Written by Debi Polen
From the Beginning
Did history begin in 1492 with Christopher Columbus when you were in school? We decided that would not be the case when we began teaching history in our home school.
When I was in school and college, somehow I managed to never study world history. It seems strange now, but every year I repeated United States History, which began with a brief overview of the Native Americans in my home state and then jumped right to Christopher Columbus, who in 1492, “sailed the ocean blue.”
I finally moved into modern history when in college, but up until then, there was this huge gap between the Civil War and when I was born. Granted, we had Current Events when I was in middle and high school, especially when President Nixon visited China, but that didn’t help me place events correctly on a timeline for the 20th Century nor for countries outside the United States.
So, when we started homeschooling, we decided that we would teach history “from the beginning” and follow it chronologically to the modern age. For us, The Beginning meant that we’d start with the Book of Genesis. We began at Creation with The Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History by Rob and Cyndy Shearer, veteran homeschoolers themselves. Then, we followed the sequence suggested by the Shearers, continuing with The Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Egypt, Famous Men of Greece, Famous Men of Rome, Famous Men of the Middle Ages, and Famous Men of the Renaissance & Reformation.
These guides take you through history by way of biography. That helped us in making the transition from the literature-based unit studies of Five in a Row because we were still reading a story about a central character. With the Greenleaf series, it just so happened that these were real people who were key players in major events throughout history.
Greenleaf Press’s History Books
The Shearers began developing their history curriculum because they couldn’t find one that satisfied them when they started homeschooling in 1985. They wanted their study of history to start from the beginning and then progress “in a logical, readable, chronological way.” During their search, they found the Famous Men series of books that were first published in 1904, but had since gone out of print. Wanting to share these interesting stories about real people, they formed their publishing company in 1989 to reintroduce them. They also wrote guides that showed how to integrate these biographies with activities and reference material.
The program they developed can be started as early as the 1st Grade. The biographies are written as stories and are meant to be read aloud. Since the series starts with the Bible, this area of study may already be familiar with children this age.
We didn’t start the series until the 3rd Grade, though. But that was okay, because the Shearers outlined how you could fit the series into four years, five years, six years, or seven years. Their scope and sequence now goes to modern times and can be carried all the way to the 12th Grade. We ended our time with Greenleaf in the 6th Grade at the Reformation and were supplementing it with another series that we picked up from that point on. (We’ll discuss that new series, also written by a homeschooler, in Part 2.)
Supplementing the Biographies
If your schedule is not compressed, there’s plenty of time to go beyond just reading the biographies. Greenleaf Press has suggestions in their guides for further study, and here we’re reviewing some of the things we did to make history come alive for us.
1. Educational Videos
I have to admit that I went a little crazy with my VCR back when we decided to teach at home: I began recording Cable in the Classroom and other educational programs from the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, The Learning Channel, A&E, PBS, C-SPAN, CNN, Knowledge TV, The Weather Channel, and several others. Most of these programs were broadcast in the wee hours of the morning without commercial interruption.
The majority of the programs I recorded were History ones, but there were several that covered the Arts and Sciences too. To save some embarrassment, I won’t tell you how many hours of programming I recorded, but let’s just say I had to build an Access database to keep track of them and to perform keyword searches to use them! Fortunately, all of that recording created a wonderful video library that we used all the way to graduation.
The visual aspect of these recorded programs help students envision what it might have been like when these Famous Men lived. Of course, you don’t have to record all of these programs yourself; they may be available for purchase, streamed online, or in your local library’s collection.
2. Field Trips and Hands-On Activities
We also supplemented the biographies with field trips and hands-on activities. We were fortunate to live near Philadelphia, where many established museums, tours, and learning centers exist. One particularly fun field trip was taken when we were studying the Middle Ages. The Philadelphia Museum of Art had an exhibit of suits of armor for both men and horses. They also had a craft session for kids so that they could create their own crest on a shield. In addition to all of that, they had a demonstration on how the chain mail was made. We also saw illuminated manuscripts that we played at reproducing at home.
I can’t stress enough how important these hands-on experiences are. They make learning enjoyable and memorable (for Mom and Dad just as much as for the kids).
3. Additional Learning Materials
Greenleaf publishes guides that serve as the teacher’s lesson plan and idea book, providing additional reading suggestions, hands-on activities, vocabulary lists, and review questions. Some of these recommended supplemental resources include atlases and the written works of the time period.
Outside of Greenleaf Press’s recommendations, we also used Kids Discover Magazine issues and suggested readings from our local library.
When we first created our online catalog, we placed many of Greenleaf Press’s suggested supplemental materials for sale. You’ll see them listed in the product pages for each of the Greenleaf Press items. We also have several topical references that we used that weren’t specifically recommended by Greenleaf, but were still useful while using their curriculum. The following index covers the time periods that we studied while using Greenleaf:
In addition to the Famous Men series of biographies and guides, Greenleaf Press also created laminated timelines (timecharts) suitable for hanging that help you to put the periods in perspective. For each publication in the Famous Men series that we used in our home school, we’ve packaged the text, guide, and timeline together for listing in our catalog.
