Thursday, April 24, 2014

How We "Do" History...Part 2 (TruthQuest History Review)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of TruthQuest's American History for Young Students I in return for my unbiased review.

Earlier this week, I told you a little about my personal take on the study of history.  You can read more about that here.  (I got a little nervous when the one comment I got on the post came from my high school history and government teacher.  However, I'm glad to say she agreed with me!) 

Instead of reading a textbook, I'd rather go on a field trip.  Instead of writing a research paper, I'd rather get lost in learning about history through working on my family tree.   There are lots of interesting ways to "do" history.  Finding the right one for your child can make the difference between a love of history and just a general tolerance.
 
We started the year with a more traditional history curriculum, and while it was well written and succinct in summary, it just wasn't something that we were looking forward to.  My kids were just not excited about history.  And to be honest, neither was I.  I needed to figure out what was going on. 
 
One day, Brack told me he wanted to go back to Williamsburg, VA.  (We had stopped for two days on our way home from Washington, D.C., and the kids had loved it.)  Why were they so excited about that, but couldn't get happy about Egyptian hieroglyphics?  I think the difference was that we had been there.  We had walked in the steps of those who had lived there centuries ago.  It was real to my kids.  So how could I make all history real and relevant to my children?  We couldn't take a trip every time we studied a new person or place.  Or could we?

Before we go any further, I have to tell you that my approach to history is different than my approach to math.  Or Grammar.  In those areas, I want a very methodical approach.  Just the facts.  Learn them and give them back to me.  But in history, I want to expose my children to as much as I can.  Brack may be fascinated by the westward expansion in the early-1800's while Jewell is more interested in the European monarchy.  By surveying people and periods without getting bogged down in dates and places, my children can discover the history that they love.

I was recently given the opportunity to review TruthQuest history curriculum.  I chose American History for Young Students I since my kids seem (at the moment) to be more interested in American history than ancient civilizations.  We have been using the guide for several weeks now, and I want to share with you my thoughts on this curriculum.

First, I must say that I do not consider myself a Charlotte Mason educator.  Perhaps if we had started homeschooling when my children were younger...maybe if I had not been a junior high school teacher...or if my kids had not experienced traditional schooling...  However, I enjoy reading, so I like the idea of living books.  But I also like structure.  Enter TruthQuest history.

 
American History for Young Students I is more a reading list than a textbook.  But don't let that turn you off.  The author has carefully and thoughtfully outlined the people and events to be studied (beginning with Leif Erikson and ending around 1800 with the westward movement of the pioneers) and then collected an extensive suggested reading list to accompany each topic.  It is more a study of people than events, allowing history to unfold through their personal experiences.  While a number of books (primarily biographies) are suggested for each historical character, it is not the author's intention that each and every title be read.  The ability to choose titles that are a) available to you and b) interesting to your children, is what makes the curriculum appealing. 
 
The material is multi-leveled, so it offers great flexibility for families with several children.  Titles at varying levels of difficulty are suggested for each topic and the parent is left to choose what will work best for their family.  Jewell and Brack are three years apart grade wise, but only a little more than two years chronologically.  I have picked biographies that will appeal to both children so that we can do the readings together.  But families could also choose to have students read different books about the same people and then come together to share what they have learned.
 
In order for the program to be really successful, you must 1) have access to a good library, or better yet, a great librarian who can order titles for you.  My husband is a professor at Faulkner University.  Mrs. Lila Broadway has been an incredible resource to me this year ordering titles that I need.  I can go online to Faulkner's website and enter the book info, and she has it ready for pick up, usually in a matter of three or four days.  Some items she has been able to pull from the university's own collection while others have come from around the state and as far away as Wyoming.  I realize not everyone has access to a college library, but if you are not using your public library's interlibrary loan program, you are really missing out.  (Be sure to develop a good relationship with your local librarian.  It can make the difference in how diligent she is in finding your titles and how quickly she can get them for you!)  Plus, Lila says she has to do annual reports on interlibrary loans and that my family single-handedly makes her look good!  Glad to help, Lila!
 
2) You must be organized and plan ahead in order to have the books when you need them.  I sat down with the TruthQuest guide one evening after the kids were in bed and took the suggested titles and looked them up on line to see which ones I thought we would like.  I tend to lean toward older books.  The language is more interesting, the pictures are more beautiful, and the viewpoints less political.
 
In order for us to move through the study at a nice rate, I am choosing one title per character (or topic) and find myself choosing books written at about a 4th grade level.  Most of these are 50-60 pages long, so we can usually get through one a day.  As this is a survey course, this seems to cover the subject well.  The books are easy to understand, and since many were written more than 50 years ago, they are short but still meaty.  Not a lot of fluff. 
 
Our first chapter of study about early American explorers looks like this:
 
 
The author, Michelle Miller, writes with a definite Christian worldview, and prefaces each topic or character study with a paragraph or two of historical perspective.  She also suggests a few classic children's history textbooks to accompany her text to offer a little more background.  She also has a list of suggested reading for parents.  A little background research, if you will.  While it is obvious that she believes in the Almighty Creator of the universe and that the Bible is inerrant and inspired, she does not inject doctrine into her writing.  Parents can be comfortable that the material is Christian-based but has no doctrinal slant.
 
Other products like unit studies and lap books are available to accompany the texts, but what appeals to me is the simplicity of simply reading about history.  Well-written stories can stand alone.  And with all the other curriculums we use during the day for math, grammar, science, etc., it's nice to have a more laid-back, but still challenging study.  I recommend this curriculum to anyone who is looking to make history come alive.
 
You can learn more about the other studies available at www.truthquesthistory.com
 

I regret that my children do not read as much as I wish they did.  They prefer being read to rather than reading themselves.  (We're working on that.)  But while they are willing to still be read to, I will take them up on it.  I enjoy this time together each day as we sit and read.  (OK - I sit, Jewell lies on the couch and Brack hangs up-side down over a chair.  Or lays under the coffee table.  Seriously.)  I hope that the reading we do together now will translate to a personal love of reading that will follow them their entire lives.  By reading good quality literature about people who made a real difference in the world, I hope to spark their curiosity.  I hope they will one day wonder who a bridge is named after and why...and then go look it up.  And learn.

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