History acts as the backbone to our homeschooling year, with a large percentage of the literature we read, drama sessions we do, documentaries we watch and, in normal times, trips we go on, centring around the time period we’re studying. Thus, it’s always the subject I plan first. This year, we’re starting with the Victorian era, on through the Suffragettes period and up to the start of WW1. I’m always intrigued by others’ homeschool plans, so I thought it would be useful to share ours, warts and all! Hopefully it will give you an insight into the planning process (and its imperfect nature) as well as suggesting some interesting resources for these time periods.
Since the start of our home ed journey, we’ve used the treasure trove of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World curriculum as the spine for our history studies (here’s the activity book for our current volume). Over four volumes, designed to be taught across the same number of years (although it’s taken us much longer), it covers the history of human civilisations chronologically from the ancient times until the present, across all the continents. What I love about this curriculum is how thorough it is (personally I’ve learned a HUGE amount through their history study over the years), the excellent literature recommendations, its world-perspective (so important in this day and age) and the fact that it’s a ‘pick up and go’ curriculum, requiring little preparation on the part of the parent.
However, where it links into important British events, we dip out of this curriculum and spend time expanding on the topic to fully cover the content of our local history. This year, given the importance of the time periods to British history, we’ll use a combination of the Story of the World and our own tailor-made plans (requiring slightly more planning).
What Does Each Lesson Look Like?
To create the plans, I initially break the topic down into smaller sections, each one covered by one or two lessons. We normally complete one of these lessons each week, but on our weekly schedule, I just mark out time for history study rather than allocating a specific lesson to an exact week. This means that if we fail to finish a lesson in the allotted time, for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter; we don’t get behind. Instead, we simply work our way through the lessons at the pace that works for us. If we don’t finish them all by the end of the school year, we merely roll the remaining lessons over to the following year.
Each lesson includes some of the following components (the first three elements are always included, the remainder only where appropriate):
- An element of reading from a non-fiction text/s.
- Comprehension questions – these are provided for the passages in the Story of the World, but for the tailor-made elements, I simply ask questions as we read, with a few at the end, to check their understanding.
- Writing a summary of key information, an outline of the text or a biographical fact file, to be filed in their history folders.
- A review of some primary historical sources, i.e. first-hand evidence from the time period in question, such as diaries, letters, interviews, oral histories, photographs, adverts, newspaper articles, government documents, poems, novels or plays.
- A corresponding piece of mapwork, which simply involves colouring or highlighting the key locations in the world where the historical events they’re studying took place.
- Reading relevant historical fiction – we either read these books together each day in our Morning Basket or in our evening read aloud, and some of the books they read individually in their personal reading time.
- A timeline component – either adding the monarch to our kings and queens’ timeline, pinning key historical figures to our overall timeline or reading the relevant section on this wallbook timeline of British history.
- Watching documentaries or You Tube clips, which bring the time period to life for them.
- Listening to supporting audiobooks, either in the car or during mealtimes.
- Making recipes, playing games or completing craft activities from the era in question
- Day trips to historical sites, museums or events which bring the time period to life – given the Covid situation, I haven’t planned these this year. Instead, we’ll do this in an impromptu manner as the year progresses.
The next part of this blog post is very detailed, but hopefully there will be some useful information in here for you to dip into when you need it.
Topic One – The Victorians
The first fourteen lessons of the year cover the Victorian era, including the following overarching topics:
- Queen Victoria
- The Empire & the Indian Rebellion
- Life in Victorian times, including daily life, laws, transport, women, politics, holidays, home and art
- Poverty in Victorian cities
- Children & education in the Victorian era
- The Crimean War, including a study on Florence Nightingale
- Health & medicine in Victorian times
- Potato famine in Ireland
- Major inventions & discoveries during Victoria’s reign, focusing on Isambard Kingdom Brunel & Ada Lovelace
- The Scramble for Africa, with particular focus on Stanley and Livingstone
- The Boer War
My two both love reading to themselves and being read to, so discovering all the new books I’ve ordered for the topic is always a delight. I went a little crazy on the Victorian era and was concerned I’d gone overboard, but judging by how many they have already devoured by the end of the first two weeks of term, we’ll probably manage to read all of the following (either as part of our Morning Basket work, weekly history lesson, evening read aloud or their individual reading time):
- My Name is Victoria – Lucy Worsley (they are loving this one)
- Hetty Feather – Jacqueline Wilson (they guzzled this one up in a few days)
- The Adventures of the New Cut Gang – Philip Pullman (they finished this over the summer as soon as it arrived in its little Amazon package, refusing to wait for the start of term!)
