Wednesday, May 28, 2014

History and Chronology

I probably should have introduced this post with why I became so fascinated by the topic.

I'm looking at this from 3 roles: 1)a 4th grade public school teacher who teaches California History, 2)a home(pre)schooling tag-team parent who will be homeschooling an only child through 12th grade, and 3)the niece of 3 homeschooling aunties - one of whom I'll discuss in this post.

I've been teaching public school for 10 years, first 6th grade (with some 7th and 8th grade classes thrown in) and now 4th grade. In this role, I have had to teach to state standards, using district mandated textbooks. As I explained in
 Lots of Thoughts on History, a problem I have encountered is that, because California standards dictate that US history be taught in 5th grade, my 4th grade students have no context for many of the ideas we study. This made me wonder about history pedagogy and the issue of chronology.

I'm always trying to find more effective ways of teaching within the confines of government and district mandates. (And I am so happy my husband and I will be able to homeschool our daughter outside of those confines.)

I'm inspired by my homeschooling aunties (and uncles). One aunt and uncle homeschool one child using a combination of
 Classical Conversations, community resources (philharmonic, opera, theatre, etc.) world travel, etc. If there is an opportunity for learning, they take it. Because they use Classical Conversations, my cousin - at a very early age - had memorized a timeline of world history.

Is this Mason"ic"? ;) No. Might I do it anyway? We'll see... I can't say for sure at this point because I don't plan to buy my curriculum all neatly boxed up the same way I did with
 my daughter'sbirthday party supplies.

Auntie Barbara and I had a good talk on the phone the other night. I called to ask how their homeschool co-op's play went (their co-op - 11 boys and 1 girl - had put on the version of
 TheTempest I had adapted for my public school fourth grade class), and to talk about all of the cool special museum exhibits we can go to when they come to visit us this summer. And we talked chronology.

There are a multitude of reasons why I respect my aunt and uncle's opinions, not limited to their wisdom gained from experience as homeschoolers, their love for me and my family, and their love of learning (they're both PhDs).

I told my aunt I had posted about using one's community as a first planning resource, and was wondering if I was totally off my rocker by suggesting one might teach history out of order. I explained that I couldn't imagine taking my school-age child to a museum to see a special exhibit - the Natural History Museum's recent Silk Road exhibit for example - without prepping her as to what she was going to experience, or ignoring her curiosity and questions at the museum to study a particular historical era, say, the American Revolution, just because it was where we were in chronology.

I say all this because - I'll use the Getty Villa as an example - when I took my 6th graders on field trips, my team teacher and I spent a month beforehand, teaching our students about ancient Roman architecture and Greco-Roman mythology. And afterward, we extended the learning with writing and art, as well as other opportunities for students to discover the answers to their questions and show what they had learned. 

I'm not advocating child-led learning, but I do think that being able to discover a child's interests is one of the beautiful differences between homeschooling and public schooling.

Long story short, my aunt said no, history does not need to be taught chronologically. She said that once certain events and figures are in place, the mind is able to order other events and figures.

More than a decade ago, when I was studying for one of the tests I had to take to get my teaching credential, I created a color-coded timeline on our dining room wall. (Colors represented empires and continents.) It wasn't linear - because history isn't neat and tidy, and it doesn't fit in a binder. History happens everywhere all at once, causing and being caused.

History does not happen in vacuum... 

When I taught 6th grade Ancient Civ, the textbook was written as such. For example, students studied Ancient China, then Ancient Greece, though these civilizations existed concurrently. History classes are first organized spatially, then chronologically. So, yes, students learned about the history of China in order, but then they went back in time to learn about Greece, in order.


"The young student rarely goes over old ground; but should it happen that the whole school has arrived at the end of 1920." 
-from CM's Vol. 6, pg. 178 

This quote alludes to how students studied history in Charlotte Mason's schools; one reader pointed out that the whole school (the lower school) studied the same thing together.

This validates what many CM moms do - have all the children in the family focus on one historical period at a time, so as not to be teaching five historical periods at once.

The only complete term we have access to is Term 94 (meaning "grades" 1-12). Looking at the programmes and the exam questions for Term 94, we can see what the whole school was studying during the same trimester.

What 94 shows is that 10th through 12th (Forms 5 and 6) were studying 1625-1660. Form 6 also studied The Legacy of Greece and Rome by de Burgh (pg. 30-61 - two chapters) which covers Greek Civilisations: Origins and Development and The Greatness of Athens. Form 5 also studied Ancient Times: The Assyrians & Chaldeans, the Medo-Persian Empire, and The Hebrews and the Decline of the Orient.

8/9th graders (Form 4) studied 1600s (1625-1680 and 1625-1660 are noted in the programme) as well as daily news (current events) and the same Ancient Times book as Form 5 (Assyrians to Hebrews, etc.).

7/8th grade (form 3) studied 1154-1307, current events/daily news, and Stories from Indian History, the Crusades (by de Joinville), the British Museum for Children book.

4th-6th grades studied years 1154-1307 and ancient history. Their exam questions include Magna Carta, Peter the Hermit, St. Louis' first Crusade, Charlemagne, The Lady Blanch, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus [the Persian Empire], Greek position and gods and heroes. And, they studied Brutus (ancient Rome) for their Plutarch lesson that term.

For 1st through 3rd (Form 1), they read Our Island Story pgs. 94-140 (8 chapters): Harold, the Battle of Stamford Bridge, The Battle of Hastings (1066), William the Conqueror, William the Red, White Ship, Henry I (king from 1100-1135), and King Stephen (died 1154). Form 1 did not study ancient history other than Bible history.

So, the conclusion I draw from this is that the students were studying different periods. However, 1st through 3rd was all on the same page, 4th through 7/8th studied the same period, and 8/9th through 12th studied the same period. There were three groups.

In my last history post, I wrote that it is worth noting Mason's objectives. I find this interesting because the objectives deepen as the children get older. Prior to high school, the objectives are largely about piquing children's interest and exploring why certain historical figures are worth admiring. But in high school, the objectives have to do with cause and effect, and political and social context of events.


  1. I'm curious whether you are changing anything in your 4th grade classroom after thinking about all of this? I think that would be interesting to hear about. :)

    1. Yes! :)

      Thank you for asking and making me think about the answer...