When the last book had been handed out, she stood before the class and surprised us all by saying, “Okay, now that I’ve issued all the books like I’m supposed to do, you can put them in your locker and I don’t want to see them again for the rest of the year.”
She wasn’t the only teacher in my public school experience to do away with the textbook, though she might have been more insolent about it than any of the others. Regardless, she and the handful of other teachers I had who took their perspective subjects their own way rather than tie themselves to the guidelines of a dry textbook were without question some of the finest teachers I ever had. (I did, after all, have some very good teachers in my years in the public school system. Of course, I had some really rotten ones, too, but that’s beside the point…)
Maybe it was my U.S. History teacher who unwittingly convinced me to create my own history curriculum for my children. But whatever it was that finally persuaded me to give it try, it’s been one of my best decisions I’ve made in our homeschooling.
Textbooks are boring to begin with. Really, really boring. And in their effort to prevent your average textbook from being 2600 pages long and weighing 35 pounds, the writers have to do a lot of picking and choosing. Sometimes very important events are lost or neglected in the process and you’re left with the most bare-bones coverage or no coverage at all to make room for everything else. I read of one parent’s complaint that her daughter’s history textbook devoted a whole two pages to the Civil War. That’s disgraceful and, in my opinion, completely unacceptable.
But don’t be fooled into thinking a textbook from a homeschool curriculum publisher is necessarily better than your average public school one! I’ve seen some pretty dull homeschooling textbooks, which is definitely one reason I decided to strike out on my own.
Being a bit of a control freak contributed a lot to the decision as well! But I love history, particularly U.S. History, so standing by while somebody else choses what events to cover and how to cover them was almost more than I could stand! So choosing to go the chronological route, (skipping the rest of the world for this year at least…world history isn’t going anywhere, after all,) and deciding to start with Christopher Columbus, I set out to teach U.S. History by breaking the events I choose into individual unit studies.
I love being able to take learning beyond memorizing names and dates and help my children understand and, to a certain extent perhaps, experience history in ways that will drive it home to them like reading a textbook and answering questions never could.
I checked out several books about Christopher Columbus and the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, but our study didn’t stop with reading a few books, though multiple books written by multiple authors certainly gave us more information than we’d ever get from your average textbook. We also learned from Dave Stotts via Drive Thru History and even Mr. Whittaker and the Imagination Station on Adventures in Odyssey! I told you already about our visit to the replicas of the Nina and Pinta.
That trip alone was a phenomenal history lesson! My kids have also studied the geography of Columbus’ journey across the Atlantic in some depth and they also had to petition King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for the money and supplies needed for a trip to “the West Indies.” We also added information to our Book of Centuries, which is a wonderful tool for logging historical events. But I can talk about some other time…
This book from the local library has been my personal favorite…
“If You Were There in 1492,” by Barbara Brenner, offers a lot of information not only about Christopher Columbus, but about his times as well. It’s been a very valuable resource. I think understanding the culture surrounding a historical event goes a long way toward helping a child understand, (and remember!) the event much better. My kids were especially fascinated to learn about the food and fashions of the day, like the fact that mismatched stockings were very popular then, much like mismatched socks are for my girls right now. Of course, in Columbus’ day, it was the men wearing the mismatched stockings! My 6-year old got a real kick out of that one.
And I can’t forget the meal we cooked together, one much like a Spanish family, (an upper-middle-class Spanish family, believe it or not,) would have enjoyed in 1492. It consisted of nothing more than cabbage, leeks, and lots and lots of garlic cooked in olive oil and served with fresh bread.
It wasn’t bad. At least I didn’t think so. Can’t say the kids were ready to add it to our monthly menu, however…
We’ve spent a lot of time on Columbus, but I love the freedom to do such an in-depth study. There’s a little more work and preparation necessary on my part, but it’s been worth it! I’d much rather cover fewer topics and cover them well than barely scratch the surface of 236 years of American history and then try to convince myself my kids have learned the story of this amazing nation.
We’re making history here in our homeschool! And so far, I’m loving it!