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Teaching History with Literature

If you asked me what historical periods I am most acquainted with it would be a toss-up between Victorian England and the Dark Ages.  I know things about these time periods that on a daily basis are just worthless trivia but they enrich my life and my Self in ways that make me happy.  Why?  Well, I’ve mentioned before that Charles Dickens is my all-time favorite author.  So, yeah, I’m even up on the French Revolution. 🙂  And my dirty little secret is that I seriously own more than 100 books about the Arthurian legends.  Seriously.  Yes, I have read them all.

So when I talk about teaching with literature, it comes from a place that is so integral in me I can’t remember where it started.  I just knew as a young child I was learning more than my peers simply by immersing myself in stories they wouldn’t dream of tackling.  I have always especially loved books that were written by authors who were contemporary at the time–Dickens, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Bronte sisters, Alexandre Dumas.  Because you know the history in those stories is going to be pretty accurate.  I’m also a big fan of well-researched stories that were written more recently.

Well.  You know.  I’m just a big fan of books.

Teaching history to Littles can be overwhelming, especially if resources are slim.  One thing I rely on in those times is historical fiction.  It has to be well-written and -researched to be added to my list.  It has to be relevant to what we’re learning, which is why I’m being so careful about  choosing books about China for next year.

Why should we use lit to teach history?  Lots of reasons.  It adds context to the facts we’re learning.  It takes characters we may read about in nonfiction and brings them to life.  It provides a window into everyday details.  Because historical fiction is full of the various characters of the period, it can often help children see both sides of the story.  It shows kids that human issues continue to be human issues.  Problems and joys and triumphs are very similar throughout history, so it gives your kids a chance to see that their own issues aren’t as big and overwhelming as they may seem.  It gives a little spice to the lesson, makes it a little more fun.  Some things to keep in mind, though:

  •  Make sure your littles understand that the book is a story and, no matter how historically accurate, it is still fiction.
  •  Make sure the books you choose are historically accurate and the historical facts are integrated into the story in fluid manner.
  •  Make sure the book is relevant to the topics you are teaching.
  • Make sure the story is interesting.

I’ve used many books of historical fiction to help teach my boys history over the years.  Here’s a list of some of them:

The Odyssey retold by Robin Lister

We used the Odyssey when we were studying Ancient Greece.  It was incredible for introducing the Littles to the Greek Gods and the Trojan War.  Middle developed a life-long love of all things Greek from reading this book and went on to read all the Percy Jackson novels because he couldn’t get enough of it.  Lister tells the story in prose which makes it easier for littles to follow.  Of course, both Middle and Littlest are aware that reading this children’s version is a preface to when we read Homer’s epic poem version in a few years.  I loved using this book, not only for its historical worth, but for the foundation it gave them for future readings of Homer.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

We read this one when we were studying Ancient Rome.  I felt it gave insight into how other kingdoms felt about Roman imperialism.  It also taught some valuable lessons about forgiveness and the futility of revenge.

King Arthur and His Knights by Sir James Knowles

Historically accurate?  Probably not.  But I couldn’t resist introducing the Littles to my favorite hero when we studied Medieval Europe.  I just happened to have this one in my collection, but trust me when I say there are Tons of books about this legend to choose from.  My personal fave is the Mary Stewart series–The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day.  Middle also read Guinevere by Sharan Newman, the very first book I ever read about King Arthur in the 6th grade.  Do I recommend it?  Well, it did start my obsession. 🙂

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

No revolutionary study is complete without Johnny Tremain.  What’s great about this book is that it is told from a boy’s perspective, but it gives true insight into what was happening in the minds of the leaders of the revolution.  Whenever I am reminding my boys to be brave and stand up for what is right, I have them recall Sam Adams proclaiming that the revolutionaries were acting so that, “a man can stand up.”  Nothing more important than that.  We also read Attack of the Turtle by Drew Carlson, the amazing story of the first U.S. submarine, and Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson

The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox

If you want your littles to really see just how terrible the slave trade was, this is the book.  It is about a ship that transports slaves, and though written for young people, it really drives home just how horrific this time period was for Africans.  I seriously cannot recommend it enough.  We also read Shades of Gray (just two, not fifty) by Carolyn Reeder, about a bitter young boy dealing with the fallout of the Civil War, the death of his parents at the hands of the Yankees, and an uncle he considers to be either a coward or a traitor.

