Homeschooling

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for Success

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for SuccessAs a homeschooled kid born in the 1980s to pioneering parents, I was one of the first guinea pig generations. My friends and peers were steeped in Christian culture — in safe, sheltered, homeschool culture, our own personal circles teaming with prominent authors and leaders — and yet a startling number of my peers no longer embrace Christianity. Some of them picket home education. There’s a whole lot more to be said about that (a lot more) but let’s start here: homeschooling is not a formula to guarantee your child will turn out the way you want. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising Christian kids. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising any particular kind of kid. Homeschooling is simply not a formula.

The truth is, there’s no formula for raising kids. There’s no way to ensure your child will turn into the adult you envision.

There’s no parenting panacea against rebellion.

Let me say that again: there’s no parenting panacea against rebellion. There simply isn’t, no matter how strongly the Christian bookstore tries to sell you one, neatly bound and displayed so enticingly on the eye-catching endcap, and no matter how many conferences try to lure you in with the seven-step parenting workshops guaranteeing trophy children.

This is the whole, terrifying, somber, humbling truth about parenting: there are no guarantees.

(There are no guarantees for earth-side life, even. A wise woman once told me never to forget that children are on loan from God. And it’s profoundly true.)

So if we’re looking for a tidy copy-and-paste template to neatly apply to our lives, one which guarantees a particular outcome, we’re not going to find it in parenting. We’re certainly not going to find it in homeschooling. I emerged from the guinea pig generation, and I’m telling you, conservative homeschooling didn’t work the way the speakers promised.

If we’re looking for that perfect template, we’re not even going to find any such guarantee in the Bible. If there’s anything disappointing about the stories of Biblical men and women — I say this in all reverence — it’s that there are precious few formulas we can glean. It’s true. It’s actually very difficult to create familial formulas (say that ten times fast) based on the examples handed down to us in the Bible. Biblical accounts are wildly diverse, and in all honesty, often nothing short of bizarre — and I say this as a Bible-believing Christian.

So if the Bible isn’t an index of formulas, and there are no guarantees in parenting, how has homeschooling gained a reputation in conservative Christian circles as a way to somehow promise adherence to Christianity and safeguard against rebellion?

In the 90s and 00s, I spent plenty of time observing the homeschool guru circuit from the front lines. (I like to say I’ve seen it all in my time as a homeschool kid: the good, the bad, and a whole lot of ugly.) And the more I watched, the more I saw speakers and authors peddling this idea: homeschooling will save your child from the claws of culture, in a way that other forms of education never will.

As humankind has been drawn toward simple solutions to complex problems since the beginning of time, parents latched on to this idea by the droves.

And as I watched, Christian homeschool families shelled out hard-earned cash for conferences, retreats, and books outlining a path to purity and good character and uprightness. This was a path which often circumvented the radical Jesus, chasing wildly after morality instead  — as long as that morality could be modeled inside a controlled homeschool environment.

Religious homeschooling, intended to preserve religion, instead became religion — and morality replaced Christ.

Morality, the homeschool gurus insisted, will make your child perfect. Morality is key. Virtue will save us all. And so, homeschool subculture created a fantastic Morality World, complete with its own literature and curriculum and clubs and dress codes, a sort of monastic exile hyper-focused on creating the outwardly perfect child.

Like I said before, this didn’t work so well. Morality-first education delivered in a sheltered homeschool did not produce the Christ-centered generation the pioneering homeschooling gurus promised us it would. (Imagine that!)

Yet in the thirty years since I entered kindergarten, I still see homeschool celebrities and curriculum companies (and Sunday Schools!) shilling out the idea that morality and good character and wholesomeness is somehow going to change hearts.

Friends, it can’t. It never will. Jesus changes hearts. Character curriculum and good books do not change human nature. Putting morality first is not the path to redemption. Teaching our children more about mimicking a list of admirable traits than about the transforming power of the blood of Jesus is wrong.

What would  happen if we turned our eyes to Jesus himself, and not to character education? What would happen if we viewed our role as parents to equip our kids to boldly face the world, not to entirely shelter them from it? What would happen if we embraced the mystery of grace for the earth-shattering wonder that it is, rather than reducing it to human terms and claiming to understand it all? What would happen if we lived the kind of  life that Jesus (quite a radical, by the way) was personally calling us to live?

The answer to those questions might not always be found in homeschooling itself.  Really.

In fact, I don’t even necessarily see a definitive Biblical mandate to homeschool.

(Yes, I actually just said that.) I can hear the collective screech of proverbial brakes right now. I can hear some of you sputtering. I know I put off a lot of people whenever I say this, but please, hear me out. Don’t close the tab yet.

I support homeschooling. But I do not support homeschool onlyism.

I do not support the idea that if you are a Christian, you are obligated to homeschool.

I educate my own daughter at home, but I didn’t choose this path because I believe it’s the only way to educate. In fact, when I read through the Bible, I see incredible diversity.

Paul was a Roman citizen.

Moses was raised by Egyptian royalty.

Daniel got his education from the Babylonians.

Rather than only one template for life, I instead see examples of God’s glory shining through impossible situations (and, let’s be real, there are some impossibly odd people in the Bible, too.) I don’t see a formula. If anything, I see God going out of His way to make a point about there being no such thing as a catch-all formula.

The Bible’s not big on catch-all formulas.

Even when it comes to marriage — a topic that’s specifically addressed in the Bible, unlike homeschooling — the examples are wildly divergent. We all know the story of Ruth, right? [1] Ruth was told to wear perfume, wait until Boaz had drunk plenty, then go into his room, uncover his feet, and lie down. (I’m still waiting for the wholesome Ruth Generation movement to show up at courtship seminars across the country.)

And then there’s Isaac and Rebekah [2]. Rebekah watered his camels, and then when Isaac gave her a nose ring and some other bling, she knew he was the one. (Yes, a ring for her nose. Not ear. The Hebrew word נֶזֶם refers to a nose jewel.)

Go back a little further, and we have Adam and Eve. What can we find in this account to boil down into a family-based formula that’ll sell well at homeschool conferences and Christian bookstores? They were naked, she was made from a rib, and then one son murdered the other. Hardly an example of marriage and family life that will top the Christian self-help charts.

