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The History Rotation: Part II

The History Rotation -the first post of this topic.

After more research and contemplation, I’m expanding on the topic of a history rotation and its role in a liberal education, particularly one modeled after Charlotte Mason, and even more specifically this curriculum.

With what focus should the history rotation begin? Is it better to introduce children to their own national history, to British history or to a chronological study of world history, beginning with a study of the ancients? Which rotation better fits the tenets of a Charlotte Mason curriculum, a classical curriculum or this curriculum, A Mind in the Light (AMITL)?

There are many reasonable points to be made for either history rotation.

For those who feel that it is better to begin a young child’s education with national history the argument made includes an emphasis on the importance of keeping history more relatable, in that the child will more readily come into contact with symbols, music, landmarks and references to this time in history. He will feel more connected to the study of a country in which he currently lives and experiences. Children should know and celebrate the heroes and legends of their own country, inspiring a love of their country and a sense of patriotism. A number of curricula available today feel that national history better fits the developmental stage of a younger child.

There are many curricula founders who feel that the study of history should begin with the beginning of time and should unfold its story as it truly unfolded itself. History should be relayed as a story would be-in sequential order. Who does not tell a story from its beginning to its end? Would it not be easier for a child to organize her thoughts about past events if she were better able to connect the general sequence of them? It is also suggested that those who introduce national history first may risk a child’s appreciation of where her country fits inside of the significantly larger area of world history as a whole.

Why have I included the idea that some curricula purport beginning the history rotation with British history? Shouldn’t this be considered national history? Not when a country other than Great Britain studies it first, such as true for those who use AmblesideOnline. This curriculum begins the study of history with a focus on early tales and people, but with a sizeable portion of it focused on early British history. This works well with the curriculum, but those who follow it who live in America or Canada are generally beginning the history rotation with British history. Many feel that this too is an appropriate place to begin, since the roots of American and Canadian history begin with Great Britain.

Still other curricula follow other rotation ideas. For example, one classical curriculum begins with bible stories and American history stories, moving next to the Old Testament and Greek Myths and then continuing the Old Testament and Roman history. One of the guiding principles here being that children should learn the known before the unknown and that American history stories are more known to young children, hence beginning here.

As you can see there are many different ideas about where a child should begin his history study and why it is important to begin in that place. It would be hard to disagree with most of these particulars, but here are few additional interesting points to consider:

The original AmblesideOnline began its Year One history study with This Country of Ours by H. E. Marshall along with a second thread of study using A Child’s History of the World by H. M. Hillyer, thereby giving Americans its national history first alongside of an introduction to world history. This was later changed as the former book was too hard developmentally for the younger years. AO now begins Year One with a study of British history using Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall, but with an additional focus on people and stories, hence the inclusion of 50 Famous Stories and selected American history biography style books. The latter books include: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Buffalo Bill by Ingri D'Aulaire. In Year 2, AO continues its use of Our Island Story and includes some selected chapters from A Child’s History of the World in its study of medieval times. Both books were chosen based on the idea that they gave a child a narrative overview of history without a loss in a comprehensive flow of history, supporting a child’s developmental levels but yet offering books with substance. AO’s Year 3 continues with the same two books as it moves into the Renaissance and Reformation time period, although neither book is actually finished since new books are used in Year 4. AO also suggests the use of either A Child’s History of the World, treating it this year as world history overview where the book is read over the course of the entire year or On the Shores of the Great Sea by M. B. Synge, the latter book focusing on the study of ancient history for its 3.5 Year. In the original version of AO, British history began in Year 4 with the use of Child’s History of England by Charles Dickens, while continuing the study of world history, but with new books, having finished A Child’s History of the World.

Mater Amabilis, another curriculum modeled after Charlotte Mason, covers national history in the first three years, but begins a study of ancient history in Year 2 with a study of Biblical history.

The details of what is studied in each of the above curricula and when is pertinent, because it reveals how varied where a history study begins can be. Ultimately it is about which books best uphold the principles of its method, philosophy or designer.

