Now I could have found each of my kiddos an American history curriculum on their respective grade level, but they probably would have been using different books from different companies covering different material and I could not bear the thought of one child potentially studying Columbus while another was on the Pilgrims and another on the American Revolution!
Besides the fact that potentially teaching each of my kids their history separately was nightmarish, American history is something I love so much I want to share it with all of my children at the same time. Together.
I read about and thumbed through some American history curricula that could be used with various ages at their individual levels, much like the Apologia science we use, but I never found anything that suited me perfectly. I was probably being too particular, but only because I was toying with the idea of stepping out on my own in history anyway!
So, after much debate, I decided we’d tackle American history in a long series of individual unit studies.
A unit study is just an in-depth, multi-faceted study of something. For most of us who suffered through public school, history was usually little more than reading in a textbook, answering questions, and memorizing names and dates for a test. Unit studies provide the opportunity to take the study so much deeper!
For example, we started off our year with a study of Christopher Columbus. We could have taken the traditional approach and read a couple of pages in a textbook, answered questions about it or done a worksheet, and been done with it! But I really don’t know how much my children would have actually learned from that.
Doing a unit study on Christopher Columbus opened up a whole new world of opportunity when it came to learning about this period in American, (and world,) history. You can read all about it in Making History (And Doing it My Way), but I’ll give you a quick overview. We started out with a trip to the local library where we loaded up on books about Christopher Columbus, his ships, and his voyages. We read all or parts of these books aloud together. We did some pretty in-depth study of American and European geography, just to help set the stage for all the events surrounding Mr. Columbus’ life and accomplishments. My children learned about Columbus through Adventures in Odyssey, Drive Thru History, and a field trip to see full-size replicas of the Nina and Pinta. (Check out The Nina, The Pinta, and the Teachable Moment.) They also petitioned the Spanish king and queen for money and supplies and cooked and taste-tested a traditional Spanish meal in the 15th century.
We also logged Columbus’ birth and his discovery into our Book of Centuries, which is a great way to help kids grasp a timeline of historical events. But our Book of Centuries is something I want to talk about another time…
So basically I’m taking this approach with each event I choose from American history and with particularly interesting individuals in history as well. And we’re doing it at our own pace! There’s no need to rush to finish American history in one year. In fact, as a proud American, I almost think it’s a travesty to do so! With unit studies, we can take as long as we like to cover the material I think is important. If I want to spend weeks on Jamestown, I can. (And I did!) If I want to cover it in a couple days’ time, I can do that, too. It’s all up to my own preferences and the interest of my children. If they seem particularly interested in a certain topic, we can linger there longer. If it seems to interest them very little, we can touch on it lightly and move on.
I had read about unit studies, but I actually learned a lot about them at a homeschool convention when I sat in a workshop with Amanda Bennett, who organizes and sells unit studies. Learn about her and find her products here: http://www.unitstudy.com. Her history unit studies are limited, but she gave some very helpful suggestions for creating a unit study on your own.
And just so you know, I have no qualms whatsoever about capitalizing on the brilliant ideas and hard work of others! Pinterest is a great place to look, but if that turns up nothing for you, a simple Google search can bring up a wealth of free unit study ideas. For our Jamestown study I found a recipe for gruel, (and, boy, was that delish! 😉 ) and for instructions on making tin lanterns. You can find scores of ideas on almost any event or interesting person in American history. Or any subject, for that matter! So by all means, take advantage of other people’s creativity!
I have loved this casual, but in-depth approach to one of my favorite subjects and have not regretted taking such a route for American history. Granted, it requires a little more work and preparation on my part than pulling out a textbook and a worksheet, but I have no doubt the information is being driven home in a way a more traditional approach could never do.
And if it helps my children love American history the way I do, then I couldn’t be a happier mom!