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Monday, January 16, 2012

Mapping Out Our Social Studies

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Welcome to Week 3 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair! You’ll find the links to all the other homeschool participants at the bottom of this post. (Update: a total of 19 posts this week!)

Our theme this week is:

Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science. This theme can include history, geography, world cultures, worldview, biology, botany, geology, etc., etc., etc.

In other words, we are all over the map (literally and figuratively)!

Obviously I can’t talk about it all in this post and I’m not going to. I’ll be giving you a brief overview of what we have done in the social studies department for the past 5 years, ending with the history and geography curriculum my 6th grader is studying this year. I like to share materials that are “off the beaten path,” and this one fits that description. ;0)

In the Beginning…unit studies from scratch

When we first started educating our children at home, David, our oldest, was in 2nd grade, Mary was preschool age, and Peter was a baby. One of our challenges was getting David excited about learning again. His school experience officially turned him off. I needed to turn him back on. Unit studies seemed to be the answer, but due to a lack of funds and not being able to find just what I wanted, I decided to create my own rather than buy a guide and a box full of books. Buying a guide and borrowing the books from the library wasn’t an option, as our bitty library simply didn’t have the books. I needed to improvise.

We started with a short unit on Daniel Boone over the summer. Created a lapbook from scratch. Made a board game. Did Daniel Boone math. It was very good.

Daniel Boone lapbook

Daniel Boone board game

I gained some confidence. David became interested. And so we ran on into a year long unit study on ancient world history.

Mesopotamia lapbook

Mesopotamia lapbook 2Mesopotamia lapbook 3

Educationally, it was an excellent year. But, frankly, all the prep work, the research, the locating of books, the planning, finding free online resources…it all got to be too much. And I was dealing with Peter’s special needs. It seemed like I was living and breathing homeschooling plus Peter’s medical issues. I simply burned out.

We also tried some pre-designed lapbooks.

We do like creating lapbooks. From scratch. Somehow all the cutting and pasting and filling in of blanks of the pre-designed type takes all the joy out of it for us. It’s like a 3-D fill in the blanks worksheet. And the kiddos very quickly slip into “get her done” mode. I have a number of digital lapbook files I’ve picked up here and there, and we do occasionally use some bits and pieces. But not really our thing. There’s something about creating it from nothing that helps them to synthesize what they have learned better. So we do the occasional lapbook, but as it’s a truly involved affair, we don’t do them too often.

I didn’t want to just give up on unit studies…enter Patchwork Primers

Patchwork PrimersWe tried Patchwork Primers Vol. 2: Inventions and Discoveries. That’s out of print, but you may still be able to find it used. What I liked about Patchwork Primers was that it was set up as an outline with topics to cover, complete with discussion and activity suggestions, but what what actual books and materials you used is up to you. I didn’t have to find any particular books, I could use what was available at my library or through interlibrary loan. Patchwork Primers actually tries to cover not social studies and science, but art, music, grammar, Bible, literature, and even math. So, for instance, in Inventions and Discoveries, while you were studying communication inventions, like the printing press, the typewriter, Braille, the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio, you were also studying how the eyes and ears work, and how sound travels. And various elements of art and music. And so on.

Patchwork Primers unit 1

By this point we were living in a new area with a stellar library system, which did help. But I still burned out. There were simply too many choices. My ADD/OCD brain isn’t very good about picking and choosing and wants to do it all! And I was beginning to feel like trying to work every subject into a unit study was just…too forced. Maybe it would be better to stick with a strictly history or literature or even science based unit…hmmm?

Time Travelers from Homeschool in the Woods

I really love Amy Pak’s work. She’s a talented artist. So, when we decided to study the New World Explorers and then American history, The Time Travelers Series seemed like a perfect fit. Unit Study, artsy stuff, the right time period, all the work done for me, what’s not to like?

The New World Explorers study is probably the dullest unit study we have ever done. I thought we’d love it. We love maps. We love adventure. We got about halfway through and then moved on to Colonial Times. Because if we did one more map overlay, somebody was going to scream. ;0)

I don’t fault the unit study, it simply didn't fit us as well as I thought it would. And we certainly didn’t have to do all the maps. Ok, we didn’t do all the maps. Or all the vocab cards. Or all the other cut-y out-y things. Not that you have to, as with any unit study, you have to pick and choose what you want to do. But there’s a whole lot of cutting out and coloring with one of these Time Traveler units and after a while it's gets tedious. We did enjoy learning to tie knots. And some other things. But I found that the text was not really capturing their interest and the activities became too repetitive. Once more were slipping into “get her done” mode.

Plus, the age and ability gap between my oldest child and the next two was becoming more and more apparent (4 year difference between my oldest and my next oldest). I was holding my oldest back a little and expecting too much of his sister.

