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Learning American History Through Literature: An Open-and-Go Charlotte Mason History Progam

Reading a living book

In the past fifteen years of homeschooling, I've used three different phonics/grammar programs and two different spelling programs. I've started a math curriculum, switched to something else for a few years, and then switched back again. I've thrown together a hodge-podge assortment of various books, kits, and even textbooks to create an a la carte science experience. I've cobbled together many different resources for both art and Bible.

 

(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)

It's not that I'm uncommitted or easily distracted by the new and shiny. It's not that I'm discontent or even displeased. No, I'm not any of these. 

I'm just eclectic. 

I recognize that not every method is right for every child or even for every subject. Instead, I find value in certain aspects of each method and combine them to create a tailor-made education. I pick the best and leave the rest.

At least, that's what I've done with every subject except for one. 

I've used the same history curriculum since the very beginning. 

Until this year. 

Learning American History Through Literature: An Open-and-Go Charlotte Mason History Progam

To be clear, I didn't switch because I was dissatisfied in any way. I wouldn't have used our previous program for so long if I thought it was lacking. Similarly, I did not switch because I'm a detractor who suddenly grew an aversion for living books. On the contrary, I think that you'll find that my love for literature has only increased over time. 

I switched because I had some very specific needs and goals for curricula this year and found a resource that checked each and every one of my boxes: Learning American History Through Literature by Common Sense Press.

(Use coupon code unlikelyhomeschool at checkout to get 15% off your entire purchase from Common Sense Press, the makers of LAHTL.)

We had been using the language arts program of this Charlotte-Mason-inspired curriculum for years and have always found it to be a gentle, yet thorough approach to learning the grammar and mechanics of writing. So, when I learned that Common Sense Press was launching a brand new American History program, I felt sure we would love it. 

And we do!

Planning LAHTL

To better understand why LAHTL was the perfect history choice for us, you first need to know what I was looking for in a history curriculum. 

I needed a history curriculum that...


Moved at a steady pace

As I mentioned, I absolutely loved our previous program. But because it was so thorough, it often dove too deeply into historical minutia. Reading a book about Davy Crocket and his defense of the Alamo is probably appropriate. Reading a book about his third cousin once removed might be a bit of an overkill. (I'm only mildly exaggerating.) It's no wonder that we were going on our third year of middle-school/high-school level American history and we hadn't even made it past westward expansion yet. I needed a program that could get us to the present age while not skimping on details.

basket of American history books

Maintained a living book approach

Most year-long history programs take a traditional textbook approach to learning. They package entire eras of history into chapter headings, bulleted lists, and bold print terms, completely disregarding the rich narratives of the past. While I wanted to be able to complete our look at American history by the school year's end, I wanted to continue to teach it through real books--ones that extended the stories beyond the casual attention of names and dates. I needed a program that provided a curated list of quality books in chronological order.

corn meal mush

Didn't require me to invent any wheels

Nothing will compel a child to want to learn quite like enchantment. When all of their senses are fully engaged, when they can put their head knowledge into practice, when they can see the facts in action they will remember. You have no need to poke or prod when you've enchanted them. You've lit a torch that has the potential to grow into a raging inferno. Content-rich subjects like history naturally lend themselves to this kind of delightful learning. There is no end to the number of projects you can do, meals you can make, games you can play, videos you can watch, and living museums you can visit when studying history. 

I have been planning history units for years. I can practically put them together in my sleep. But, I knew going into this year that I'd be launching my second book Holy Hygge: Creating a Place for People to Gather and the Gospel to Grow while also beginning to write my third book. I knew my time and attention would be limited. I didn't want my preoccupation to hamper our historical delight. I needed a program that included lots of unit-study-type ideas built right in so that I didn't have to expel any extra energy in the planning process.

playing Blind Man's Bluff

Could accommodate a wide variety of ages

I currently teach history to three kids. The oldest of the three is in 9th grade. The youngest is in 5th. That's certainly not the widest age span I've ever had, but wide enough to warrant a curriculum that would be applicable to an elementary-aged kid and challenging enough for a high schooler--one that includes suggestions for all.

history book list

Enter Learning American History Through Literature

Like our previous program, it is a one-book wonder. I only had to acquire a teacher's guide, making it significantly more cost-effective than other programs that include student texts, workbooks, test booklets, etc. 

The guide is divided into the following units:
  • Colonial Period
  • Revolutionary War Period
  • Westward Expansion
  • Civil War Period
  • Industrial Age
  • World War Years
  • Postwar Years
history activity list

Each Unit Includes the following:


The Prologue- a short summary you can read aloud to set the stage for the entire unit

The Setting- a short list of books that give a general, broad brushstroke look at that particular period of American history

The Language- a list of applicable vocabulary words (At the beginning of the unit, I read the words and definitions out loud. At the end of the unit, I read the words and asked my boys to summarize their meanings from memory.)