Product DetailsThe Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We didn’t read the whole series when we studied westward expansion, but we did read a couple of the Little House Books.  Really, they are so full of details about that time period it would be ridiculous  not to use them.  We also read the American Girls short story Kirsten on the Trail by Janet Beeler Shaw.

This list is just a suggestion box for you, a jumping-off point to give you ideas of the types of books that can be used for a few different historical periods.  Stay tuned for more suggestions as time goes on.

Are there any books you’ve read with your littles while studying these time periods that I left off the list?  If so, please share them with me.

Love wins,


Love Wins

Somebody asked me over the weekend why I always sign my blog posts “Love wins.”  I thought it was pretty self-explanatory, but I guess it maybe isn’t.  It was not enough to explain to my friend that I wanted to end things, always, on a positive note.

“But what does it Mean?”

It means lots of things, and all of them are important.  Mostly, it is quite likely my biggest belief in life, quite possibly learned from my mother’s example of “Be sure your children know you love them and everything else will work out.”  Possibly it stems from my love of the common fairy tale, in which, every time, love wins.  Perhaps it is derived from my own life story, in which finding Martin and having a family with him has shown me the true power of love.

But what does that mean to me, love wins?  Some people believe good always wins.  Some people believe evil always wins.  Some people think there might be some kind of give and take, sometimes good triumphs and sometimes, unfortunately, it’s the other way around.  Some people believe it is light, or dark, or kindness, or cruelty that tends to win.  Even within different religions, these beliefs are held forth.  In my experience of watching the world–the universe–and how it works, I’ve come to a conclusion that I fully believe.  Love wins.  Every time.  Maybe not in the ways we hope it will, but it always wins.  It lifts us up, it makes us strive to be better, it softens blows, it carries us.  It generates kindness, compassion, empathy, understanding.  It is truly the most powerful force we have at our disposal.  There’s a reason the Bible tells us to love our neighbor and Confucius tells us, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”  When we love each other, we give everything we have to treating each other right.  We make sacrifices to see each other smile, however fleetingly.  What, I ask you, is more powerful than a smile?

High Quality Love Blank Meme Template

Well, love is. haha

“But what,” my friend asked, “does that have to do with homeschool?!”


See, as I said in Friday’s post, none of the moms or dads I know who homeschool come at it from anywhere but a place of love.  I homeschool because my job on this planet–since I chose to have children–is to love them fiercely, raise them up to be productive, gentle, loving men, and make sure that while they are under my charge they are shown a world blown wide open with possibilities.  I don’t want them placed in a box where they have to live up to expectations or a reputation which might stymie their dreams and abilities.  When Martin and I decided to homeschool, we did so with all the love we carry in our souls.

When you, dear reader, decided to homeschool, you did so with all the love you carry in your soul.  So love won.  Again.  Always.  When I spend hours trying to winnow the complex history of China into a doable lesson that touches all the relevant points, I am loving my children so hard they ought to pass out from it. (haha)  When I, who am not a math genius, come up with games to help Littlest get his multiplication memorized in a way that is fun, love is Winning in this house.  When you are trying to decide which curriculum to use, how to afford a field trip that will cement a lesson, whether to join a co-op, you are showing your children that love wins for them because they are the most important thing in your world.

In so many ways, we homeschool parents ensure that love wins on a daily basis.  That is not to say that other parents don’t, because I know some awesome parents whose children attend public or private schools, but this post is about homeschooling.  We don’t get paid for this job.  We rarely even get Praised for this job.  We slog along, letting love lead us, Because We Love.  We are paying so far forward by doing this thing that our great-grandchildrens’ acquaintances might feel the ripples.  We are casting such love into the universe that it is expanding, in part, because of us.  Our children are expanding.  Because. Of. Us.

So again, what does “love wins” have to do with homeschool?



Love wins,


Interesting China Facts

In prepping to teach the Littles all things China next year, I have been learning a lot myself.  Today my favorite thing about homeschooling is that so often while planning what to teach them I find myself learning things I didn’t know or re-learning things I forgot.  In the case of China, I’m having trouble remembering if I learned more about it in school than where it is, that it is a communist country, and that it is shrouded in mysticism.

