Our little homeschool operates on a 4-year history cycle – this rhythm works really well for us. I like doing history as a group and I appreciate the methodical progression across time. This is our sixth year learning this way, and we love it.
How we mesh a 4-year history cycle with Classical Conversations
Our CC history cycles do not match up with our work at home, but this has never been a problem for us. A few years ago I pondered switching up what we do to follow CC’s schedule, but ultimately decided that this wouldn’t work for us. In order to cover a huge swath of material, Cycles 1 and 2 tend to jump dramatically in time and topic from week to week, and Cycle 3 focuses exclusively on United States history. Those things didn’t jive with the way I wanted to explore history with my kids – in a slower, more orderly progression.
That said, our CC material has added nothing but richness to our history studies. The timeline in particular is invaluable. Along with the sentences and songs, it serves to stick names, places, and events in our minds. When we come across these in our regular studies, the kids sit up and notice.
This year, we’ve in our second swing through the Middle Ages – a broad and dramatic period and one of my favorites to study. There’s a wealth of excellent children’s literature to dig into, of both the picture- and chapter-book variety.
Our spine continues to be The Story of the World: Middle Ages. I’ll read this aloud to everyone at the rate of about a chapter a week.
A big goal of mine this year is to incorporate church history into our studies. I wanted a simple source that provides a history of the early & medieval church and its role in culture in story format – not a textbook, nor another full course of study. Something inexpensive!
With that in mind, I grabbed this next resource for less than $10 during a sale. It’s called The Story of Civilization: The Medieval World and is published by TAN Books – a Roman Catholic publisher. I’m using this resource with care, because we are not Roman Catholic.
My husband – who has a scholar’s background in church history and continues to study it with great interest – and I previewed it together via a video on the site, and liked what we saw. Now that I have the book in hand I’ve done some thorough skimming. There are a few things I’ll couch in slightly different terms, and we won’t actually read through the whole book (especially when it overlaps with SOTW). But pieces of it should help fill our church history gap.
(I think it’s an important thing for my kids to be exposed to and discuss the divisions within Christianity, and at some point we’ll talk further about those – but not using this resource.)
I also read my kids bits from the book Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula, and we’ll continue with that. This book would likely need to be used with care by Christians who don’t identify as Protestant, but overall is an excellent survey. It explores the stories of specific Christians across 2000 years of history – from Polycarp, one of our earliest martyrs, to modern-era Christians like C.S. Lewis and Amy Carmichael.
Last year I tried using Wayfarers’ booklists for both our reading aloud and the boys’ assigned reading. Though we did find some great books this way, I was just terrible at sticking to someone else’s book list – both the material and (especially!) the schedule.
(Note: like many curricula, Wayfarers book lists are free in their online sample – the product they’re selling is the guide, which schedules everything. This was not my jam but works wonderfully for many people and could be worth the cost. As for me- I easily re-sold my guide online!)
This year I put together my own book lists, pulling from a variety of resources. This process is so enjoyable for me. Please read everything that follows through that lens! This is not the right way to do anything; it is simply my way.
My goal this year is to read slowly. Many of these books will overlap; we’ll read a chapter or two at most from any one book per week, reading several books at once- including the boys’ assigned reading.
(Click on images to be taken to Amazon for further descriptions; all links are affiliate…which I have to disclose every time I link anything, sorry!)
Read-Alouds (picture books not included)
(Swiss Family Robinson fits more into a nature study read-aloud than history, but I neglected to include it in my science post! I’ll be adding it there but am including it here too.)
6th Grade Independent Reading
(At the Back of the North Wind is more of a literature pick than a history pick- but a classic that is right up this kid’s alley.)
5th Grade Independent Reading
2nd Grade Read-Alouds
I’m not assigning my second-grader any books, although we have a couple medieval stories on her reading level that I’ll recommend to her. Most of her literature will come via our group read-alouds; I’ve chosen 3 other books to read to her this year. We started Pinocchio a few months ago, so we’ll just be finishing that one. (The pictured version of Pinocchio is the one we own – it’s hardback and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous!)
Building History-Based Book Lists
In thinking through my book lists, I wanted to choose books that I felt confident the kids would deeply enjoy. To that end, I’ve read many (but not all) of what I’ve assigned. Still, I’m not going to force my late elementary aged kids to trudge through a book they really dislike. This is all written in pencil, not carved in stone.
Along those lines, there are quite a few additional chapter books on the Middle Ages that we have on hand. I’ve included these in my own notes so that I know where they fall in history (and remember that they exist, frankly) – for easy recommendation or if we decide to substitute a book out.
I also wanted to choose a few books that root the reader in a very specific time and place. There are quite a few vaguely-situated medieval novels out there – and we do have some of those scheduled. But quite a few of these books take you somewhere quite specific – to the fall of Constantinople, behind the eyes of Eleanor of Aquitaine, to the War of the Roses.
It took me awhile to decide which books to read aloud instead of assign. I looked for choices that I felt were both important for everyone to be exposed to and would be really enjoyable for everyone. I also skimmed first chapters either via the library or Amazon – you can often tell quickly whether or not an otherwise excellent book will make a poor read-aloud.
I scheduled all of this out carefully, which was a small (satisfying) puzzle and will be every bit worth it as we get into our school year in terms of time saved, mental energy preserved, and reading goals reached. More on that below.
Okay, back to books.
Picture books for Medieval history
I’m not going to list all of the picture books we’ll read this year around the topic of medieval history. But here are some of our absolute not-to-be-missed favorites that I’ve penciled into the schedule. (A few are more like chapter books in terms of text.)
Picture book biographies – Diane Stanley
The last thing I want to show you is how I’ve taken all of these titles (and more) and laid them out in a way that allows me to see my whole (history) 36-week school year at a glance, all on a single two-page spread. I’ve jotted down all weekly topics from SOTW along with any prominent dates, events, or people featured. That’s given me a framework in which to pencil in when we’ll be reading all of these books.
You might think I’m crazy (well, I am, but happily so). For me, this is a critical step. It’s the way my mind works; I hold myself fairly accountable to external motivators. While vague ideas almost never come to fruition for me, lists of any shape are freedom-slinging game-changers.
I want to read these many of these books, and I want it to be easy. For me, this means that it’s all right here, not in twelve possible other places. If we skip things, it’ll be because I want to – which is always a guilt-free reason.
I’ve used similar graph-like pages in my planner – one page for me and one for each child- to schedule out which chapters in our read-alouds and independent reading to hit each week – weeks numbered down the side, titles along the top, and then I just zipped down each column and filled in chapter numbers. That took 10 minutes. It’s done for the year, and it’s written in pencil if we need to adjust (we’ll need to adjust).
Y’all, I could really happily list things forever. Forgive me?