I don’t know about everyone else’s experiences of history in public school, but I didn’t have a single history lesson until fifth grade, and there was no systematic presentation of topics. I didn’t change school districts. I followed the history plan of my local school district from start to finish. I know that the only history lessons that I retained were what I picked up through a few good literature books, movies and a few museum visits.
So, when I looked at Ambleside Online’s curriculum based on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, the approach to history is what sold me. I have finished Year 1 with both of my kids, and I can tell you that it has nurtured their interest and widened their perspectives of history tremendously. In Year 2, my daughter was learning about King Richard the Lionhearted and John Lackland while reading Robin Hood, through three separate books. It was AMAZING!! I loved it!
That said, the program does have weaknesses, and by far the biggest weakness of Year 1 from my perspective is that it has too many stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans. If I had to recommend that parents make just one change to the curriculum, it would be to add perspective in this area. So, how did we do that?
- I dropped Buffalo Bill by the D’Aulaires, and I added Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story by S.D. Nelson. The similarity of the names is just a coincidence. I read this book with both of my kids, and it did exactly what I needed it to do. It introduced specific cultural practices of a certain group of people (the Hidatsa) during a particular period of time. It shows conflict and cooperation between different nations and also the later conflict between the European settlers and Buffalo Bird Woman’s people. I plan on using a different book by the same author after reading Christopher Columbus in Year 2 so that my kids can continue to read about the same group of people over a number of years. I was very excited to find these resources!
- We visited our local museum and learned about the first nations of people who lived in our area. I engaged my kids in conversations about the similarities and differences between Buffalo Bird Girl and these groups.
Another critique that I have of Year 1 (and continuing into Year 2) is that many of the stories from British and American history are hard to understand and follow if the kids have never read about the Middle East, early Africa, or the Romans, among other ancient groups. The Romans are a major influence in Year 1 stories and the Muslims/Saracens are a big influence in Year 2, but the kids don’t know anything about them. They are simply “the enemy.”
A big positive in the curriculum is that the other British enemy–the Vikings (Saxons, Danes, Normans)–eventually becomes familiar through A Viking Tale (last term of Year 1) and The Little Duke (Year 2). My kids found this very interesting, and so did I!
In Year 2, I added Diane Stanley’s biography Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam to the rotation while we read about Richard the Lion-Hearted, and this was one of my daughter’s favorite books! It provided a humanizing view of the Muslims.
If I could go back and teach Year 1 again, I would add an extra “pre-term” that introduces ancient civilizations before getting into early British history. It would set up the kids for understanding later stories. For clarification, Ambleside Online does introduce ancient civilizations eventually, but not at the beginning of the first history rotation.
Here are some of the books that I’m checking out as supplemental free reads for both of my kids in case others wish to add overall diversity to the curriculum as well. I am interested in knowing about any good books that you have found on these subjects as well!
- INDIA: I started out looking for an adaptation of the Ramayana, one of the earliest epic stories. The original is over 300 pages and most adaptations are still very long. Also, similar to other edited and adapted texts, they tend to be more confusing than the original because they lack the contextual language. I eventually purchased Sanjay Patel’s version called Ramayana: Divine Loophole because he has so clearly grasped the heart of the story and wrote it out of a passionate interest in making it accessible to kids. I am happy to report that my son adored this story. I believe it may be an all-time favorite! I feel like it is a very interesting contrast to the journey in Pilgrim’s Progress that we’ll be starting in the fall.
- MESOPOTAMIA: Gilgamesh was the next ancient story on my list of “must know” early cultural references. Thankfully, my sister loves this one, and she is able to re-tell it from memory, poetic language and all! My kids are lucky to have her! I’m also thinking of buying the picture book series by Ludmila Zeman for the kids to read for themselves. There are YouTube videos of all three books recorded by Heritage Learning!
- MESOPOTAMIA (continued): I also found an interesting biography of Hammurabi, a Babylonian king. It was written by Tamera Bryant and is called The Life & Times of Hammurabi. The sample of the first chapter looked interesting, but I haven’t been able to find a longer sample, so I might have to buy this one in order to determine its quality.
- WEST AFRICA: I found a book called The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa that spans the time period from A.D. 500 – 1700! We may have missed the earlier eras during Year 1, but I will definitely be incorporating this into Year 2 (for my son) and Year 3 (for my daughter) as a long slow read (like Our Island Story) so that my kids get a picture of the development of West African cultures and society. Take the time to read just the first sample chapter about Ghana, and I think you will feel as impressed as I do about the style of narration! It is lovely!
- EGYPT: Believe it not, I am struggling to find a decent book that introduces Egypt. This geographical region has been the subject of hundreds of children’s books! Why can I not find a high-quality story?!? So many of the books are focused on sensationalizing the Egyptians without providing much in the way of context. I really want to find a book that introduces information about the Egyptians without over blowing the “weird stuff.” The best prospect that I have found so far is Pharoah: Life and Afterlife of a God by David Kennett. The Amazon sample doesn’t show much, but the reviews have intrigued me, so I plan on picking this up as soon as I can!
This has been my reflection on Year 1 and Year 2 history so far. I hope that you find the information useful and please share any resources that you have found as well!