In my desire to teach the Littles ever so much more than that, I have found some seriously interesting facts about China that I wanted to share.  If you already know them, forgive my ignorance.  If you don’t, I hope you are as awed by them as I am.

1. China has been a cohesive nation for nearly 4,000 years.  That makes the United States look like a baby, no?  Imagine having a culture that dates back 4,000 years.  Here in the melting pot, we have to reach out to our ancestors to find that, and often we don’t find any real connection to it.  No wonder so many Chinese people honor tradition the way they do.

2. China spans five time zones, but the entire third-largest-country-in-the-world now runs on a single time zone (UTC+06:00).  This is so completely fascinating to me.  Talk about being cohesive.  Imagine if was 7:51 right now on both the east and the west coast, not just here in the middle of the U.S.  It would have gotten light way too early in Bangor, Maine, and wouldn’t get light until way late in L.A.  But we would all know when to call each other without having to think about it!

3. We think of the Himalayas when we think of China, but nearly 1/3 of the country is covered in mountains. That’s a lot of mountains.  Considering China’s size, that means about 1.235 million square miles of mountains.  You read that right.  Million.  Whoa.

4. China’s topography ranges from rainforests in the south to deserts in the north.  North?  That’s close to Russia, right?  And all that Siberia stuff?  And there are deserts there?!

5.  Not only that, but the Gobi Desert is the 5th largest desert in the world.  That might not sound impressive until you realize that two of the larger deserts are polar deserts and so don’t really count.  (Just kidding, but really, how often do we think of Polar Deserts when we think of deserts?)  So the Sahara and the Arabian are the only two hot deserts that are bigger than the Gobi.  In the same country that has 1.235 million square miles of mountains And rainforests.  Impressive.

6. The Grand Canal, which connects the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, is the longest man-made river in the world.  Even more impressive?  Parts of it date back to the 5th Century B.C.  B.C!  Whaaaa?  That’s what happens when you have a millenia-long history.  Your stuff sticks around and you keep using it.

I have always been fascinated by China.  Now I am amazed by it.  And I haven’t even started putting together the history portion of our program.  Stay tuned… I bet this gets Really Interesting.

Love wins,


Top Ten Favorite Homeschool Blogs


As promised, today I’m going to tell you about my top 10 favorite homeschool blogs.  Once more, these aren’t the only blogs I follow and they are in no particular order.  This is just a list of the ones I use most frequently.

1. A Homeschool Mom Cristina’s blog is full of encouragement and ideas for homeschooling mamas.  It is well-written and -organized.  There is a great series on the blog called ‘Homeschooling 101’ that offers great advice to new homeschool parents.

2. Stories of Our Boys April’s blog is amusing and upbeat, even when she is writing about issues that aren’t so happy.  She offers info on homeschooling, childhood epilepsy, photography, recipes…. Just check it out; you’ll love her sunshine-y approach to life.

confession3. Confessions of a Homeschooler Erica is the author of a book called Homeschooling 101.  She does us other mamas the favor of blogging about her curricula every year along with her schedule so we can get ideas from this homeschooling genius. Other points of interest include crafts and free printables.  Eric also has a store from which she sells science, geography, literature and other unit studies.

4. Bloke School  I just found this one recently, and I’m already hooked.  David gives us mamas a fresh look at homeschooling–from Dad’s point of view.  He’s based in Australia, so some of the laws and financial stuff doesn’t apply here in America, but the site is super well-written and full of posts that really make me think, as a teacher, about how I can make the lessons deeper for my Littles.  And since I only have boys, advice from a man is invaluable.

Penelope Trunk5. Penelope Trunk Penelope’s blog about homeschooling always makes me think.  She posts about things like how to make sure your unschooled child is really learning, how video games can be beneficial, continuing to homeschool if you go back to work… Lots of encouragement and sound advice.  My favorite quote: “I homeschool because it seemed to me that it was like breastfeeding: Of course it’s the best thing to do for the kids, it’s just difficult.”   She also offers curriculum advice.

YRHHeader6. Year Round Homeschooling  This is a place where many homeschool moms blog about a variety of homeschool subjects.  I spend a lot of time on this blog, because I can anything from encouragement to unit studies to freebies and there is such a variety of authors that I never get bored.  They also provide a daily list of free ebooks.