If you’ve seen my current Homeschool Curriculum Choices video, you already know that I’ve struggled with my choice for homeschool history curriculum this year. We began the year in experimental mode, trying a couple of things to see what sticks, but generally hoping that we could study American History as a group (with kids in 4th grade, 1st grade, and pre-k) in a low-pressure and enjoyable way.
We’ve had some successes and a couple of…well, not exactly failures, but things that were not as successful as I’d hoped. The thing that surprised me the most was how emotional I’ve been over the study of history. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s look at some specifics.
Homeschooling with Minecraft
My boys love Minecraft, and my oldest has been begging me to work Minecraft more into homeschooling, so I decided to give Minecraft Homeschool a go via Skrafty.
Skrafty for Homeschool History
Skrafty has a number of areas available for study, but we decided to focus on just the U.S. History portion. I planned for my son to work through the lessons once a week, and expected it to be pretty hands-off for me. I was hoping that it would work well as a supplemental learning activity.
In general, I was pretty impressed. Each unit had six or so lessons, with a written portion and a video. The students completed quizzes (sometimes for each lesson) and were given a Minecraft build assignment for each lesson, as well.
Struggles with Skrafty
And here’s where we get to my struggles with the website. My son usually needed some sort of reference picture to create his builds. I don’t let my kids Google (that’s a whole other issue), and we didn’t have a lot of reference books (something I hope to rectify in the future). So he needed help from me to find the reference pictures. I’m more than happy to help him, but didn’t love that it was last-minute help since there was no way (that I know of) for me to see what topic each lesson would cover in advance. So he would read/watch the lesson, then needed me to get started on the build, interrupting whatever I was doing. Not the hands-off experience that I’d hoped for.
Another problem I had with the builds was that not all assignments were a great fit for a Minecraft build. For example, building an Iroquois village is pretty straight-forward and doable. But some assignments, like showcasing events in an explorers life, were, I felt, too ambiguous for a younger child. And even some of the suggestions, like building a statue of an explorer, were too difficult and advanced for even my very knowledgeable Minecraft builder.
The bottom line is that some assignments just really weren’t fun. Since we were doing this specifically for fun, I decided to forego the U.S. History portion of Minecraft Homeschool for the time being. It probably would have been better-used by an older, more independent student, or as the ONLY history (not a supplement).
Our Other History Resources
When I’m putting together a learning unit for my kids, I try to get a variety of resources that cover the same general information. I find that covering the same information in different ways helps the learning to stick better with my kids.
Because I have a love affair with spreadsheets, I put together a handy-dandy spreadsheet to keep track of resources I come across. In my spreadsheet, I have columns for videos, reference resources, read-alouds, independent or guided reading, and a miscellaneous column for fun activities (activity books, lapbooks, Minecraft, etc). I enter items into the spreadsheet if they’re a possibility for us, but we won’t end up doing everything.
Favorite Resources So Far
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Some of our favorite resources so far have been:
- What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know (and others in this series) – I’m using the American History portions of these books for their historical summaries. The summaries are written perfectly for children, so I like to read from these books as we enter a new topic.
- Sticker Fun History – My kids LOVE this book. It’s cute and funny and very informative. We used pages from the explorers portion of this book this year.
- Encounter (Jane Yolen) – This picture book shook me up. It looks at Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the New World through the eyes of a Taino boy. As someone that most likely has Taino blood, I really wanted to share this other point of view with my children.
- A Lion to Guard Us (Clyde Robert Bulla) – I love his books. They’re appropriate for children without being cartoonish or dumbing down truth.
- The Dreadful, Smelly Colonies: The Disgusting Details About Life in Colonial America (Raum, Elizabeth) – This was assigned reading for my fourth grader. I love that it’s so different than how we usually teach history to kids!
- The Voyage of the Mayflower (Graphic History) – My fourth grader is loving all of these Graphic History books.
- Pilgrim Cat (Peacock, Carol) – A fun picture book about a fictional stray cat’s participation in events on the Mayflower and beyond.
- William’s House (Howard, Ginger) – We loved this picture book that shows, in story form, how a new environment affected architecture in the New World.
- Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims (Bulla, Clyde Robert) – This book made me go online and read more about Squanto! So good.
- Finding Providence (Avi) – It was so interesting to me to see that, even as people were fleeing to the New World for religious freedom, human nature took over and those that were fleeing persecution were making the same mistakes as their persecutors.