You might still be reeling from my insinuation that homeschooling isn’t addressed in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we are to live so apathetically hands-off that our children run wild, adrift with no moral compass. When I read the Bible, I clearly see the mandate for Christian parents to instruct children in the ways of God. There’s no arguing this: we should teach our children the things of God and our Biblical heritage. The Bible commands us to. So don’t misunderstand me: I’m not speaking against raising children in a Christian home. I’m not saying to stop instructing your kids in the foundational tenets of Christianity. I’m just saying modern Western homeschooling, as it’s represented in the modern homeschool movement, is not the only way to educate kids. (I still love Jesus; I’m just not a legalist when it comes to what kind of school Christians should use.)

I’ve been in the homeschool subculture for a long time, and sometimes the subculture needs a few reminders: Jesus’ power is not stopped by brick-and-mortar school doors. He doesn’t limit his salvation to only those kids whose parents homeschool them. He transcends centuries and languages and continents. Homeschooling is not an essential tenet of Jesus-based doctrine and theology.

We can’t have a conversation about education and Christianity without mentioning Deuteronomy chapter six. Verses five through nine talk about instructing our kids in the ways of faith; we’re told to do this “when you are at home and when you are on the road…on the doorposts of your house and on your [city] gates.” [3]

In other words, everywhere.

Not just at home.

Not just in a bubble of our own constructing.

Not just in a shelter we’ve fashioned with our own hands.

Everywhere, without fear.

The truth is, I often detect an element of fear in the homeschool subculture’s insistence that all Christian parents must homeschool. I can understand that. I see the ideals running through public school education, and I know they’re often counter to Biblical convictions.

I get that.

But when I look at the Bible, I see repeated rebukes against fear. I also see God taking broken situations like Joseph’s or Daniel’s — stories full of pain and desolation, and certainly full of the secular culture of the day — and using these situations to glorify His name in mighty, mighty ways.

Look at John 11:4 — it’s God who was glorified.

These things happened that God might be glorified.” That’s the goal of what we do. He’s the point of how we live.

Not that homeschooling might be glorified, but that God might be glorified.

Not that our particular flavor of homeschooling might be seen as superior, but that God might be glorified.

Not that our parenting might be held up as an example of excellence, but that God might be glorified.

Not that we might get the credit, but that God might be glorified.

And God is not limited by environment. He can work mightily in a lion’s den, a virgin’s womb, a donkey’s mouth, a public school classroom, a broken home, or a homeschool living room.

It’s not about our formulas and styles and philosophies.

It’s all about Jesus.

So go forward fearlessly. Live wildly and bravely, the way God wants you to, not the way the parenting gurus and bestselling authors tell you to.

“Abraham believed God,” Andrée Seu Peterson wrote, “not what well-meaning pastors or little old ladies told him about God.”

Now go, live fearlessly!

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Homeschooling

Using Children’s Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

We read a lot of books in this house. How many? Last year, we scanned most of the books my daughter read, and at year-end, counted a virtual stack of 530 books. The year before, when she was five, we catalogued 561 books. (I don’t need to sign up for a fitness program; I carry library tote bags.)

And we didn’t scan every book she read, either. We tend to mostly scan library books, and not necessarily the daily-rotating selection from our wall of overstuffed bookshelves. So one thousand is a conservative count; over the course of two years, she easily read far more than a thousand books. (Does that make your head spin? It does mine!)

How do I keep up?

I don’t.

How do I preview them all?

I don’t.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

I’m aware of what she reads, but there’s no way I could possibly pre-read even a fraction of these books. That’s why it’s so important to teach a solid foundation of discernment, critical thinking skills, and logic — teaching how to think, and how to “rightly divide the word of truth”, as 2 Timothy 2:15 says. (And I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, either.) But as parents, we’ll never be able to preview all of life. We need to equip for life, not shelter from life.

Finding enough quality books, though, can be challenge. We frequent more than one county library system, and I’m always marking used book sales on the calendar, but I still need to know what to look for. My daughter, a fan of non-fiction, loves meaty books of facts; I appreciate good design, format and layout. (No, you can’t judge a book by its cover — but isn’t there something special about particularly pretty books?) The books we both get really excited about deliver substantial chunks of information in aesthetically pleasing packages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received free books from Candlewick Press and was compensated for my time in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

One publisher which consistently releases exceptionally well-designed and well-written books is Candlewick Press. As I was browsing their catalog this season, I kept thinking about the concept of curiosity, and how wonderful it is that even in the Information Age, books still haven’t lost the power to draw us in to new, unimagined places.

In this era of Google searches, answers are at our fingertips.

The internet can answer nearly every question we could ever think to ask.

But what about questions we haven’t thought to ask?

What about places, people, ideas, worlds, inventions, and habitats we never even knew existed?

If we were to bypass books in favor of the ubiquitous search engine, we’d get answers to our questions, but we’d miss out on a whole wonderful world of questions we’d never have even known to ask. An internet search can satisfy curiosity, but a book will ignite curiosity.

Books are life-changing.

I love homeschooling for the incredible flexibility which allows children to pursue their interests (and ask Alexa endless questions), but sometimes kids need a nudge to explore areas outside their chosen niche, too. The right book — a colorful, captivating, grab-your-attention book — has the power to

  • ignite curiosity,
  • provoke questions, and
  • uncover brand-new areas of interest.

And it’s in curiosity and questioning where the real learning begins.

Using Candlewick Press Books to Challenge a Gifted Learner

I moderate a small online homeschool community, and parents of outliers, quirky kids, and out-of-the-box thinkers often ask me,

  • How do I challenge my gifted child?
  • How do I know I’m providing my gifted child enough opportunities to learn?
  • How do I know what topics to introduce to my gifted learner?
  • How do I allow my gifted child to dig deeper?
  • How do I encourage my gifted child to branch out?

To alter a phrase from Marie Kondo, the launching point to answer all of these question can be found in — you guessed it — the life-changing magic of reading books.

A book is more than the sum of its pages.

A single book can open the door to countless other avenues for exploration and adventure.

I’ve found a number of fantastic books from Candlewick Press — about everything from Charles Dickens to the Mars rover to poetry to Johnny Cash to nature study — especially well-suited to igniting curiosity about the world around us. These books encourage kids

and more.

I love these titles not only for the fantastic subject matter, but also because they represent the potential for so much exploration. A healthy dose of curiosity, paired with all the topics either directly or tangentially addressed in each book, will allow you to follow extraordinary rabbit trails of learning for weeks. Talk about getting a lot of mileage out of a single book!

