Sunday, October 18, 2009

Learning About the Past (Meet the Ancient World 1)

The marvelous thing about introducing small children to the world's history is that it's all new to them -- but, especially when beginning, it's worth reminding yourself frequently that it's really and truly all new to them. They may not have any sense that the world was different in the past than it is today, much less that the world they see around them was shaped in significant part by things that happened long ago.

So it's worth taking a little time to talk in general terms about the past and how we learn about it. This unit can be fairly brief; we spent perhaps a week on it.

One note: I've included Amazon links to make it easy for you to learn more about the books I'm recommending, but given the mountain of books you'll be reading if you follow this curriculum all the way through, you'll definitely want to search your local library system first.


"Introduction: How Do We Know What Happened?" from Susan Wise Bauer, The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 1: Ancient Times
Story of the World is a series of four introductory world history books that are very popular among homeschoolers. The author is Christian, and her worldview seeps through at points, but overall it is well-regarded among secular homeschoolers. The writing is clear and generally engaging, but it's intended as a grade-school curriculum, and covers too much material too quickly for 4-6 year olds to absorb: If you try to sit down and read it straight through to your younger child, I'm guessing you'll have at best a very fidgety audience. At worst, you'll make the whole study of history seem dry from the get-go. So I recommend using it selectively; I'll list the chapters we found most useful, which include this introductory chapter, which succinctly introduces the concepts of history and archeology.
Kate Duke, Archaeologists Dig for Clues
A group of children accompany their archaeologist friend on a dig at the site of a prehistoric village. Well-written overview of how archaeologists work, and how they use information from the tiniest artifacts to piece together theories about long-ago worlds. From the "Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-About Science" series.
Aliki, Fossils Tell of Long Ago
Solid, informative introduction to fossils by the great children's book writer and illustrator Aliki. While the writing in this book may not be as fluid or elegant as in some of her other books, she does a good job of conveying the information to a young audience.

If just being read these books doesn't send your kid out to dig in the nearest available patch of dirt, a gentle suggestion should be all that's required. If the ground is frozen, or you'd just like to have an indoor digging activity, you can make your own cornstarch tar pit. You don't need a recipe: Mix cornstarch with water and black washable tempera paint until the mixture seems appropriately is roughly what you might imagine would fill a tar pit. Sink small objects in the glop -- seashells, bottle caps, little plastic dinosaurs, whatever -- and provide a spoon or other tool with which to excavate. Yes, it will be gooey and messy, and also very fun.

Have other books or activities to recommend? Tips based on your own experience? Please share...


  1. I just found your blog - and I love it! I'm about to get married next year and I keep telling my fiance that (one day, of course) homeschooling is the way to go, and he hasn't really understood until now. He's actually the one who told me your link, and what you do is EXACTLY what I've been talking about as the best way to educate our children! Thanks for chronicling it, I'll become a follower directly :)

  2. Hi, I just wanted to echo Charis' comment and say that although I am not yet a parent, I have considered this route from my future child, and so I have always kept my eyes peeled for homeschoolers who appear to be "doing it right", so to speak.

    My friend has just started homeschooling her kindergarten-aged son, and so far it is going very well. I will forward your blog to her.

    Mainly, I am attracted to the idea of teaching one's child achieve his or her own highest potential. And why not start at the youngest age possible, when their minds are still so pliable?

    Best of luck to you and your family!

  3. I came here from the Salon site because I didn't want to get caught up in the nastiness of the comments there. I've homeschooled "from the beginning," and my oldest is now almost 17 and in 11th grade, taking a community college class and doing just fine.

    I just let you and your husband know that such venom is not the norm in everyday contact, at least not here in upstate NY. The homeschooled kids I know are intelligent, creative, and nice people. So are the parents, for that matter.

    As for homeschooling in the later years, if you and your kids decide to try it, the college profs I've talked to have all been supportive of hands-on learning as opposed to the book-learning that often dominates the public-school experience. Follow my profile link to my home-science blogs, if you want to take a peek at what we're doing.

    Enjoy, and don't worry about the naysayers!

  4. Love the book suggestions - I ordered both from the library and read tonight, HITS! My boys 8, 6 and 4 loved them. We're also listening to Story of the World, so it's a good match with your blog.....PLEASE KEEP GOING!!!!

  5. Great photo.

    The audio version of Story of the World read by Jim Weiss is fantastic. Great to listen to in the car. And the kids can enjoy it many more times than you want to read it.

    The activity book that goes along with the Story of the World is full of good ideas, some are good just to think about, like mummifying a real chicken, and others are good to do, like making your own mud bricks.