Thursday, January 19, 2012

Studying American History

I must admit, as a student I did not have a very high opinion of history. The first real memory I have involving studying history in school is of the most dismally boring American History class I had to take in 9th grade. The room always seemed too warm, perfect for napping, and the teacher had a monotone voice. I don't think I learned anything in that class.

So far, we have had great success in our study of ancient history. Using The Story of the World series with supplements like the Horrible Histories books, the boys have been able to stay interested because we are reading about history through stories, not boring lists of facts. I wanted to find something just as easy to use and interesting to read as those books, but focusing on American history. That search hasn't turned up the perfect fit yet, but we did find a good starting point.

All Through the Ages, History through Literature Guide by Christine Miller is a good resource that is helping in our search. This book is really just a list of books about history. It is split into time periods such as Exploration, New World Colonization and Colonial Wars. Each time period is then split into sections that can include; overview of the era, specific events, biography, historical fiction, literature and culture. Each of these are broken down into four different grade levels, as well.

Last year, we barely touched on American history, but what we did cover revolved around the pre-colonial Americas. We looked at the native tribes that were here long before the first Europeans arrived. This year, we started up with a bit more on what life was like for those native peoples. We then covered early exploration by Europeans and the Vikings. We looked at the first settlements and how the colonies gradually grew. One excellent book we read on the French and Indian wars was Struggle for a Continent by Betsy Maestro. I remembered very little about this time in history from my school days, so I enjoyed this book.

Today we started looking at the issues that led up to the Revolutionary War by reading the first two chapters in the book, A Young Patriot by Jim Murphy. This story is told through the eyes of a young man born in 1760 who ends up enlisting to fight against the British. It is well written and full of art from the time period. Once again today, I learned that the boys often know more than I do about a particular subject. One of the illustrations in the book was a picture of an engraving of the Boston Massacre done by Paul Revere. I said, "I never knew Paul Revere was an artist!" JT said, "Oh yes...he worked for a newspaper and was a silver engraver."

At this point, our plan involves spending as much time as it takes to make a leisurely walk down America's history. My preliminary outline goes as far as the time period immediately before the Civil War begins. We will cover topics like the early establishment of our government, early presidents and their work, California colonization, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark, the Homestead Act, exploration of the southwest, the War of 1812, the Indian Removal Act, the Industrial Revolution, the growth of slavery, beginning of the anti-slavery movement, Women's Rights, the Mexican War, mining, Westward Expansion, and the Gold Rush. That brings us to the 1850s. I have a list of resources for each item included in my time line. Based on our love for taking our time and delving a bit deeper as we go, I'm guessing we might make it through this list by the time the boys are ready to go to college! Seriously though, I would really like to make it to the end of the list by the end of our school year. I want to start out next year with a couple months dedicated to the Civil War.

No matter how long it takes us to get through, I know we will enjoy it far more than if we just looked at dates and facts. Christine Miller puts it best in the introduction to All Through the Ages,

"It is very rare to find the reality of history in a history textbook. They are much too limited to even begin to contain its grand scope. History should be about the stories of the day: the people and their lives, the immediacy of their times."

Our goal will be to experience those times through the stories we read.

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