If you’ve got a free wall in your schoolroom, you could mount a large timeline for placing clip-art images or artwork created by your students. The value of having a large timeline is the visual impact, allowing your students to see the events in relation to one another.
Our wall timeline consisted of several sheets of legal-size paper (8½”x14″) that each had a grid (download the editable PDF file) with ten columns and five rows of squares underneath a heading for placing our icons. For our timeline, we labeled each column by year, but you may use your columns differently. We labeled and placed red construction paper that was cut in strips to fit a row of squares to indicate wars. Sadly, there was a lot of red on our timeline.
Here are some other timeline format ideas:
- Clothes Line – The events are recorded on index cards, placed on the clothes line, and can be easily moved. Whether you use paperclips or actual clothespins, the idea is that the events are added as the student learns them and inserted into their proper relative positions to the other events already present on the timeline. This format is ideal for short-term projects.
- Worksheets – These are designed to show “seat work” for inclusion in the student’s portfolio. See below for a few samples.
- Newsprint Roll – These rolls are great for presenting the big picture and at the same time, not taking up precious wall space. Just roll up and store in a corner when not in use.
- Hand-Made Posters – The traditional visual aid, posters make great projects for young learners.
- Laminated Posters – Draw your timeline without labels, laminate the poster, and use transparency pens. The poster is easily wiped off for reuse.
Just use your imagination when it comes to creating a timeline. We’d love for you to share your ideas with us in the comment form at the end of this article.
5. Worksheets for the Portfolio
Our home state required that the student have a portfolio that contained samples of all of the work done for each subject (from the beginning, middle, and end of the year to show progress). Our portfolios were usually limited to paperwork, photos, letters, and certificates that were easily stored in a regular three-ring binder, but our evaluators welcomed larger samples of work, such as that done on a computer or on poster boards.
If you’d like for your students to do paperwork to be included in their portfolios, we have a few forms that you could use for inspiration for biographies and timelines (all in PDF format; right click to save):
- Biographical Notes – The student creates a timeline and answers questions about the person’s life and work and why it was important for the person’s life to be studied.
- Individual and World History Timeline – This is a simple table that lists major events in the individual’s life side-by-side with world events. This helps the student see what world events may have influenced the subject’s decisions, such as moving to a new country or joining the army.
- Subject Timeline – This timeline is in its simplest form, so that it can be used for a person’s life or for the chronology of historical events, such as major battles of a war.
The timelines presented in these files are vertical. If you prefer a more sophisticated, horizontal timeline format, visit The Bailey’s Free Genealogy Forms website.
Geography and History go hand-in-hand, so blank maps are essential to the study of world history. We used several outline books (most of which were created by homeschoolers). Click on this link to see the items we currently have that have been tagged with "Geography."
When we finished Famous Men of the Renaissance & Reformation, we ended our use of the Greenleaf Press curriculum, but it does cover history to the present.
Greenleaf Press in Our Catalog
Below you’ll see our current offerings of gently-used items published by Greenleaf Press. If you don’t see any products listed, then they’ve all been sold! If you have items that would help in the study of history “from the beginning,” we’d appreciate your consigning with us.
Gently-Used Items from Greenleaf Press
"This book was written to guide parents in introducing the history of Israel to their children. It is our conviction that children should be acquainted with the Bible as early as is practical. We are convinced that the stories from the Old Testament are given to us to teach us and our children important lessons about godliness and wisdom." — Rob and Cyndy Shearer, Authors
"This book is intended to be a tool, a possible model for you to use and adapt as you see fit. You will know what suggestions will work best for the students you teach. I hope you will find it useful." — Cyndy Shearer, Author
"We are firmly convinced that biography should be an integral part of a child's study of history." — Robert G. Shearer and Cyndy A. Shearer, Authors
"There is obviously a wealth of additional material that even the beginning student of this period will want to consult. But as an introduction (for students in the elementary grades, high school, and even college) I think this set of biographies may help to intrigue, inform, and begin to form impressions and understanding." — Robert G. Shearer, Author
"Textbooks, by themselves, teach you facts. They do no introduce you to real people. Teach history to elementary school students should be like calling a child to story time. You find a snug comfortable place, you curl up together, and you start with 'Once upon a time...'" — Robert G. Shearer and Cyndy A. Shearer, Authors
"The study of history, like the study of a landscape, should begin with the most conspicuous features. Not until these have been fixed in memory will the lesser features fall into their appropriate places and assume the right proportions." — John H. Haaren, LL.D. and A.B. Poland, Ph.D., Authors of 1904 edition of Famous Men of the Middle Ages