Charlotte Mason did not write that history must be taught in a specific rotation order, although her own programs followed a sequence. However, she did expect that it should be taught in chronological order and that when a history cycle is complete it should be begun anew. “It will be observed that the work throughout the Forms is always chronologically progressive. The young student rarely goes over old ground; but should it happen that the whole school has arrived at the end of 1920, say, and there is nothing for it but to begin again, the books studied throw new light and bring the young students into line with modern research” (Mason, Home Education Series, Vol. 6, p. 177). Literature should match the time period being studied. “Except in Form I the study of Literature goes pari passu with that of History” (Mason, Home Education Series, Vol. 6, p.180). She did make note that it would be important for students in the first year to begin their study of history with a focus on people and stories.

The PNEU also points out that history can be begun at any point in a rotation, because the skills needed to uphold it can be instituted at the skill level for which the child is currently working. It is emphasized that history should capture a child’s attention and that the student, having been taken captive, will soon sort out the chronological placements of events.

“Now the Parents' Review School is like all other schools in this, that it is impossible for new children when they join a class to begin at the beginning of every subject taught in that class; nor does it really matter. Historical and scientific subjects have only a nominal beginning, the important thing is that children should grip where they alight, should take hold of the subject with keen interest, and then in time they will feel their own way backwards and forwards” (Parents' Review School, Volume 12, no. 9, 1901, pgs. 968-970).

This leads to the premise that where a child starts is not the focus, but with which books and under what learning conditions. It would seem that history can be started in the beginning, such as with ancient history, the middle, such as with British history or between the middle and the current time of history, such as with American history.

Apparently, this debate has been going on for quite some time. Here is an excerpt from “The Teaching of Chronology” by Dorothea Beale:

It is a much disputed matter how we shall begin to teach history. I think the practical teacher will say there is nothing like the stories of antiquity--of the world's childhood--for the early education of the childhood of to-day. The delightful tales, e.g., of the Odyssey, as related by Hawthorne in his "Tanglewood Tales, " or the stories of Arthur and Charlemagne, related with all the little touches which the true artist--one who loves the little ones--knows how to introduce, will form the best groundwork for history to the child; these awaken the imagination and save him from ever becoming a Casaubon, a Dry-as-dust.

But, on the other hand, there is much to be said for the view recently enunciated by the Emperor William, that children should begin with their own times and read history backwards. We want to give reality to history by showing that it is not something remote, to be found in books only; we want to show that the life of each child forms part of history; then we may lead him on to see that the whole world is different for each man that has lived…(Beale).

With which books do children better connect? Which books build their minds with the flow of history, introducing people, choices, ideas and actions and how their interplay created our past? This should be how we measure what is best for our children’s study of history. The distinction here is not on when to start a history study but with which books and with which teaching methods we use. If your student is receiving an education based on a large variety of living books which spark interest and is narrating these books proficiently, then your student is learning history and so much more. The developmental appropriateness of where to start the timeline of history is proven if your child relates to a carefully chosen history book, enjoys its stories and its pageant of people and events and then narrates its back effectively.

A Mind in the Light Curriculum starts the story of history at the beginning, with the study of the ancient peoples. Year One begins this study gently drawing only from a bit over 1/3 of A Child’s History of the World and a few additional picture books and biographies to augment this study. Year Two adds in Our Island Story and continues through about another 1/3 of A Child’s History of the World as well as a few carefully chosen picture books and biographies, covering the medieval time period. Year Three finishes this study with the complete reading of both books listed formerly and again adds some picture books and biographies to complete the study.

Many parents and teachers feel a lot of concern when national history is not introduced right away. It should be noted that Year Three's additional history books are primarily American History in focus. I have a list of books which would further add to this focus, if needed. Also, if the Preparatory Level has been completed, then a light introduction to significant events celebrated through holidays (4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc.) as well as a look at important landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty is covered in this year. A gentle study of Native Americans is also included.

If you feel strongly about introducing a few biographical picture books of famous Americans to be read during Year One or Year Two, then I can certainly include a list which can be freely read as you wish. Year One was built so that time in history was not dominant, leaving a good deal of free time for this time of addition. Year Two is a much fuller year, but books from this focus could be added and read during breaks during the schedule, nightly readings or other times that best suit your family. Liberty’s Kids was a popular show on PBS that my children at that age loved. They could definitely learn a great deal from it about early American history.

Having studied this further, I may make a few adaptations and will be adding a few more small components to the study of history to the early years. I’ll be happy to share that with you in a new post in the future.

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