I haven't found a history curriculum that really gives me everything I want in a curriculum. I want a clear concise flow of history with a bit of depth, hands-on activities, engaging quality fiction, writing, and a clear way to show what we learned by the end. Oh and I don't want all this to cost a ton of money. Asking too much? Most likely yes, since I haven't found what I'm looking for yet!
So, in years past I would buy a curriculum and tweak it to death! Recently I decided to skip paying someone else to develop something I would simply redevelop. I have been designing my own history curriculum since then and have come up with some simple steps that anyone could follow to design a course of study themselves.
1) Prioritize. What is most important to you? Do you want to emphasize culture, memorization, religion, a hands-on aspect, developing reading skills, geography, writing, vocabulary, reading comprehension, following a four year cycle, American history, world history, or ___________? The list could go on forever--every family has different needs and focuses.
This is the fun part for me. I read my Rainbow Resource , Timberdoodle, Winterpromise, Beautiful Feet, Veritas Press, and Sonlight catalogs, as well as what ever other catalogs I can get my hands on. I look at Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. I look for books and products that will meet the priorities I've set for our study. I read the product descriptions looking for age suggestions, number of pages, worldview, skills taught, and reviews of others who have used the products. I look for products that will help me meet the goals I set when I prioritized in step 1.
Then I move on to The Well Trained Mind Forums. These fabulous boards have thousands of homeschooling moms and dads willing to share their opinions on every topic under the sun! While it is a good place to get info, it can also be a rather overwhelming place to visit. That is why I only enter after I have already narrowed my choices to a few specific products. It is easy to search for discussions on the products you are interested in. Most likely, someone has used it and shared why it did or didn't worked for them. If a discussion hasn't already happened, feel free to start a new one with your specific questions.
Spend time at the library perusing their history section. Look for books that could work as a core and for books you might want to add to the core.
At this point I usually have more products and ideas than I can possibly use. Think about how often you will be working on history and how much time you and your children can reasonably spend on assignments. I plan to work on history 3 hours per week. On top of that time spent working together I expect my 8th-grade son to spend 3-4 more hours reading, researching, and writing, and my 6th-graders to spend about 2 hours working on projects in their history portfolios. Pare down to what you can do in your time allotted to history.
3) Don't Be Tempted.
Okay, very important! Don't go ahead and order the curriculum package you read about in one of the above wonderful catalogs unless it meets all your priorities! I've been homeschooling for over 11 years, and each year I am tempted by all the fabulous curriculum that arrives in my mailbox via those catalogs. I want to buy the Veritas Press history cards--even though I know they don't quite work for my family. The Sonlight guarantee always tempts me! But people! this is why we are creating our own thing! If after researching things you find something that looks great and reassures you your child will be a genius after using it, but it doesn't fit your goals, it will not work for you in the long run! Spending money on it will be a waste of resources. Okay, deep breathe! Now that we got that out of our systems lets move on.
4) Pick your Core Materials
It usually works best to choose one main book to be your core. Your core is the book that will work as the backbone of your program. You will follow its layout adding other components to it. A core for history could be a history encyclopedia, a textbook, or a series of books. I chose for our history core The Story of the Middle Ages , The Story of the Renaissance, and these History Portfolios. These are the texts that set the pace and path of our study.
5) Add to your core.
Look at the table of contents of your core book. Read through the book. Decide where to add the other components of your program.
I try to pick six books for me to read aloud and six books for my kids to read themselves. Looking at the table of contents, I plug these books into the chapters they will add to the most .
I want to add reading comprehension to our history for my daughters who need extra work in this area so I added these workbooks. And over the years I've figured out that trying to make every source match up with every other source will only drive you crazy! So, I don't try to match the topics in the workbooks up with exactly what we are studying in our core book. I've found that having topics slightly off schedule can be an advantage as it builds review into the curriculum.
My goal for my son to work on research and writing skills is met through the library. I plan for him to pick a topic to research and then in our weekly visit to the library I help him look up and find books on the topic. I've learned through experience not to plan these topics out. Every scholar on the earth may think the art of a certain period is important, but my child may feel the bathroom habits are more interesting! I go with the flow, since my real goal is improving his research and writing skills.
I also take topics from our cores to practice outlining and summary skills. The cores I've chosen also have discussion questions and activity suggestions at the end of the chapters. I skim over these to pick any activities my girls might like to complete and add to their portfolios. Planning these ahead of time allows me to have the supplies needed at hand.
The history portfolios have a teacher's guide which I find invaluable for helping with writing topics and interesting activities as well as providing the mapping activities that fulfill priority number four.
I've found that it is always nice to throw in something different through-out the year to keep things interesting. I picked these history magazines and a few Jackdaws to change things up a bit. They filled the gap of the Byzantine Empire, Feudal Japan, and the Vikings I found in my cores. An unit study, in-depth art project, or a field-trip can all work to add interest to your studies.
6) Type it up
I like to type my plans up making a schedule to fit our school year. For some reason having this official looking plan makes all the difference for me!
7) Be willing to change things up!
Some weeks things won't go as planned. Some activities will be duds. A new enticing book might show up at the library. One of your lovely children may HATE one of those wonderful resources you carefully picked out.
I've found I'm better able to deal with these things and change things up when I start with a plan and goals. With your plan in place, you can take one read-aloud book out and plug in another. You can skip the activity that doesn't work for your busy week while working ahead in another area, so you can fit that activity in another week.
There you have it. A curriculum made to order.