So this year we tried something totally new and different.

All together, we are doing some Classical Studies. Our read alouds include daily Bible stories and then once a week we read from the D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths and from Famous Men of Rome. We follow the readings up with narrations. Oral narrations for the two oldest children and Peter draws his narrations.

In addition to the Classical Studies, David is also doing an independent study, Mapping the World with Art by Ellen McHenry. You really should check out Ellen’s site, she has a number of freebies available.

David loves to draw. And he loves to draw MAPS! What’s unique about this curriculum is that in addition to reading and learning about the history of map-making, he is learning to draw the whole world. Mapping the World with Art has 3 parts:

  1. Readings
  2. Activities
  3. Mapping

This program is designed for about 5th grade and up. The readings are relatively short, the front and back of a page. More research could be added for an older student (David is almost 12 and this is about right for him).

The course is basically a survey of world history from the perspective of mapmaking. So you’ll learn about the very first maps, early navigation, latitude and longitude, the explorers, and so on. The activities vary, some are simply watching a video on youtube or reading articles online. Others are hands-on, like creating an edible map (everybody loved this one). And then there are games, making navigational tools, and so on. Many of the activities are appropriate for younger children. The course includes detailed instructions for making the maps, both in the book as well as videos on DVD.

Overall, this has been a good choice for David. Monday, he does a reading and then a short written narration (there are no discussion questions included). Wednesday he does the map or maps for that lesson. Friday he does one or more activities for that lesson, with the younger children joining in if it’s appropriate for them.

Occasionally we hit an online activity where the link is no good, but I can generally find a replacement. And occasionally we hit a hands-on activity that simply requires too much prep for us, and we just skip it. There are plenty of other activities, so that’s not really an issue. His favorite part, of course, is the maps.

aegean sea map

Nile river map

I can honestly say that this was a good buy ($47 plus ship for the physical copy plus DVDs and the whole book on CD-rom) and a good choice for David’s first truly independent social studies program. He can do it entirely on his own.

And what will we do next year? I don’t know, yet. But I’ll fill you in when I figure it out. ;0)

That’s enough about what we are doing, now go see what the other participants are doing in their homes (I’ll add the links as I receive them):

Science and Worldview by Beth @ Ozark Ramblings

Nature Study as Science by Christine @ Crunchy Country Catholic

Virtual Curriculum Fair Week 3- Social Studies and more Science by Leah Courtney @ The Courtney Six Homeschool Family

Curriculum Fair–Exploring Our World by Angie @ Petra School

Paths of Exploration by Jen @ Forever, For Always

Learning Geography at Our House by Jessica @ Modest Mama

The Fascinating World Around Us by Cindy Horton @ Fenced in Family

More Heart of Dakota Praises by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Our History by Melissa @ Grace Christian Homeschool

Playful US Geography for First Grade by Pam @ Everyday Snapshots

Heart of Dakota-The Fine Details-Part 3 History by Lynn @ Ladybug Chronicles

Exploring Our World Through History & Science by Brenda Emmett @ Garden of Learning

Two History Must-haves by Letha @ justpitchingmytent

Learning About The World Around Us by Laura O from AK

Social Studies and Science - What do we do? by Joelle @ Homechooling for His Glory

History Chronologically and with Living Books by Debbie @ Debbie's Digest

Why History? by MissMOE @ Homeschooling While Living the Life of Easier

Exploring Our World by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy


  1. I'm really interested in the classical starter pack from Memoria Press. I have been contemplating a classical education for a while too. I have been looking at Kolbe, but I think this would be a nice introduction. Thanks for hosting the curriculum fair, I'm glad to be participating this week.

  2. Hi Jen,
    I bought the starter program from Memoria Press (except for the Golden Bible, which we already owned). We've been reading through the selections, discussing, and doing narrations, but I admit that we are not really using the guide as written. In fact I haven't opened the guide in 2 months! We simply continue on in the reading where we left off. I think that when we go through these books again the guide will be more useful for digging deeper. -Susan

  3. I LOVE the looks of all of Ellen McHenry's materials. My kids are too young for most of her stuff, but I have it all bookmarked for the future. Glad to hear another good review.

  4. I'm looking at a couple of Ellen's other books for next year. I've been impressed with the quality of her work.

  5. This is fabulous! I love this virtual curriculum fair. There are so many great resources shared. I have a homeschool blog list on my blog & would love to have you add your blog to the list. Thanks!

  6. This sounds so good that I almost regret buying a different curriculum. Next year.....
    We have done a bunch of lapbooks last year and had a ton of fun with it, but it was time consuming to do all the research myself.
    THanks for sharing. Blessings.


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