I have always been intrigued by teaching history through literature. I love reading historical fiction, and any primary sources I can get my hands on, which can include what was then realistic fiction. You can learn so much about a time period from reading books, but I’ve always wondered how you taught all of history, when your kids are reading only 6-10 books a school year, how can you cover decades or centuries of history? Well, now I know after using Beautiful Feet Books Medieval History for High School for our history lessons this past semester.
(Two things: 1. Beautiful Feet books is sponsoring this post, opinions are still my own. 2. There are affiliate links in here.)
How do you teach history through living books?
Honestly, I’ve wondered this for years. I kept hearing people talk about teaching history through living books, and was honestly doubtful.
First, there’s an amazing teacher’s manual* with step by step “Read pages 7-21 of Magna Charta and answer these questions,” (totally made up example). You’re doing some amazing discussion and digging into books to look at big ideas.
*I guess technically, it’s not a teacher’s manual because I handed it over to my kids to read through occasionally. So guide book?
Here are my favorite things about this guidebook:
- Easy weekly layout, this is perfectly set up to get you going with minimal planning ahead of time.
- Great background details. I like the little tidbits of extra information put in there.
- Useful maps and period artwork, I love maps. Seriously, love maps, and they’ve got some great maps in there.
- Specific pages to read and questions that are both comprehension check and analysis questions.
- Again with those questions, sometimes the questions are history related, and sometimes the questions are literary in nature.
Side note: If you already own several of the books in this pack, which let’s face it, we’re homeschoolers we hoard books, you can call Beautiful Feet Books and they’ll adjust the cost of the Medieval History pack. I would have removed three of the books because I already owned them
You can’t use living books for history if you don’t have a good spine text
Next, there’s a spine text. That’s the key to teaching history through living books. I’ve always heard people talking about a spine text, but never been quite sure how it worked.
Though I also have a stack of church history books I read sometimes just for fun, so I’m weird that way.
Each week, you read a small portion of the spine text to give you more background knowledge than you would get from the living books you’re reading.
The key to this Medieval History is the living books
All of the books included with the Medieval History for High School are classic living books. They’ve been in print for decades, and in some cases centuries. In the case of Beowulf or 1001 Nights, they’ve got almost 1000 years of print. Saint Augustine’s Confessions, that is in the anthology (which I’ve misplaced for the picture), is over 1500 years old.
Side note: I love they’ve got some primary sources in the form of literature for this medieval history curriculum. I LOVE primary sources.
Unfortunately, we got our copy after we’d already covered some of this material, so we didn’t read 1001 Nights, and jumped in with Beowulf.
I’m not really sure why Superman looks like crazy stalker as he reads Beowulf, but he does. Let’s try this again, with a different picture of him reading this book.
That looks much less scary, it still looks intense, but not quite as scary. It makes sense though because Beowulf is an intense book.
My other kids just walked in and were scared by the scary Superman eyes.
So, as I was saying, the key to this medieval history curriculum is the living books. You’re reading classic literature that has taught people about the human condition for decades.
You read Beowulf and learn about confronting an implacable foe, and the stories of bravery. An archetype is established, and repeated, and rewritten throughout history.
You read 1001 Nights, and see the inspiration for great adventure tales, and see where the story of Aladdin comes from.
Learn the stories that inspired Shakespeare, as you read Canterbury Tales and some of the very first stories written in the English language. Oops, I just realized the picture is of the boy reading the Magna Charta book… Sigh, well that one has great stories of love, adventure, and betrayal.
You read Dante and learn about allegory and meet characters all throughout history.
This isn’t just a history curriculum, it’s a literature curriculum
This is the holy grail of homeschooling curriculum. It covers more than one topic, AND it’s 100% reusable. Technically, 99% reusable, because you’re going to color all over the map that comes with it, and it really does help to draw up the map.
As you’re reading the living books, you’re soaking up great literature. You’re learning about the Wife of Bath and how counter-cultural she was with her enjoyment of sex and her forthrightness. You learn how the perfect word means something. It’s not just a good word, but the right word.
Now, this covers further than I intended to go with our history this year. So, we’ll be digging into “The World of Columbus and Sons” at the start of next year. I’ve heard people raving about this book for years, so I look forward to reading it.
I mean, the kids look forward to reading it. I’m eyeing their Early American and World History teacher manual for next year. I’m eyeing the teacher manual because I already have at least three of the books, only problem is I’m planning to stop before the American Revolution…..