I’ll show you what I mean.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Using Drawn from Nature to Encourage Curiosity about the Natural World and the History of Timekeeping

This lovely book had me at hello; I was immediately captivated by the cover’s delicate, gold-imprinted details. Inside, author-illustrator Helen Ahphornsiri has filled each page of Drawn from Nature with stunning pressed-flower collages and captivating fact-filled narratives, weaving a story of plant and animal life throughout each of the four seasons. Instinctively, one might use this book as stepping stone to further study

  • flora and fauna,
  • habitats,
  • botany,
  • plant anatomy,
  • foraging and edible plants,
  • insect life cycles,
  • natural dyes from plants,
  • native and invasive species,
  • migration habits,
  • local animal life,

be inspired to go on a hike, begin a nature journal, plant an herb garden, and more. And those are all fantastic avenues for exploration.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

But with curiosity at our side, we might begin by reading the short, accessible introduction first.

“Year after year, plants bloom in spring and fade in autumn in a cycle as old as time,” the author begins. “Animals follow the pattern of the seasons, too..”

Oh, what a concept natural rhythms arePrior to the invention of the electric light, humankind woke and slept by the light of these natural rhythms, following the cycle of seasons. Time’s passage was marked by

  • the sun’s light,
  • the moon’s phases, and
  • the star’s position.

As your curiosity continues to wander and wonder, you might begin to ask the following questions:

  • How has the advent of electricity affected human sleep patterns?
  • How has electric light affected jobs, productivity, factories, and even the times men and women go to work?
  • How does the equator affect weather and light?
  • How have people tracked time throughout history?
  • How were the hours marked in the Middle Ages?
  • Who made the first clock?
  • Were clocks ever made of wood? (Research Benjamin Banneker.)
  • How were time zones decided?
  • Who mapped out the longitudinal lines?
  • How was time kept at sea? (Research John Harrison.)
  • What about daylight savings time?
  • What is an atomic clock?
  • What is a leap second?

All this, and we haven’t even turned the page past the introduction. What a wonderful teacher the rabbit trail is!

Using What’s so special about Dickens? to Encourage Curiosity about Dickens, the Classics, and Victorian England

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

I was raised in a family where quoting Dickens dialogue around the supper table was normal fare. But how do you pass on that love to younger kids, who might be — with good reason! — intimidated by the immense size of Charles Dickens’ tales? How do you make Dickens approachable to kids? Michael Rosen’s book, What’s so special about Dickens?, is more than a biography; it’s a primer to Dickens-related cultural literacy topics. By weaving in the most beloved Dickensian vocabulary and quotes with overviews of four Dickens classics, Rosen provides kids with just enough Victorian English quirkiness — and Dickens’ genius — to make them search out one of the epic novels for themselves. (Any book that nudges people into a Dickensian world is a winner in my eyes!)

Reading a Dickens novel, says Michael Rosen, “is like being taken on a journey that affects the whole of your being.”

But while we’re waiting for the Dickens book we put on hold at the library to arrive, we can try our hand at these extension activities and research ideas:

  • Grab a book with a lot of dialogue, and try reading the different character’s lines dramatically, the way Dickens did. (page 1)
  • Make a list of all the books and stories the author mentions in this book. (No, they’re not all by Dickens. Don’t forget to check the timeline!) Which one do you most want to read?
  • Use a dictionary to look up all the words you don’t know. (I had to look up scimitar from page 16!)
  • Invent some characters and write a short story about them. (page 66)
  • The timeline contains milestones from Dickens’ life interspersed with notable historical events. Choose five — like the Corn Law riots, the assassination of Lincoln or the the Staplehurst railway crash — to research further.
  • What can you learn about life after the Industrial Revolution in Europe or England, or about the railway and brickmaking frenzy which followed? (page 52)
  • Research the history of children working in factories. What were working conditions like for children during Dickens’ life? (page 26)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

And we can discuss these questions with our kids, too:

  • How were students treated in Dickensian schools? (pages 15 and 32)
  • In what ways might your life be different if you had been born in Dickensian England? In what ways would it be the same? (page 46)
  • If the Factory Act of 1833 were proposed in today’s time, how would people react? What changes might they make to the rules? (page 137)
  • How many references to Dickens’ characters and phrases do you recognize as commonly-used idioms? (page 128 and throughout book)
  • After reading the synopses of four different Dickens’ books, which one sounds the most interesting to you?

Now that’s enough to shake up even Mr. Smallweed of Bleak House fame!

Using Jabberwalking to Counteract Perfectionism and Encourage Curiosity About Writing and Art

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

After diving in to the prolific works of authors like Charles Dickens, it’s natural to feel a little intimidated about writing. So this is also the ideal time to switch gears and turn our attention to Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the United States’ first Mexican-American Poet Laureate. This book is so much fun. The title, of course, is a nod to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem and is a call to kids everywhere (“and all those like me that cannot sit still”, adds the author) to pick up their pen and write while they walk. There’s absolutely no perfection in this process — Herrera invents words, mixes up the sizes of the fonts, and even causes the words to wrap around the sides of the pages sometimes. I love that!

“A Jabberwalking poem is not an essay or a novel or a…formula,” Juan Felipe Herrera writes. “A Jabber burble scribble poem is not even a typical poem…[it] loves to be free (wherever it lands) so it can loosen up your mind-brains to see things you have not seen before.”

What an absolutely wonderful antidote to the paralysis-inducing perfectionism which sometimes tortures gifted kids. And poet Juan cheers kids on to persevere, too.

“After four hours of nonstop Jabberwriting, after four hours of moving your Jabberhand…even — if you have misspelled everything! You, yes you! in four hours — will have an (what follows is indisputable!) ALMOST-BOOK…Yes…an honest-to-goodness almost-book.”

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

We’ll be re-reading this for years to come, I am certain. (Why can’t writing curriculums be this encouraging?) And Jabberwalking isn’t just about writing: it’s so motivating for art, too. The illustrations in this freeing book are wild and wonderful and infused with a whole lot of crazy. Here are some ways we tried our hand at this style ourselves:

  • Place your pencil on the paper, and draw an animal without lifting your pencil off the paper.
  • Close your eyes, and draw a portrait without looking.
  • If you’re left-handed, use your right hand. If you’re right-handed, switch to your left hand. Now draw a picture.
  • Fasten your paper to a clipboard, then march around the house while drawing.

And of course — don’t forget to jabberwrite.

