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Home School Life Journal ........... painting by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

The French Revolution or How We Do History

Some of you have asked how we do history. You might have seen some of the activities we do and wonder how it all fits together cohesively into a history curriculum. We are constantly tinkering with our learning style, so it changes from time to time, but I can give you the basic framework.
Like today's study of the French Revolution.

I began by reading to them the chapter on The French Revolution in A Child's History of the World by Hillyer. This is a wonderful book that has a voice that is very much like someone telling the story of history. It is factual, but written with an engaging style. It is written at about the 4th grade level, so it could be read by some students. It just works best for us for me to read it aloud to my youngest two boys. Despite its style, however, my boys are very visual in terms of their learning and they just need something visual to go with it or they just can't picture or understand it.

Sometimes I follow up Hillyer's book with reading from The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History on the same topic. Today, however, I just left it open to the appropriate page as I read Hillyer's book and just referred to it by pointing out the pictures that went along with the sections I was reading. I showed them the storming of the Bastille as I read that section. I showed them the guillotine when the chapter talked about that, and the picture of Robespierre when we got to that point. These pictures helped to cement the story of history into their minds. You could substitute any other  pairing of these type books. For example, if you have The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, this could substitute for the Usborne volume. Even though it is written for an older audience,  it still has beautiful, vivid pictures. Likewise, many people like The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer to substitute for Hillyer's book. The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon (updated 1999 edition) is also a nice choice, and one I like to use for our second round of our 4-5 year history plan. (My high schoolers are using the Kingfisher and Van Loon's book now.)
inside the The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History
That reminds me, I must tell you, too, that I don't take just one year to read through these books. I like to take a long, leisurely pace so that it really has time for them to contemplate and take it in as part of their base of knowledge and not just facts to breeze through. We will take four to five years to go through these books. My hope is that we will be able to complete this cycle three times in their schooling time, adding more complex concepts to their basic knowledge each time through.

Quentin playing with Movable Paper Figures
We always take time to talk about it after the reading and looking at pictures. Sometimes I prompt them with questions, sometimes they have questions of their own that I or a book can clarify, sometimes we just talk about it...whatever comes to mind. Often it is our thoughts about what it would have been like to have been there at that time. How would we have felt? What would we have done? My seven-year old is at the stage where he wants to categorize people into the "good guys" and the "bad guys." We often discuss that people are people in different circumstances, and we all have a tendency to do things we shouldn't under difficult circumstances. I do want to instill into their minds and hearts that there are heroes with qualities that we can try to copy, and there are people that have qualities that we do not want to copy, but at the same time I want to encourage them away from stereotyping and being too judgemental. These discussions help with these issues. In today's discussion, we talked about how the French were influenced by the American Revolution. We always do American History in context of World History and not at a separate time. It seems to have so much of a richer meaning when we can see how what we are doing in America is affected by what is happening in other countries and also how we, as a country, have affected other countries. It gives history a much richer tapestry. Before our break, we had studied the American Revolution for a few weeks, and coming back this week, we began with the French Revolution, and so we made simple connections between the two. We even read a bit of each of the Declarations of Independence (France: Declaration of the Rights of Man) and compared them. Not too much, but just a little, is a perfect amount for a 2nd and a 4th grader.

Quentin drawing Sacajawea from Draw and Write Through History.
When we are finished talking causally, often I offer them a project to do. Notice I say offer. It is not mandatory for them to do it. or anything else besides their narrations/discussions. Often they want to do more. Excited by the new information, they want to apply it to their play, their lives. Sometimes we color a map. I have found Interactive 3-D Maps: American History: Easy-to-Assemble 3-D Maps great for this, if we are studying American History. Sometimes we make paper figures or puppets...remember these are boys and no dolls allowed. Sometimes we play with toy figures. Sometimes they draw and/or write about what they have learned. Sometimes they copy a sentence or two on the subject for copywork. Sometimes I will see an idea on another blog that fits in with what we are studying and we will do that. Sometimes we will get ideas that branch out to other areas such as science or art. Often the boys come up with their own ideas, especially in terms of pretend play or reenacting stories or scenes.


 "Children have other ways of expressing the conceptions that fill them when they are duly fed. They play at history lessons, dress up, make tableaux, act scenes; or they have a stage, and their dolls act, while they paint the scenery and speak the speeches. There is no end to the modes of expression children find when there is anything in them to express."
 Charlotte Mason, Homeschooling Series, Vol 1., p. 295

For today's lesson on the French Revolution, we didn't come up with any projects, and that is okay too. We laughed about the idea of having a guillotine model just like they have the trebuchet models. It is not necessary to do a project with each and every lesson, for then it becomes drudgery in itself, and that is just what we are avoiding.
My high schoolers are running along side us in their history, with much deeper concepts and connections, of course, but when we are all on a similar course, we can each add to dinner time discussions to our own level and perhaps we will sometimes go over our little ones' heads from time to time, I am more often surprised by their insights. They are absorbing much more than I ever thought possible.
What are some of the ways you teach and learn about history?
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3 comments:

  1. As you know we both have a very similar philosophy. I haven't had as much to post about our travels through American History so far because for the first semester we were using something that I felt like I'd just be writing what they put in the lesson plans, that and the kids just weren't connecting. I'm revising that with our relaunch, and it's working much better.

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  2. I enjoyed reading this (I read it before, but am coming back from your meme). I especially appreciate how you discuss history. I do think it is easy to be judgmental based on today's sensibilities. I also think it is good to try and think how we would feel and how we would have acted. Keeping the World Encyclopedia out as a part of the study is a great idea. Often, I forget and leave it on the shelf. Thank you for spending the time to share this.

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  3. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing!! I want to dig deeper in history this year and this is an inspiration. Do you have a particular curriculum you use or just piece it all together?

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It means so much.