- Street Child – Berlie Doherty (another hit)
- My Story, The Sweep’s Boy – Jim Eldridge
- Dodger – Terry Pratchett. We also have the Oxford Playscripts version of this and plan to organise sessions with a group of other home educators to put on the play. It’ll be up to them to organise auditions for the roles, learn their lines, practise the scenes, organise props and the set and ultimately perform for a group of home ed parents.
- Nory Ryan’s Song – Patricia Reilly Giff, an Irish story based during the potato famine
- The Drummer Boy’s Battle – Dave & Neta Jackson, historical fiction set during the Crimean War and the famous Light Horse Brigade (I can already predict the tears will be flowing…)
- My Story Young Nanny, A Victorian Girl’s Diary 1850 – Frances Mary Hendry
- My Story The Hunger – Carol Drinkwater
- Son of the Circus, A Victorian Story – E.L. Norry
- The Cheshire Cheese Cat, A Dickens of a Tale – Carmen Deedy, we’ve already read this one and thoroughly enjoyed it!
- Sense & Sensibility – Jane Austen
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte. Bean11 and I are reading and discussing this together. I’m really looking forward to this special mother and daughter time.
- Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Victorians (Usborne History of Britain) – Ruth Brocklehurst – our spine for the study, an excellent book.
- The Victorian Empire – Robert Peal, a KS3 pamphlet with questions on each section – a cheap and worthwhile resource.
- Story of the World, Volume 4 – Susan Wise Bauer, some of the chapters link into our studies for this time period.
- The Secret Garden Cookbook – Amy Cotler. Each week, we’ll do a recipe from this cookbook which “celebrates the delicious and comforting foods that play such an important role in the novel and its world.” This week, we made tasty savoury muffins spiked with cheddar cheese. Bean9 has selected little sausage cakes for next week.
- Queen Victoria, English Empress – Sally Glendinning. This is an excellent overview of her life which we’ve loved.
- At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England – Walter Dean Myers. I can’t wait to read this one to them – a true story about Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an African princess saved by a British naval officer after her parents were murdered by enemy warriors, and brought to England where she became the protegee of Queen Victoria.
- How to Be a Victorian – Ruth Goodman. This book is extremely detailed about life in Victorian times – possibly too much so for our level of study, but we’ll dip into it and read chapters which interest them.
- Florence Nightingale – Lucy Lethbridge, a simple but good Usborne book about her life which we already had to hand.
- Children in Victorian Times – Jill Barber, again one we had already, but a great little book with lots of photographs and prints of original extracts.
- Victorian Family Paper Dolls – Brenda Sneathen Mattox, I suspect they’ll love doing this hands-on activity.
- Feed the Children First, Irish Memories of the Great Hunger – Mary Lyons, factual story of the Irish potato famine between 1845-1852.
- Victorian Seaside Holidays – Mandy Ross, again one we already had – a simple but good little book.
- Victorian Doll’s House Sticker Book – Usborne
- Ada Lovelace, Computer Wizard – Lucy Lethbridge
- Who Was Thomas Alva Edison – Margaret Frith
- Who Was Isambard Kingdom Brunel – Amanda Mitchison
- Stanley and Livingstone and the Exploration of Africa – Richard Worth, one for older children.
Audiobooks (all of these we had already and are excellent resources):
- Great Victorians, NAXOS Junior Classics – Benjamin Soames and David Angus
- Great Explorers of the World, NAXOS Junior Classics – David Angus, the section on Livingstone & Stanley
- Great Inventors & their Inventions, NAXOS Junior Classics – Benjamin Soames and David Angus, sections on Nobel, Bell, Marconi, The Wright Brothers and Edison
- More Great Inventors & their Inventions, NAXOS Junior Classics – Benjamin Soames
- Great Scientists & their Discoveries, NAXOS Junior Classics – Benjamin Soames, sections on Darwin, Mendel & Einstein
Documentaries & Films
Ever the advocates for the power of a documentary or good period drama, here are our selections for the Victorian era:
- Queen Victoria- Secrets of a Queen – free on Amazon Prime at the moment, and one which the kids loved.
- iTV’s Victoria, Seasons 1-3 – the Beans are currently hooked on this excellent period drama and are piling through it at any opportunity (which is giving me some much-needed space!).
- Victoria & Abdul (12+)
- Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown
- Victorian Pharmacy – a fascinating look by Ruth Goodman about the medicines (and poisons) used by our forebearers.
- Victorian Farm & Christmas Special – a great documentary in which three historians immerse themselves in the life of a Victorian farmer as he would have lived.
- The Victorian Slum – a group of 21st century people move into a Victorian tenement brought back to life, and experience life as it would have been for poor Victorians.