Using Hello, I’m Johnny Cash to Encourage Curiosity About Modern American History and Music Tradition

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

When we had to tell this sweet girl we were up and moving away from our home, she’d sung enough Johnny Cash songs in her little life to know that moving to Tennessee meant being closer to the place her favorite singer once called home. It always touches me how deeply Johnny’s songs speak to her heart. She just adores the Man in Black’s music. (When she was an infant, only three singers could get her to stop crying: Josh Garrels, Enya, and Johnny Cash.)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash looks like a picture book for young kids at first glance, but the lilting prose — written in columns, like lyrics — delivers a message that’s rich, deep, and touchingly poignant. (Although it’s a picture book, the publisher recommends this book for grades four through seven. I recommend it for adults, too!)

This is a biography, yes, but this book is also an absolutely perfect launching point to dive deeper into history, geography, and the American music tradition. The span of years covered in Hello, I’m Johnny Cash had a massive impact on American families, especially in the South. Simply by researching the significant historical events mentioned in the book — events like

  • the Great Depression,
  • the Dust Bowl,
  • the New Deal,
  • the Historic Dyess Colony agricultural resettlement project,
  • the cotton industry,
  • the Great Arkansas Flood of 1937, and
  • the plague of boll weevils and armyworms,

— you could build a fascinating year-long study of modern American history.

You could also explore the corresponding geography, looking at

  • Arkansas,
  • the Mississippi River Delta,
  • the Tyronza River,
  • Nashville,
  • Memphis
  • New Orleans,
  • Texas,

and the surrounding areas.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Of course, no study of the American South would be complete without digging in to the American music tradition.

“His songs gave a voice to the voiceless, capturing so many people’s heartaches, struggles, and triumphs; it seemed like he spoke to America just as America spoke to him.”

This book contains so many rabbit trails for further exploration. You can explore

and, of course, more of Johnny Cash’s songs. (Here’s a recording of Johnny Cash talking about his family’s experience during the Great Flood of 1937, then singing Five Feet High and Rising.)

Isn’t it amazing what a rich educational experience you can create simply by following your curiosity through a picture book?

Using Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover to Encourage Curiosity About Astronomy and Space

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

In 2011, the year my daughter was born, Curiosity launched into space. (That fact seems so appropriate to me.) This new book from Candlewick, Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, delivers a riveting first-hand account of space exploration — it’s told from the perspective of the Mars rover herself! And I love how author-illustrator Markus Motum chose to use so many pitch-black, star-sprinkled pages throughout. This design choice — along with the large size of the book itself — creates such a magical, immersive experience. (There’s even a two-page vertical spread for liftoff.)

Before we moved away from Florida, we used to be able to see launches right outside our front door. It was hard to leave the Space Coast behind, but this book — and the resulting exploration prompted by the book — helps keep that connection to space exploration alive.

We have enjoyed following a myriad of rabbit trails nearly as expansive as the universe itself, asking questions about,

and, of course, our favorite Space X missions, too. (You can watch SpaceX launches live!)

While we often think of education as learning information — and yes, we need a solid foundation of Truth — there is still so much undiscovered and unexplored. Curiosity is crucial. Asking questions about what we do not know drives the world forward, and opens up further inventions and discoveries.

“Most likely, the discoveries I make will lead to more questions,” writes Markus Motum as the Mars Rover, “…questions can be just as exciting as answers.”

Encourage your children to explore. Allow them space to marvel, and to be in awe.  Provide ample time to run down rabbit trails, and allow them to go off the path in pursuit of wonderment and curiosity.

After all, it’s in curiosity that the real learning begins.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Get 25% OFF your Purchase from Candlewick Press – and Enter to Win a Book, too!

Candlewick is generously offering a full 25% off discount! Just head over to the website, shop for favorite new Candlewick books, and enter the code CANDLEWICK at checkout. (You can also browse the full Spring-Summer 2018 Candlewick Press Catalog to see sample pages, expanded book descriptions, and more.) My favorite books from this season’s releases are

Of course, there are lots more great Candlewick titles, too.

Psst…you can also enter to win a Judy Moody fiction title from Candlewick Press, too. Click through the image or link below and fill in your name and email address on the resulting page. Giveaway ends on April 18th at 11 PM Eastern time.

CLICK TO ACCESS GIVEAWAY FORM

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool
As you forge ahead in your homeschool journey, do not fear the rabbit trail of sidetracking — embrace it.

Curiosity will serve you well.


If you found this homeschool how-to post helpful, why not pin Building Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool to Pinterest?

Homeschooling

Using an American History Timeline to Teach History Analytically

Teaching History Analytically with an American History TimelineI’m on a perpetual quest to find accurate US history curriculums for kids — but you already knew this about me, right? Compared to objective subjects like math and science, I find history to be particularly challenging to teach properly. While it’s easy for me to seek out the right curriculum — or YouTube video — to help me explain a mathematical concept, it’s much more difficult to offer an accurate commentary on historical events and indeed, people’s own lives.

History is a complex tapestry. There are threads of war, famine, discovery, and conquest, all woven together with the threads of individual people. But people’s lives are complicated. Too many history curriculums offer snap judgments  — telling students exactly what to think — but there’s always more to understand. Biographies are an important key in unraveling historical mystery, because they reveal context, cultural backdrop, and personal motivations. Yet no matter how many rich, enlightening biographies we read, history remains a sequential course of study. Years are chronological. To tie all these separate events and people together and deepen our understanding of what really happened — and how all these different parts are connected — we need to lay out these puzzle pieces in a logical, sequential, pattern.

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received free digital and print copies of The Giant American History Timeline from Sunflower Education, and was compensated for my time in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. 

[We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.]

Using an American History Timeline to Complement the Logic Stage of Classical Education

Using a Timeline to Teach History in the Logic Stage of Classical Education

Sequencing is an especially crucial aspect when moving away from lower primary grades and shifting to the upper elementary and middle school years. Around fifth grade, students entering the logic or dialectic stage of classical education are ready to tackle cause and effect, and analyze how topics and events are related. They’ve already spent a great deal of time taking in information; now, they are transitioning into a phase where they’ll begin to link all the pieces together.

One product which handles this middle school logic stage very well is The Giant American History Timeline from Sunflower Education. In the logic stage, just as in The Giant American History Timeline, students don’t simply read about history or about the ways historical figures viewed the world; they instead learn to

  • research,
  • discover, and
  • articulate the domino effect of separate events in history.

We’re not officially in the logic stage, of course, but given the deep questioning in every other area of educating this intense, quirky, gifted kiddo, we do foray into logic stage materials throughout our homeschool weeks.

