While I am currently putting together my own Medieval history unit, I began all of my plans by consulting TruthQuest. Why re-invent the wheel? It’s true, I don’t stick as closely to the guides as I did in those first few years, but I would credit that to the mentorship I gained through reading the guides.
But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Let me first unpack a few truths about using TruthQuest and in doing so, hopefully explain why I’ve begun to spread my own planning wings.
What is TruthQuest History?
Essentially, each guide is just a really well-developed book list. Michelle Miller, author of TruthQuest, has broken history down into eleven sections. Because she knows a thing or two about how to properly teach history to young kids, her arrangements are not necessarily chronological. (Which is great, in my opinion!) She, then, breaks each main historical section into dozens and dozens of sub-sections. Subsections are usually, but not always, divided by short paragraphs of information that help to link one event to the next and/or give a Biblical perspective to the historical account.
The bulk of each subsection is really nothing more than a lengthy bibliography of titles and authors that is broken down by age. Miller lists dozens of twaddle-free living literature books and organizes them by reading/comprehension ability. Titles include a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, activity/craft books, videos, and even audio compilations. The guides also include several optional “Think & Write” essay activities for older students which encourage them to write their responses to BIG issues of history.
In addition to the guides, there are also several companion notebooking and lapbooking resources available from Rainbowresource.com that could be used for a more Charlotte Mason approach to learning. (We are currently using the Middle Ages notebooking collection.)
The BEST of TruthQuest
Without a doubt, TruthQuest History Guides are the very best living literature resources I've ever come across! (It's not surprising that they are all featured in Cathy Duffy's 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculums.) The children and I have enjoyed hours and hours of reading the most lovely books together thanks to Miller's exhaustive lists. We've discovered so many superior titles that we never would have come across otherwise...older books that are no longer in print (like one of our current faves, Page Boy for King Arthur), contemporary works that I've never noticed on the library shelves before (like this oh-so-fascinating look at George Washington's Teeth, a book that really helped to fill in some of the gaps of Washington's military and presidential decisions), and a few books that I've added with others to to create this list of fantastic titles that we continue to enjoy each Thanksgiving. (In true SUPER NERD style, I think I talked about Washington's dental hygiene for days following our reading of THAT book...even at the dinner table. The Hubs was afraid I might need some kind of intervention.)
Through TruthQuest, we've discovered quality book series (like the Landmark Books, the Cornerstone of Freedom series, and the fantastic emergent readers series called Cowboy Dan) and exceptional authors whose entire collections continue to be educational gold mines for us (like David Adler, Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire, and Holling C. Holling.)
These guides have been like a literary mentor and have helped me navigate through the twaddle of most library shelves.
Some things to consider
TruthQuest History is definitely not for the faint of heart. But, like most things in life, something worthwhile often requires a bit of sacrifice. Before diving head-long into TruthQuest, here are some things you should know...
Books are not included.
When buying TruthQuest, you are buying a guide and nothing more. This is not your run-of-the-mill boxed curriculum. If you wish to purchase the books listed in each section of the guides, you have to shop for those separately.
You cannot possibly own all the titles.
Each guide contains the title and author of hundreds of different books. It would be impossible for most of us, homeschoolers, to ever buy all of them. There are a few "spine" type suggestions that continue to be referenced throughout each guide. I'd recommend buying these and using your local library for all the others.
Many of the titles are out of print and hard to find.
While there is a wide mix of contemporary titles, many of the books listed are older and harder to find. The average public library may not have even a small supply of all the books listed. I live in a state with an exceptional interlibrary loan system which allows me to use an online database to request books from ANY publicly-funded library within our state...that includes college libraries, public school libraries, and even mobile collections. If I did not have this online catalog at my disposal, I don't think I would be doable for my budget.
You probably won't be able to tackle every sub-section.
The TruthQuest guides are so exceptionally detailed that there are a lot of subsections listed that you just might have to pass over or skim. (While it's great to read a biography or two of Jesse Owens, famed African American track star who won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, 15 biographies might be overkill.) But, the silver lining to skimming is that YOU get to choose! You can gloss over some sections and dive deep into others. During our Civil War era unit five years ago, the children and I read so many books about the underground railroad Civil War quilt codes that we are still able to "decode" most of the quilts at the local quilt shop today. TruthQuest guides provide plenty of room to roam and meander through each historical era. It's delight-directed learning at its best!
A schedule is not included.
Again, all you are buying is a book guide. The curriculum does not come with a suggested schedule. So, it is up to you to determine how quickly or slowly you pace your learning.
How I USED TruthQuest
As I mentioned, I am not currently using TruthQuest exclusively. But, before I tell you how I use it now, let me first explain how I used to schedule it back when we were cycling through American history for Young Students.
There were (and still are) three different guides for American history, all of which included tons of book suggestions for K-12th grade students. (In theory, these guides could allow a wide range of learners to read about the exact same historical event at the same time but at their own level. I say "in theory" because when I went through the American history guides, I only had really young kids from second grade on down. So, I cannot vouch for its ability to reach multiple ages.) I determined that I wanted to get through American history in two years even though there were three guides (Exploration to 1800, 1800-1865, and 1865-2000). Ambitious, I know!
In order to create a doable schedule, I added up the total number of pages in each guide and divided that number by the total number of school days I expected to complete over two years. That gave me a rough scope-and-sequence for the 2-year plan. I can't quite remember exactly how many TruthQuest book list pages we needed to complete each day, but it was something like 2 1/2. Now that might seem like a lot considering the fact that each book list page contained dozens of book titles. But, there were many pages worth of books that didn't apply to my kids because the books listed on them were for older children. On the flip side, sometimes there were pages and pages of books specifically geared to the third grade and under crowd. In the end, we cruised through entire subsections and meandered through others. The 2 1/2 page estimate was just a helpful measuring stick to keep us moving forward.