- Brunel: Building a Great Britain
- The Life and Work of Florence Nightingale
- Calculating Ada – The Countess of Computing
- Sense & Sensibility
- Jane Eyre
Additionally, we’ll also enjoy some You Tube clips I’ve been recommended from Victorian parlour games to how to make soup for the poor. And at Christmas, we’ll research and make some Victorian decorations, recipes and gifts.
Primary Historical Sources
For the first time, we’ll be using and discussing the importance of primary historical sources in our studies. For example, Queen Victoria kept a diary all of her life, so I showed the kids where to find these online and let them have a peruse of her daily ponderings. I found Bean11 flicking through them over the weekend!
Secondly, Jamie C. Martin, who heads up the Introverted Moms group that I’m a part of (which I would highly recommend if anyone is interested in signing up), recommended an excellent resource in the National Archives online. You can print off each section, such as Victorian Britain, A Healthy Nation? review each primary source, from adverts, to letters to posters, in more detail and answer questions on them. I’m genuinely excited about this part!
Example Lesson Plan
To give you an idea of what a typical week looks like for this subject, included below are my planning notes for their first two history lessons, which we spread over our first two weeks back to school.
Lessons 1 & 2 – Queen Victoria
This first section is split over two lessons (two weeks):
In our Morning Basket time (for more information about Morning Basket, see this post):
- Read Queen Victoria; English Empress by Sally Glendinning
In our history lesson time:
- Read pages 6-9 and 32-33 of The Victorians (Usborne History of Britain)
- Add Victoria to our kings and queens’ timeline and read the Victorian section of the Wallbook Timeline of British History
- Read pages 2-3 of KS3 History, The Victorian Empire and verbally answer the questions on page 3 together
- Write a biographical fact file of Queen Victoria and file under Great Men & Women in their history folder.
(After watching the iTV Victoria documentary, Bean11 has become obsessed with Queen Victoria. On Thursday evening as I was putting her to bed, she told me that she was sooo excited about Friday… I couldn’t for the life of me think why in particular, but she looked at me and said, “because I get to write the biographical report on Queen Victoria!” She wasn’t being sarcastic!! Bean9 was less enamoured about the prospect of putting pen to paper but he has enjoyed finding out more about this important queen of ours.)
Over mealtimes/in the evenings:
- Start watching the following documentaries over the next few weeks: Victoria’s Secrets, Victoria Season 1-3
Evening real aloud time:
- My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley
Independent reading time:
- Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson/Street Child by Berlie Doherty – rotate between them
Topic Two – World Study of Late 19th/Early 20th Century
For the next thirteen lessons, we move back to the Story of the World book, covering a wide variety of topics at a much higher level than for the Victorians, to give them a world overview of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries.
For each section, we read the SOTW passage together and discuss, then they answer the set comprehension questions verbally; complete an outline of the information; do a simple piece of mapwork (so they understand where in the world these events happened); write answers to some of the questions in the test booklet; and delve deeper only into topics that interest us, using historical literature or saved documentaries/films (I’ve highlighted our selections below). Note that for some of the less important/interesting to us sections, we’ll cover two per lesson, and drop some of the written work.
- The American Civil War – read When Will This Cruel War be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg (we love this Dear America series) and Who Was Abraham Lincoln? by Janet Pascal
- The new Dominion of Canada – the Beans to read The Call of the Wild by Jack London.
- The War between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay) – read Paraguay in Pictures by Alison Behnke (this is quite a detailed book, so we’ll dip into the sections of interest)
- France, its Second and Third Republics and Battles with Prussia
- The Second Reich
- Becoming Modern – Expansion of Railroads, Use of Time Zones and the Discovery of Electricity – read The Great Railroad Race: The Diary of Libby West by Kristi Gregory
- Japan’s Meiji Restoration – watch a short clip of a traditional Noh play
- The Dutch East Indies – possibly watch the BBC drama-documentary about the Krakatoa explosion of 1883: Kratatoa: The Last Days (but this is rated 15+, so I’ll pre-watch and skip anything that would upset them)
- The War between Russia and the Ottoman Turks
- The War of the Pacific – read Bolivia in Pictures by Francesca DiPiazza (again it’s a detailed book, so we’ll dip into sections that interest us)
- The Suez Canal – watch a documentary about the Suez Canal
- British Colonists in Australia, Ned Kelly and the Creation of the Commonwealth of Australia
- Europeans Carving up Africa and Ethiopia Fights off Italian Invasion
- The Czars of Russia Losing Control – read Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
- The Korean Battleground
- The Spanish-American War
- The Expanding United States – Moving West – read Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
- China’s Troubles
- Persia, Its Enemies and “Friends”
- The Balkan Mess
- China’s Last Emperor
- The Vietnamese Restoration Society
Topic Three – The Suffragettes
After finishing the above, we’ll study the plight of the Suffragettes for a couple of weeks, an important topic for our own British history. The excellent book, Suffragettes and the Fight for the Vote by Sarah Ridley, will act as our spine for these two weeks. We’ll simply read this book together, discuss as we go, and I’ll ask a few questions to check their comprehension. Then, they’ll write a high-level summary of the key facts.