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

Despite the name — The Giant American History Timeline — this approach is not a linear timeline in which you’ll set up a list of dates and assign events and people to various points in time. It’s a means to create visual, research-based projects.  These huge books are broken up into chronologically-progressing themed units containing

  • mapping activities,
  • dated timeline sheets,
  • narrative prompts,
  • quotes from source documents,
  • and more.

There are two different books, available in print or digital formats:

The two books are also available for a discounted price if you buy the digital versions as a bundle:

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

Teaching History Analytically with an American History TimelineAt first glance you might expect simply work through the book page by page, moving on once each page is completed. However, each unit is actually a thorough exercise in interactive critical thinking. You’ll remove the pages from the book — or, if you have the digital version, print the pages — and then work on a large surface such a big table, the floor, or a blank wall.

In interest of space, we chose to print pages half-size, setting the printer to print two timeline pages on each 8.5×11″ piece of paper. (We love adding splashes of color to our homeschool with our favorite Astrobrights paper!)

Each page requires thought, research, and critical thinking skills. While answers are provided for the parent (there’s a full key in the back), the answers aren’t immediately apparent to the student. I love that!  (If you’re looking for a workbook-based approached in which the student reads facts, then repeats those same facts onto worksheets, this isn’t it.)

For each unit, the student will

  • research the assigned topics,
  • complete the assignments on each page, then
  • identify the correct timeline sequence for each page, using the provided date cards.

Once all the pages in a given unit are completed (or at least begun) the student will work on a large open area, and will continue the critical thinking process to

  • find connections between events and people,
  • identify cause and effect relationships, and
  • uncover details of main events.

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

This aspect of the curriculum is so powerful! I love how The Giant American History Timeline teaches kids to think through history in a sequential and methodical way. (Notice I said “think through history”. This thoughtful, logic-stage approach is much different than the memorization and fact-collecting which takes place in the lower-level grammar stage.)

Learning how various historical events and figures are connected opens our eyes to even more connecting pieces. Once this wonderful process of cause and effect is set into motion, there’s really no end to the number of observations we can make. While biographies enable history to become personal, sequencing and cause and effect helps history make sense.

The Giant American History Timeline makes sense of history.

Using an American History Timeline to Tackle Controversial Issues through Source Documents

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

Of course, history isn’t always always easy-to-understand. Some methods of teaching history water down the past and sanitize the rough patches. Other methods include source documents, but then tell the student exactly how to interpret what they’ve just read. In Sunflower Education’s Giant American History Timeline, there’s no easy way around source documents. Students can’t simply skim the quoted passages and quickly answer comprehension questions. Instead, each student is asked to stop and think critically about each passage. In approaching historical documents in this thoughtful way, students will

  • learn to uncover how leaders’ individual worldviews impacted historical decisions, and
  • learn how those beliefs impact our own biases about history, too.

This fosters both critical thinking skills and discernment, as well as deepening an understanding of how the world works.

Using an American History Timeline to Help Gifted Kids Dive Deeper

If you have a very motivated gifted child — not all gifted kids have the same level of drive — you know what it feels like to fly through printed curriculum like forests are going out of style. (In the Stapled to a Cheetah episode of the Raising Lifelong Learners podcast with Colleen Kessler, I talk about the semester my daughter completed three science curriculums between August and December.) It’s not unusual for my daughter to choose an elementary history textbook as for-pleasure reading, then finish the entire book in mere days.

Using Sunflower Education Giant American History Timeline to Challenge Gifted Kids

While Sunflower Education doesn’t market The Giant American History Timeline as gifted curriculum, per se, the nature of the approach —

  • deep research,
  • critical thinking, and
  • hands-on manipulation of the timeline displays

— makes it ideal for the academically gifted child.

The Giant American History Timeline allows academically-gifted kids to —

  • approach a topic more deeply than reading through a textbook at a highly accelerated pace can offer
  • be challenged by answering open-ended questions, not reciting answers to overly-obvious questions
  • practice making inferences,
  • identify cause and effect
  • research extensively, and
  • apply findings logically.

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

Resources like this, which encourage accelerated learners to learn more deeply, rather than simply more quickly, are a treasured find. The Giant American History Timeline isn’t a curriculum your child will fly through. The thoughtful approach makes it a great way to challenge upper elementary students to engage in meaningful ways, and I so appreciate that.

In fact, it’s challenging enough that even through we’re working through various levels of curriculum designed for students as old as fifth grade, this is still significantly more advanced than any of what we’re using this year. Because of the heavy emphasis on determining cause and effect and analyzing relationships between events,  I can see it still challenging her several years from now. It’s truly geared toward upper elementary and middle-school students.

Using a Timeline to Teach History in the Logic Stage of Classical Education

Where to buy Sunflower Education’s Giant American History Timeline Books

The printed versions of The Giant American History Timeline can be purchased on Amazon, while the digital ebooks are available directly from Sunflower Education. While the digital versions make it easy to print the pages you want to use, the printed books are incredibly simple to use as well. Since each consumable page is only printed on one side; just remove from the book and you’re ready to go!

P.S. Use coupon code TIMELINE20 to receive an extra 20% off the already-discounted digital bundle.

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of  The Giant American History Timeline Book 1

Want a chance to win book one of The Giant American History Timeline? Click on the image below to be taken to the giveaway form, and enter to win. (This sweepstakes is open to U.S. residents age 18 and over, and is operated by Sunflower Education. You are providing your email address to Sunflower Education, not to me.) You’re also welcome to keep up with Sunflower Education on Facebook, follow @sunfloweredtx on Twitter, or be inspired by Sunflower Education on Pinterest, although the only way to actually enter the giveaway is to click through the image below and fill in your name and email address on the resulting page. Giveaway ends on February 7th at 3PM Eastern time.

CLICK TO ACCESS GIVEAWAY FORM

Teaching History Analytically with an American History Timeline

The Giant American History Timeline books from Sunflower Education are a great addition to your homeschool. They integrate so many subjects beyond history, including

  • geography, mapping, and map studies,
  • literature, historical fiction and biographies,
  • the research process,
  • vocabulary and reading comprehension,
  • writing and narration,
  • speeches, presentations, and
  • much, much more.

Definitely worth adding to your home library!

If you found this homeschool curriculum review helpful, why not click here to get this post’s Permalink, then pin it to Pinterest? :)

 

Homeschooling

Nurturing Child-Led Passions in Gifted Kids with Supplemental Science and Technology Homeschool Curriculum

Nurturing Child-Led Passions in Gifted Kids with Supplemental Science and Technology Homeschool CurriculumOne of the questions I am asked most often in connection with nurturing gifted learning is as follows: “How do you structure your days? How do you balance child-led learning and formal instruction?”