The Plot- a few paragraphs of information that you as the parent should know before presenting the time period to your kids

Busy Hands- a list of activity books that correspond with the unit

Books- an annotated list of picture books and chapter books that are organized by grade level

Dialogue- a list of basic comprehension questions (I saved these for the end of the unit to review what we had learned.)

Reading Between the Lines- a suggested list of activities to do and crafts to make during the unit

Games- the rules for playing historically accurate games

Recipes- recipes for simplified versions of historically accurate cuisine and fun food facts about the time period

The Epilogue- suggestions for additional people to research and ways to tweak the lesson for different age groups

Timeline- a basic timeline snapshot of the entire time period, highlighting the major events (We added each of these to our Book of Time that we've been creating for the past 15 years.)

timeline for homeschool history

Things to know before purchasing


Like all living book programs, LAHTL is a loose guide, not a rigid lesson plan. It's a list of possibilities. A feast. That means you will have to schedule the pacing of each unit. You'll have to determine when you read each book, how many of the activities you'll do, and when you'll move on to the next unit. 

Because the program splits American history into major time periods, emphasizing the most noteworthy events, it does not contain much transitional information. It will be up to you to fill in some of the gaps by showing how the Revolutionary War rolled into Westward Expansion and how Westward Expansion overlapped the Civil War and so on. Again, this is quite typical of most Charlotte Mason-inspired curricula.

While the program can be tweaked to be appropriate for middle school and even high school, it's definitely geared toward elementary-aged kids. 

American History Curriculum

How I tweaked the program to meet our needs 


Just as I've done for the past couple of years with our previous history curriculum, I paired LAHTL with the Children's Encyclopedia of American History, a "spine" book to help connect the dots from one unit to another. 

To ensure we would get all the way through to modern American history by the end of the year, I divided the number of weeks in our school year (36) by the number of units we needed to get through (only 5 because we studied both Colonial America and Revolutionary War history last year) for a rough total of 7. This past summer when I planned our entire school year, I carved out 7 weeks for each history unit. 

As I mentioned, I'm only doing American history with my three youngest this year. But two out of the three of them are no longer in elementary school. That means that they...
  • don't really want to play any of the historically accurate recess-type games listed in the guide
  • don't want to make many crafts
  • need deeper content
But that's the beauty of a guide--you don't have to be bossed around by someone else's prescription! It is open-ended enough to fit any personal preferences. With that in mind, I...
  • skipped most of the games and crafts
  • made more of the recipes (Food is an automatic homeschool win when you are teaching teenage boys!)
  • watched more of the suggested movies
  • used the helpful list of key names at the end of the unit to assign my older boys some independent reading. They each had to choose one person on the list they'd like to learn more about, read a biography about that individual, and give a report or presentation to the rest of us at the end of the unit, summarizing all they learned.
As I came upon other resources at the public library or within our own home library, I added them to the LAHTL basket I created for the unit. 

Because we are a notebooking family, my boys did some basic notebooking and/or lapbooking through the unit. 

historical recipes

Final thoughts


Last summer when planning for the upcoming school year, I knew I needed to make some changes to our history plan. Setting our much-loved history curriculum aside was difficult. But I've not regretted my decision to try Learning American History Through Literature by Common Sense Press for even a second. It has been the perfect program for this season of our homeschool. (Use coupon code unlikelyhomeschool at checkout to get 15% off your entire purchase from Common Sense Press, the makers of LAHTL.)

Nothing will make the dusty and antiquated facts of history come alive for a child quite like living books, hands-on activities, and cultural immersion. LAHTL provides wonderful suggestions to help you incorporate all three in your homeschool! 

Learnign American History Through Literature Guide

5 comments:

  1. I’m using this program for the first time this year. I enjoy the flexibility, but also struggle with the open-ended nature of the curriculum. Did you plan out daily lessons? Or weekly? Any advice on this would be appreciated!

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    Replies
    1. I put together a rough sketch plan every 7 weeks (for each unit). I order all the books at once from the library, put them in order according to content, and then grab the top one from the pile each day.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this! I also use TruthQuest and we love it. But I do find myself getting caught up in the minors, for sure. I ordered this one (with your code) when I saw your post and it looks like just what I need to help me with pacing! Do you still plan to use TruthQuest?

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    Replies
    1. Next year, I plan to switch back but only because this is only an American History program. I'll start again with ancient history next year and cycle all the way through again in the next few years.

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  3. I ordered this one with your code I am so nervous when it comes to history. TruthQuest was my first option but I felt weary with our stage of life. I am so excited to try it

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