Once a month, I took out my homeschool planner and wrote down the general section titles and page numbers I wished to tackle for the entire month. (For instance, on Monday the 5th the line for history in my planner might have read "Pioneers pp. 28-30a" and Tuesday the 6th it might have read "Pioneers pp. 30b-32") Although I had a basic outline of the whole year, I only wrote out my plans month-by-month so that they could be tweaked as needed.
(Here's where using TruthQuest takes a little ingenuity.) Since I was ordering the books through my state interlibrary loan system which usually took a couple of weeks to ship the books to my local library branch, I would have to order the books I needed several weeks in advance. Each week, I would look three weeks ahead in my planner to determine what page numbers we would be working through in the TruthQuest guide. I would use the guide to request a full week's worth of books through the online catalog. In two to three weeks, the books would arrive and be ready for when we got to those particular sections. In other words, I was ordering library books every week but only for books that I needed three weeks down the road.
Organizing the books
Once a week, I would pick up the books that arrived at my local library branch from all around the state. (We only live a few blocks from the library, so this was an easy "yes" for me or a "Honey, would you mind stopping in at the library on your way home from work?" kinda plan.) I would refer to the guide to organize the books in chronological order and stash them all along with our history timeline in a big crate.
Enjoying the books together
Each day during snack time (That's my preferred time to read lengthy portions of history and science literature. Little hands and mouths are occupied...'nough said!), I would pull one or two books from the basket and read them aloud.
Often, these readings would ignite our curiosity and we'd end up searching for a video on youtube or we'd get the notion to create an elaborate reproduction or historically accurate meal. (The craft/activity books listed in the guides provided lots of great hands-on ideas.) And more often than not, our history readings would be reenacted over and over again after school with Legos, costumes, and even Barbie dolls. (It was not unusual to catch my three-year-old recreating the Boston Tea Party incident with a toy boat during bath time. At that tender age, he wasn't necessarily a part of the school day, but he just couldn't resist listening to a good story.)
How I USE TruthQuestOnce we graduated from American History into Ancient History, it became obvious that I'd have to begin supplementing titles for my younger kids. There just weren't very many books listed in the guides for the third grade and under crowd. In truth, that is the big conundrum of almost all living literature style history curriculums. It's not their fault, really! Truthfully, there is just a great absence of quality ancient-themed literature for young children. (That's why I don't teach history in chronological order. But, I digress...)
The surprising revelation in all of this struggle was that although I still wanted to use TruthQuest for a general escort into each era, I no longer needed the guides to hold my hand. I had learned so much about choosing quality living literature and exceptional authors from my first few years with TruthQuest, that I could now compile my own book lists with ease.
Before the school year begins, I dedicate one Saturday morning for history planning. I gather the TruthQuest guide that coincides with the era of history we plan to study, any books I currently own or have purchased with that era in mind, and my computer. I consult the guide for general subsection break-ups and create a basic timeline of the era. Using just a simple spiral notebook, I begin to write down books in chronological order. I write down titles that look interesting from the guide, titles I own, and titles I find in my library's on-line catalog. By the end of the morning, I have a detailed list of books that I plan to read aloud to all of my kids and a shorter list of titles I intend to assign my daughter to read on her own.
While I no longer use the guides exclusively, they are invaluable to my planning. Like most folks, my history experience growing up was limited to a text-book style of learning. While I made straight As, I struggled to really permanently grasp even a basic time line in history. (Which proves the point that good test takers can make an A on an exam and still not have the foggiest clue about the material. But, that's for a different post altogether. Moving on...) The TruthQuest guides have given me a skeletal plan for ordering our year while still allowing for plenty of organic exploration.
Ordering and organizing the books
For the most part, I still order and organize my books in much the same way as when I was using TruthQuest exclusively. I have to be diligent to request the books from the library in advance so that they arrive when we need them. But, instead of referring to page numbers in a guide to tell me which and how many books to solicit, I usually just order the next five books on my list.
Enjoying the books together
Since my daughter began middle school last year, her history time has not only included our group history time, but also an additional independent history reading time each day. I have put together a short list of six-or-so chapter book titles that she must complete by the end of the year. She reads one chapter from her current book each school day. Once she completes that title, she immediately begins the next one. Admittedly, this usually means that she is ahead or behind the rest of us in chronological order, but she doesn't seem to mind. (In other words, it's not ideal, but it works.)
Lapbooking, Notebooking, and projects
The Lapbooking and Notebooking CDs from Rainbowresources.com have been great ready-made additions to our home-spun history units. We usually do a printable page or mini-book once a week and compile it into our history notebooks. In addition, I have purchased a few of the craft project titles suggested in the TruthQuest guides and use those and Pinterest to sprinkle in some hands-on learning to our days.
|Visiting a colonial reenactment and Tall Ships after reading about them together.|
A final word...
Every time I think of those first few years of our homeschooling, my mind immediately travels back to our times gathered around a great American history book and the hours we spent snuggled up reading together. With deepest sincerity, I can say that those have been our best homeschooling moments thus far. (I'm wiping away mommy mist from my eyes just sittin' here thinking about it. A tissue, please. Anybody?) I know those years would not have been nearly as memorable without the lovely mentor-guides I had in TruthQuest. Undoubtedly, it was (and is) a large time commitment to create such an exhaustive living literature study. But, the long-lasting memories have certainly outweighed the momentary cost.
For more information
To snag your own copies of these or other TruthQuest guides, be sure to visit Rainbowresouce.com or check them out on