First of all, it’s not an either-or dichotomy. You don’t have to choose between one and the other. Structured academics and child-directed exploration are not mutually exclusive. Free play and formal lessons can co-exist in harmony within the same homeschool — and yes, even within the same day.

How to Structure Your Homeschool Day to Balance Child-Led Learning with Formal Lessons

I’m a second-generation homeschooler.  My brothers and I were all (excellently) educated at home from preschool right on through high school. Our days as kids were set up in much the same way I set up my own homeschool days today, in two distinct yet complementary tiers. The first tier to our day was highly structured, while the second tier was more open-ended. In the first half of the day, we

  • completed necessary daily chores, and
  • completed required school assignments.

But as soon we our required work was completed, we were free to begin the second tier of the day, in which we

  • launched headlong into own passion-led projects.

Talk about not only excellent motivation to finish your chores and schoolwork, but also a fantastic model mirroring real-world reality!

During our child-directed free time, my brothers and I

  • pursued our own interests,
  • experimented,
  • created, and
  • explored.

Today, with my own voracious learner, I use this same two-tiered structure. Why not? I already know it works.

Child-Led Homeschool Projects Can Foreshadow Future Careers

Looking back, I see that projects we chose for our free time were a foreshadowing of the future. The blown fuses and circuits of childhood led to engineering and tech specialist careers in adulthood, for example. And the self-discipline, motivation, and perseverance we developed from having to complete our required work before anything else has served my brothers and I incredibly well in our adult lives.

Of course, the projects we came up with weren’t always successful. We figured out how to run the microwave with the door open. We coated our microscope with a paste we invented, then let it sit for a week. (Lesson learned: borax-salt paste is highly corrosive.) We attempted to power a homemade Bunsen burner with rubbing alcohol. There were plenty of other, more…productive activities, but those are some of the most memorable.

In retrospect, I realize how many incredible resources were at our disposal. Our parents made sure we had the resources to explore, tinker, create, and experiment. We always had something creative to do.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was compensated for my time in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on a Homeschool Buyers Co-op link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. 

Best Place to Buy Supplement Science and Technology Homeschool Curriculum to Nurture Gifted Kids

As a second-generation homeschooler, I’m in awe just how many educational resources and curriculum supplements are available to homeschoolers now. It’s truly remarkable, especially compared to what was available in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Convention halls are overflowing; and, to be honest, a little overwhelming.

But thanks to the internet and online shopping, you don’t have to wait until convention season — or navigate a crowded vendor hall — to explore curriculum supplements. The Homeschool Buyers Co-op is a particularly excellent place to shop for homeschool resources.  I always order our subscription of WORLDkids magazine from the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Don’t let the word “co-op” scare you. It simply means thousands of homeschool families have joined together to negotiate lower-priced group-buys on some of the very best homeschool curriculum on the market. And you don’t have to do a thing to qualify for discounted rates on top homeschool resources, other than create a FREE account to join the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Top Science and Technology Resources for Gifted Kids, from the Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Did you catch my Stapled to a Cheetah: Keeping Up With a Profoundly Gifted Kiddo interview with Colleen Kessler on her new podcast Raising Lifelong Learners? During the podcast, we chat about my daughter going through three full science curriculums in a single school semester. Three. If you, too, are stapled to a cheetah, your kids are likely eating through science resources faster than you can obtain them.

Thankfully, the Homeschool Buyers Co-op has an award-winning selection of science and technology products, including core science curriculum and supplements, coding and programming courses, hands-on experimentation, and more. (Plus, you can save up to 95% on science resources — really!)

After scrolling through the awesome selections for a while, I came up with the following science and tech wishlist:

CodeMonkey

What’s not to love about a name like CodeMonkey? When my family moved to America in 1991, a beloved great uncle took it upon himself to teach my middle brother and I how to use a computer. (This was back when orange and green were the compy colors du jour, and you could lose your mouse pointer off the edge of the screen if you weren’t careful.) Our fascination with how computer programs actually worked took off, and in no time we were opening the source code of floppy disc computer games, and editing the characters’ names to our own, changing the screen colors, adjusting game play, and more. (Remember QBasic Gorillas? We loved editing the Gorilla.Bas code almost as much as we loved entering the correct velocity and angles to play the game.)

Because I’m so nostalgic about Gorillas, CodeMonkey — an online programming curriculum for grades 3-12 — a caught my eye. (There’s no QBasic, but there is CoffeeScript.) In CodeMonkey, kids learn computer programming concepts by systematically going through a series of 35 lessons containing over 250 challenges — and then create a computer game of their own. Why CodeMonkey and not another programming resource? There’s no drag-and-drop coding here!

Learn more about CodeMonkey at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Britannica School Encyclopedia

By the mid-1990s, computer technology had grown utterly unrecognizable from the green-and-orange pixels and blinking command prompts of the decade’s  beginning; software became powerful it was able to run actual video clips. Enter Encarta97, the best multimedia compendium of information a CD-ROM could hold. It was the ultimate motherlode of all singing, talking, video-playing entertainment, and one of the most prized possessions my brothers and I owned.

I’ve often wished for an updated version of this kid-friendly encyclopedia, something which would offer more targeted results than a wide-open Google search. Britannica School might just be the answer. This Internet-powered digital encyclopedia offers “thousands upon thousands of searchable encyclopedia and journal articles, images, videos, audios, primary source documents, detailed maps, editor-recommended Web sites, learning games, a world atlas, Merriam-Webster dictionary in English and Spanish, and a wealth of how-to research tools.”[1]

Sounds an awful lot like my beloved Encarta (RIP).

Learn more about Britannica School at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Brock Magiscope

There are about thirty million different microscopes out there, right? How on earth do you choose the right one? Most of the really high-quality ‘scopes are designed for careful, prepared-slide use, generally by high-school kids. And many of the sturdy models for rough-and-tumble use have low-quality lenses and poor magnification, which just leads to frustration.

The gorgeous American-made Brock Magiscope is at the very top of my wishlist. This field-ready product has been around for years, and is tried, true, and tested. (In fact, its first trial run was years ago at the interactive Orlando Science Center, one of our top destinations here!) My absolutely favorite feature of the Magiscope, other than the rugged brass construction? The eyepiece comes off, so you can use it to explore all kinds of surfaces, not just microscope slides.

Pro tip: don’t cover it with a proprietary borax-and-salt paste, like my brothers and I did to our own microscope. Gulp.