- If You Lived in Colonial Times (McGovern, Ann) with Living in the Colonial Times Notebooking Pages – I read this book to the kids a couple of years ago, but this year I had my oldest read it independently and work through a lot of the notebooking pages.
- The Sign of the Beaver (Speare, Elizabeth George) – This has been such an interesting book, both about the way of life back then, and the responsibilities that even a 12-year-old boy had. We did have discussions about terms that were used back then (“Indian” and “savage”) and why those terms are incorrect. To be clear, I didn’t feel that the book was disrespectful at all, but I just wanted to be sure that my kids understood.
Using History Read-Alouds
For read-alouds, I’m using both picture books and novels. When I’m reading from a novel, I’ve found that I need to keep the kids’ hands busy as they’re listening. (If you follow me on Instagram, you know that the struggle is real.) I generally let my preschooler run in and out during the reading if he’s especially antsy. But in an effort to quell the chaos, I’ve collected a list of activities for us to try…and I’m sharing it with you because I care. 🙂 Just click the image below and you can download it for free!
Struggles with Homeschool History Curriculum
And now we’ve arrived at the emotional part of my experience with teaching history this year.
When I first started researching curriculum possibilities for early American History, my main concern was the dumbing down and even altering of facts in order to make history lessons appropriate for children.
For example, historical figures like Benjamin Franklin tend to be presented as harmless, bumbling geniuses. The truth is that he was probably a dirty old man! And how about Pocahontas? After doing my own reading about that poor young woman’s life and the ways that she was used and abused, I was LIVID that there is any other narrative.
And no, I don’t want to share all of that with my kids just yet. Young children are not emotionally equipped to hear all the negative things, some of the really worsts truths out there. So I’m not saying that all that should be presented to children. But do we have to stray so far from the truth? I was determined to study history with my children in a way that would preserve truth while presenting only age-appropriate information.
And as a Christian – not a cultural Christian, not a social Christian, but a born-again, Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Christian – I was also interested in teaching history from a Christian world view. But even that desire had its problems.
The biggest issue I see is that some sources interpret history by claiming to know the mind of God. Specifically, there’s a theory that God intended for the “New World” to be “discovered” at that exact moment in history, specifically by Christopher Columbus. Much is made about the name “Christopher” meaning “Christ-bearer.” He’s portrayed as a hero that was brave enough to follow God’s will and bring the message of Christ across the world.
I question all of this.
How do we know that it wasn’t within God’s will for the “New World” to be populated by people (other than those that we now call Native Americans) at an earlier point in history, or even later? I suppose it depends on an individual’s view of free will, but I personally believe that God gives us free will and freedom in exploration. Regardless, I can’t know for sure because I can’t fully know the mind of God.
But even if I accept the premise that God determined exactly when Europeans would “discover” the “New World” and determined that Christopher Columbus would be the man to do it, does it also follow that he deserves hero worship? The answer is an emphatic no! Even if Columbus was God’s chosen instrument, that does not mean that Columbus was a perfect man or that we should gloss over the terrible things he did or the greed that motivated him.
I think that one of the best reasons to study history is to allow the lessons of the past to inform our current and future decisions, as well as the way we see current events, both individually and corporately. In order to do that, we need to recognize that people are complicated, a mixture of good and bad. Consequently, nobody makes the right decision all of the time. Sometimes people make bad decisions, learn from them, and make better decisions. And sometimes good decisions are made by people living out some negative things.
I also want my children to understand that imperfect people can have a great impact on millions of people in the present and the future.
That is a message of both hope and caution to my children.
The hopeful message is that the decisions they make and the service they do can have a great, positive impact.
The cautionary message is that doing something good and impactful doesn’t excuse or wipe away poor choices. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about forgiveness. Yes, we should forgive and hope for forgiveness from other people. But the end does not justify the means. Choices have consequences that are not reversed just because we have a change of heart or did something “good.”
I believe that presenting historical figures in a nation’s history in a more honest way makes them, and their choices (good or bad), more relevant to our children.
Phew! Like I said, I had a lot of emotions, as well as thoughts and ponderings, on this subject. I’m feeling very “extra” right now! I hope that this review of our hits and misses so far this year was helpful! And please be on the lookout for more updates of our year…