This year in our homeschool, we are beginning again to study the history of the Unites States, beginning with the exploration of the Americas and then continuing on through colonization and beyond. We spent about six weeks on the exploration part and I thought I would share what books we used and especially which ones we enjoyed.
For a little context, we take a very Charlotte Mason approach to history. We don’t do projects or worksheets. Pretty much we just read and narrate. The one other thing we do, though I haven’t been great at getting to it this year, is to keep a book of centuries. Because I have 4 kids, different ages but not too spread out, we divide our day into individual and together parts. In the together part, I read to them from our history “spine” book. The point of this is to keep us all on the same page and to give a broader narrative of the era. We usually do about a chapter a day, pausing along the way to have the kids take turns narrating what I have just read. Depending on the book and which kid I am thinking I will ask to narrate, a “chunk” might be a few paragraphs or a few pages. Then in their individual work, I also have them each reading from a history book, usually every other day. This year my kids are 13, 11, 10, and 8. Obviously, the older ones get harder books than the younger ones, though my goal is not so much to challenge their reading ability as to find books that relate to our subject and are interesting to them. I am not worried about them getting the big picture from their books since we have the spine for that. So, a child might, for instance, just read about one explorer and neglect the others in his or her individual reading.
So what have we been reading?
I did this post at the beginning of the year on our spine book and why I chose it. Our main history spine for the year is H.E. Marshall’s This Country of Ours. The first big section, maybe 10 chapters, is on the exploration of the Americas. I am liking this volume as much as I liked his book which we used for the Middle Ages, Our Island Story. They both have a very narrative style. I got them from Heritage History.
Since the time we spent on this era was relatively short, each child only read one or two books. My eldest read Jean Fritz’s Around the World in 100 Years. He seemed to really enjoy this book and did a great job of narrating it. In general, I have liked Fritz’s books. She has quite a number on American history. I have heard others say that this volume in particular is antichristian in its take. Though I did not read through it on my own, I listened to my son’s narrations on it every time he read from it, and it did not seem like he was picking up any biases I would not want him to have. I do think that at 13 he has some discernment and knows what our worldview it so I do not fret too much about one book overturning all that.
My 11-year-old read Genevieve Foster’s 1492: The Year of Columbus. Foster is another one of my go-to authors because her books are so good. In this one, as in others, she presents not just a narrow picture but a broader outline of what is going on in the world at the time she has chosen. I did not make my daughter read the whole thing; we skipped the bits on Asia, for instance, since they are pretty remote and not much in contact with the Americas at the time we are studying.
Both of these older children then went on to read a biography of an explorer by Ronald Syme. His books are easy narratives of the life of one person. They could certainly be read by much younger students as well. We were looking for something to fill in the time we had left and these fit the bill since they could read them relatively quickly. Syme, like Fritz and Foster, was quite prolific and even our local libraries had a number of his books to choose from. I would recommend his works for any boy who wants adventure stories.
My ten-year-old read two books by Ingrid and Edgar d’Aulaire, Leif the Lucky and Columbus. These are colorful books which tell their stories well. He seemed to enjoy reading them. They are not chapter books, but are long enough to divide up over at least a few readings. I am sure my 8-year-old could have managed them on her own as well.
Lastly, my youngest read Alice Dagliesh’s America Begins. This is pretty easy reading. I am happy with my choice for her though I wonder if the book moved through too many people and if she will retain much about each of them. Perhaps a book focused on one person would be better appreciated at this age.
Those are the books we read on the exploration of America. I was pleased with all of them, though I will say they were all authors I knew and trusted. I am sure there are many more winners out there but one never has enough time to read everything.