We also plan to read the fictional books: Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (this one comes highly recommended) and My Story: Suffragette by Carol Drinkwater, and watch two DVDs: the BBC’s Suffragette with Lucy Worsley and this Suffragette film released in 2015 (12+).
Finally, in this KS3 History book, there is a small section on the Suffragettes with some interesting questions using primary sources and comparisons between them, which we’ll have a go at together verbally.
Topic Four – World War 1
I’ve planned 10 weeks of study for WW1, but there will only be the time to cover a few weeks of this; the remainder will roll over into the next academic year. There is only one chapter devoted to WW1 in the Story of the World, so we’ll also use the Usborne book The First World War by Henry Brook as our spine, reading sections together and summarising the important points into their history files. To make it more interesting, all their summary notes will be kept in a scrapbook style, with a combination of annotations and their own drawings or pictures stuck in, similar to the book Archie’s War, My Scrapbook of The First World War by Marcia Williams. I love these examples of sketchnotes – one-page visuals of notes and doodles – completed by students after studying WW1. I know the Beans will love looking at them and doing their own versions.
Three activities will complement the above: 1) digging their own trenches in our woods, 2) making a shoe box model of the trenches and 3) memorising In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. To delve deeper, I’ve found a selection of books, films and primary sources to support their studies.
In addition to the Marcia William’s book, we’ll also supplement our learning by reading the following:
- Wilfred Owen, The War Poems – we’ll choose a selection of these to study in our Morning Basket.
- Stories of WW1 by Tony Bradman – an anthology of short WW1-based stories by some excellent authors.
- War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
- Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo – big Morpurgo fans here!
- The Best Christmas Present Ever by Michael Morpurgo – a favourite Christmas picture book (a tear-jerker though).
- Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo – this one is ONLY for older children as there are some very tough issues covered. I think mine are old enough, but I’ll read it with them and judge as we go.
- Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo
- Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo – such a beautiful picture-book story with an illustrated afterword explaining the history behind the narrative.
- The Amazing Tale of Ali Pasha by Michael Foreman – the incredible story (based on true events) of Ali Pasha, a tortoise, who became a lucky mascot of a sailor fighting in the battle of Gallipoli.
- Dear Jelly: Family Letters from the First World War by Sarah Ridley
- Stay Where you are and then Leave by John Boyne – covering the topic of shellshock.
- Usborne First World War Sticker Book
- See Inside the First World War – lots of facts in here for Bean9, my history-lover, presented in a visual way.
- Only Remembered edited by Michael Morpurgo – an anthology of extracts, pictures, poems, short stories, personal letters, articles and scripts published to mark the centenary of the outbreak of WW1.
Documentaries & Films
It’s quite tough to find films about war that are suitable for children, so we’ve opted to watch a selection of the 33 class clips on BBC Bitesize, along with the film Journey’s End (12+) and The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars, a BBC documentary in which a team of archaeologists examine the labyrinth of war tunnels constructed by British soldiers underneath the Somme battlefield.
Primary Historical Sources
In the National Archives, there is an excellent and very comprehensive section on The Great War 1914-1918. It’s broken down into six main questions:
- How and why have views of the Great War changed so much?
- Why did Britain go to war in 1914?
- What was life like in the trenches?
- What do you think of the military commanders?
- Why was it so hard to make peace?
- How has the Great War been remembered?
For each question, there are a series of case studies comprising original sources, such as a copy of the map showing the planned movements of German forces in the Schlieffen Plan, 1905, with questions to help guide the children’s analysis of each document. Students are encouraged to study these sources, read a background document, watch supporting clips and then pull all this information together to prepare an answer to the overarching question, either in the form of a report, a research table, a presentation or a speech as if they were the prime minister. I think this is an excellent way of developing their research, analytical and persuasive skills, both in written and oral form.
And that’s it! Two weeks in and we’re loving our Victorian focus (the Beans even composed a quiz round of questions based on Queen Victoria for our weekly family Zoom quiz last weekend!). If you have any questions about anything I’ve covered in this post, just pop a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.