Learn more about the Brock Magiscope at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Bright Ideas Press

Not all curriculum from Homeschool Buyers Co-op is digital; the Christian Kids Explore series published by Bright Ideas Press is one of many wonderful print resources available at the co-op.

While my middle brother once terrified our whole family years ago by going fishing during a tornado (true story), our own little family stayed in during our recent Hurricane Irma adventure.  In true homeschool-kid fashion, my daughter lugged around her huge copy of Christian Kids Explore…Earth and Space by Bright Ideas Press the entire time. The section on hurricanes was definitely dog-eared by the time Irma moved on.

The Christian Kids Explore books are sizable volumes, written in a friendly and approachable narrative voice. They’re just full of hands-on activities, too. I love how these books encourage students to annotate, take notes, and really take charge of their science education — even the illustrations can be colored!

Learn more about Bright Ideas Press at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Ocean First Education

You already know my brothers and I ran the microwave with the door open. We also drove a lawn tractor up a tree (strange, but true). Well, more recently, my daughter continued to boogie board through a swarm of stinging jellyfish, only stopping periodically to shake them off her legs. Phew. The warm waves of the Atlantic might attract starry-eyed tourists by the droves, but warm water also means more jellyfish — and increased hurricane activity.

Marine biology can be a tricky subject for homeschoolers to tackle, especially if you don’t have access to seaside education centers. (Although even if you do, there’s always more to learn.) Ocean First Education offers a number of discounted courses through Homeschool Buyers Co-op, including Marine Ecology, The Truth About Sharks, Caribbean Fish Identification, and more. These ocean literacy courses are ideal for grades 6-12. Best of all? There are no stinging jellyfish anywhere in sight.

Learn more about Ocean First Education at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

My wishlist only highlights a handful of the incredible science and technology homeschool curriculum available from Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Click through to check out other discounted options for core science curriculum  and supplemental science resources, too.

(Not looking for science? The co-op offers great choices for

Join the Homeschool Buyers Co-op today, and see what deals you can nab.

What resources do you need help finding, as you motivate and nurture your own gifted learner? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Homeschooling, How To

How to Use Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History & More (FREE Printables!)

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory BooksWhen I was a girl, I read countless old books. These brittle volumes usually smelled of crumbling book glue and dust; some left a sprinkling of yellowed page edges on my lap as I turned each leaf. I read and re-read my old books until they, quite literally, fell apart. But in all my reading, I never cared much for the stories about perfect, quiet girls, who had little more to offer than exquisite conversation skills and needlework. I wanted to — and did! — read about the spunky outliers; I loved the books about fearless girls who dove, often, into the unexpected.

And I wasn’t interested in the idea of life having been more wholesome long ago. (Human nature, after all, has always been human nature.) I was far more fascinated by the degree to which people have stayed the same, despite obvious changes in culture, manners, fashion, and technology.

As a voracious bookworm, I never considered all the vintage books I read as school, per se. Yet looking back, there’s a whole world of knowledge I gleaned from reading old books. (Yes, even the fiction titles!)

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Challenge Gifted / Accelerated Readers

If you are familiar with our story at all, you know books are a huge part of our everyday. Aside from having been a mini bookwork myself, I’m now raising a mini bookworm — a kiddo who hasn’t yet turned seven, but read 561 books in 2016, and has read 450 books so far in 2017. Talk about trying to keep her in age-appropriate reading material!

If you have a gifted child or an accelerated reader, you know firsthand just how difficult that is. Although I wholeheartedly believe kids truly can handle a lot of unabridged classics, there has to be room for escaping into light, fun adventure novels, too. (After all, how often do adults actually read books at the true upper end of their reading comprehension level?) But with so much of the middle-grade fiction published today full of themes entirely inappropriate for a sensitive six-year-old, books for an accelerated reader can be incredibly hard to find.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received two titles from the Aunt Claire Presents series in exchange for reviewing this product and publishing this post, and I was also compensated for my time.] [We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.]

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Introducing Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

I’m so thankful for throwback chapter books, like these 1910 novels re-released under the series name Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory BooksThese books are big on adventure, but nil on romance — so perfect for my tiny, voracious reader. I recently had the pleasure of reading the first books they’ve released, The Automobile Girls at Newport by Laura Dent Crane and Grace Harlowe’s Freshman Year at High School by Jessie Graham Flower, A.M. Except for the brilliantly-written introductions, which offer some historical context and cultural background for the stories, the text of the books remains unchanged from the original editions. (And the original cover is hidden under the modern dust-jacket, too!)

These are definitely books about mighty girls — they’re educated, independent, meet with detectives, and act as their own chauffeurs and mechanics. (Can you picture the girls in their Gibson Girl pastels, driving at break-neck speed along a dusty road? So fascinating!) Written just as the Gilded Age was transitioning into the Progressive Age, these books have powerful undercurrents of the suffragette movement, and weave themes of empowerment naturally into the story lines.

These are adventure stories; there’s no doubt about that. The plot twists range from homework and road trips to burglaries, kidnappings, jewel thieves, and even hungry wolves. They have a playful flavor, too, with the occasional foray into spooky Victorian parlor games and Halloween mischief. My favorite part? Reading the Aunt Claire Presents series is an immersive experience in early 1900s life. I love how each book is overflowing with real-life examples of the music, clothing, books, and architecture which made this era so extraordinary. These are ideal books to integrate into your homeschool lessons, since they show a real microcosm of life at the turn of the century.

And did you know? Historical books can be used to teach more than just history. I especially enjoy using old books to teach literature-based geography.

Download a FREE Geography Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Geography Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport, by Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

While it’s true not all titles lend themselves to teaching geography well, there are more ways to extract geography from books than you’d think. The Automobile Girls at Newport, though, happens to be perfectly suited for geography exploration. The book’s plot centers around a road trip from New Jersey through Yale to Rhode Island, and author mentions a plethora of actual historical locations by name. To spur further research, I’ve listed several of these in a FREE printable PDF supplement, and included links to photos, both modern day and historic.

This printable also includes the page number where the location is first mentioned, so you can easily find the context. The activities I’ve included are only suggested starting points. You can use the locations as research prompts for independent or directed learning, and enjoy exploring your local library or reputable websites for additional information. There’s so much potential here for any entire geography unit of the Eastern Seaboard!

Click to download the FREE Geography Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Teach Geography

Even when vintage books are set in entirely fictional locations, as with Grace Harlowe’s Freshman Year at High Schoolreaders can infer information about the climate, landforms, and physical geography by using context clues in the story.

Now there’s a fun writing assignment — making the case for the kind of place in which a given fiction book is set. Astute readers can scour the pages for hints.

  • Does the author mention inland bodies of water, or oceans?
  • Do the characters see mountains?
  • Are prairies or grassy fields mentioned in the story?
  • Are any plants, flowers, or trees mentioned by name?
  • If so, what type of climate might support these types of foliage?
  • At what time of year is the story set?
  • What does the weather seem to be like?

A well-written book, fiction or otherwise, leaves the reader with a distinct sense of the setting. (These are cues kids can take, too, when creating the setting for their own creative writing ventures or short stories.)

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Teach Music

One of the delightful aspects of old books is how they retain the flavor of the era in which they were written. And this doesn’t end at visual descriptions. I love uncovering what the world of vintage books must have sounded like, beyond the hum of dialogue or the clickety-clack of a train.

In Grace Harlowe’s Freshman Year at High School, for instance, the characters perform a play while the Funeral March of a Marionette plays. That’s a whole research-rich rabbit trail right there!

  • What does The Funeral March of a Marionette sound like with full orchestra?
  • What about just piano?
  • When was it written?
  • Who was the composer?
  • How old would this song have been at the time the book was written?
  • Was the piece of music originally written a parody, or was it composed in a serious context?
  • Why do you think it was sometimes later chosen by film and television directors for spooky scenes?
  • Do you agree that the song sounds spooky?
  • Can you get piano sheet music for Funeral March of a Marionette, and learn to play it?

And that’s only one song! There are several more songs mentioned in The Automobile Girls at Newport, too. When you learn to pay attention to the songs and music mentioned in old books, a whole world will open up.

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Teach Nuances About History

The narrative, immersive nature of living books offers historical insight textbooks simply cannot.  When we learn history from a textbook, we’re told that the Gilded Age ended in 1900. While this is technically true, if we — like the Automobile Girls — were living at the turn of the century, we wouldn’t know that yet. The living, breathing reality is that the end of one era faded naturally and unobtrusively into the birth of another, with amorphous blending and intermingling of each era’s greatest characteristics. No woman stepped out of bed on New Year’s Day 1900, and scrubbed her life clean of any trappings of the Gilded Age. Life went on.

As the Automobile Girls’ adventures demonstrate, the towering edifices on Bellevue Avenue — home of John Jacob Astor and the Vanderbilts — did not crumble at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 1899. Many people continued to bustle about in excess, unaware the days of the railroad tycoons were growing smaller in the rear-view mirror, and unaware just how significant the cultural impact of the dawning Progressive Age would prove to be.

Living books show us that for those living inside history — just as we live inside history now — the ages march on, unnamed and unknown.

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Encourage Annotation and Close Reading to Uncover Historical Clues

Encourage your young readers to annotate the book as they read! Annotation is such a great skill to develop. Allow them to mark directly on the book pages — a fine-point mechanical pencil is perfect for this. Help your child develop a personalized system for annotation — asterisks next to unknown vocabulary, brackets around phrases or topics they’d like to look up later, etc. You can learn so much about a book’s historical and cultural context by diving into what the characters are talking about. Pay attention to topics such as —

  • What books are the characters reading?
  • What foods do they eat? Are these the same foods you eat?
  • Do they talk about clothing unfamiliar to you?
  • What music do they talk about, sing, or play?
  • What holidays do they celebrate?
  • What aspects of life seem normal to the characters, but strike you as odd?
  • Do the characters talk about or mention any names of people who aren’t characters in the book? Use these names as clues to research!

For instance, in the Automobile Girls, one of the girls says, “You did look…like a sort of desperate, feminine Darius Green with his flying machine!” Unless you’re annotating, you’d probably skip right over the mention of Darius Green. But if you’re working on your close reading detective skills, you’d underline the name, wonder who he was, and look it up. With a little research, you’d discover a narrative poem called “Darius Green and His Flying-Machine”, published in in 1867. And then, you’d see Houghton-Mifflin re-released it again  in 1910, and you’d remember the Automobile Girls was originally released in 1910, too. You can even read the 1910 version of Darius Green and his Flying-Machine!

Close reading is such a great opportunity to share a literary experience with the book characters themselves. Developing your investigative reading skills opens up a huge, undiscovered world inside the already-rich world of books.

Download FREE Printable Vocabulary Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Middle-Grade Vocabulary Printable for The Automobile Girls at Newport, by Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Apart from technology, the passage of time is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the evolution of language. Dialogue-rich stories such as the ones reprinted by Aunt Claire Presents offer us the unique opportunity to hear the exclamations, idioms, and turns of phrases en vogue over hundred years ago. But beyond the historical vocabulary, there are also dozens and dozens of relevant bits of vocabulary worth studying. Don’t buy into the myth that old books can only teach you old words; that’s simply not true. I’ve created a FREE downloadable PDF containing all the notable vocabulary words in The Automobile Girls at Newport.  I’ve defined — or given a synonym for — each word, and showed the context as it appeared in the book. And, I’ve organized the printable supplement  by chapter, too, making it an easy-to-use reference tool. As your child annotates unfamiliar words in the book, he or she can use the vocabulary supplement to look up those words.

Click to download the FREE Vocabulary Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Enrich Homeschool Lessons

While I don’t advocate pummeling the life out of reading for pleasure by requiring kids to do homework based on the books they’ve read during free time, I do believe you can intentionally assign fun books as schoolwork. After all, there shouldn’t be a required-reading/free-reading dichotomy.  Books which are enjoyable to read should appear in both categories, and these books are a perfect example. Truly considering using the fun-to-read Aunt Claire Presents series in a unit about life in American in 1910!

And there are two more titles coming out in the spring, too.

I can’t wait to read about the girl aviators! Be sure to follow @auntclairepresents and @laboratory_books on Instagram, so you don’t miss the releases in Spring 2018.

How about you? Have you ever considering using fictional books in your lessons? How have you integrated adventure stories or vintage stories into your homeschool days?

FREE HOMESCHOOL PRINTABLES for middle-grade novel The Automobile Girls at Newport by Aunt Claire Presents, by Laboratory Books


Disclosure of Material Connection:: I received two titles from the Aunt Claire Presents series in exchange for reviewing this product and publishing this post, and I was also compensated for my time. All the photographs, opinions, and experiences shared here are in my own words and are my own honest evaluation. I was not required to write a positive review.


We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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