For most classical educators, teaching history chronologically means covering the eras of history in three cycles, each cycle in increasing depth, and each cycle corresponding to one stage of the trivium. Here is a typical sequence of historical eras covered chronologically within each four year cycle:
- Old Testament and Egypt
- Greece and Rome
- Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation
- America and the Modern World
Many of our customers have asked why we do not follow this strict chronological approach to history. They want to understand what we recommend for each age and why it does not follow the sequence above.
The answer to this question is the word strict. A good basic plan like the one above is there for a guide in curriculum planning. It is not meant to be an inflexible law that dictates what must be covered each year. The important goal of teaching history chronologically has to be balanced against other factors – most importantly, the unique character and maturity level of each grade. We are not just teaching history; we are teaching students as well. Knowing the student is just as important as knowing the subject. In fact, it is more important. Consider the sentence:
I teach Johnny history.
In English the verb teach takes a direct object (history) and an indirect object (Johnny). But Latin, the classical educator’s favorite language, is much more informative here. In Latin, the verb teach, doceo, takes two direct objects, two accusatives. In fact, in Latin it is the student (Johnny) who is called the primary object, and the subject (history) is demoted to the secondary object. In other words the teacher has to know his student as well, actually better, than his subject. Knowing students and what works for each age is what makes the Highlands Latin/Memoria Press curriculum successful.
We do have three cycles at Highlands Latin School, and we do cover history chronologically. But we have also adjusted the basic plan to match the quality of resources that are available at each age and the subjects that each age finds engaging. And so we have developed two parallel tracks for every year, one for Classical/Christian Studies and one for American/Modern Studies.
Since there are so many resources for American history and geography for K-6, it seems foolish not to take advantage of them. Many of the Landmark books are back in print and our Memoria Press Artner’s Guide to American History is a wonderful resource, listing in and out of print books both by age group, and by historical period. Encourage your students to read as many of these books as possible every year K-12. In other words don’t think you have to restrict yourself to Greece and Rome in the 2nd grade because the ancient world came before America in time. No one seriously thinks his child is going to confuse which nation came first in history because he learned about them out of order.
In K-2 we concentrate on the basics of reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic, the importance of which leaves little time for anything else. The history we have time for revolves around the basics of American culture. Students learn about explorers, founding fathers, colonies, and pioneer life. They study the American flag, our national anthem, the pledge, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and Columbus Day. They read exciting stories about Washington at Valley Forge and the gold rush of ’49. There is a wealth of material to choose from for K-2, and what is more, most homeschooling moms and K-2 teachers are much more comfortable teaching American culture at this age than Greece and Rome. We also recommend for K-2 the basics of geography: oceans, continents, hemispheres, latitude, longitude, tropics, poles, major countries, etc. Geography is visual and concrete and all you need at this age is a map and a globe.
For 3rd grade we recommend Greek myths, states and capitals, and Bible stories. The 3rd grader, barely out of the primary school, still believes in Santa Claus and delights in fairy tales. The fairy tale quality of Greek myths delights and stimulates the imagination of the 3rd grader. It is hard to overemphasize the importance of Greek myths which, like Latin, are everywhere. Not to know Greek myths is to miss many of the symbols and metaphors in Western art and literature.
In Christian Studies I, the 3rd grader learns in-depth those marvelous stories from Genesis that form the foundation of our faith, and he memorizes verses from the King James Bible, each one a beautiful lesson in language, poetry, and faith. Students learn their beginning timeline (shown above) that helps them to develop an overview of human history. Students add to this timeline through 6th grade and enter 7th grade with a mental timeline of history firmly anchored in their minds.
Fourth graders are comfortably settled into the grammar school years and are academically ready to take on a challenging history course. For 4th grade we recommend Famous Men of Rome, geography of the Western Hemisphere, and Old Testament stories II. The sensible and confident 4th grader appreciates the sturdy Romans with their unbreakable honor code, their heroes that never disappoint, and their armies that never give up. Roman history is as structured and disciplined as the Latin language. Mastering the Roman history timeline from the founding of Rome to its fall (753 B.C. to 476 A.D.) should be every school child’s first introduction to ancient history. Roman history is the history of unforgettable heroes, the history core that you can hang your hat on, and everything else in the ancient world with it. Christian Studies II finishes the Old Testament and its timeline intersects with the history of Rome. Again students memorize verses from the King James Bible, the great masterpiece of the English language.
The 5th grader is beginning that transition out of the world of childhood into a world of more complex challenges. They have followed Rome to its fall and are ready to see the emergence of a new world out of the ruins of the old. This is the perfect year to study the Middle Ages, a time of adventure and romance, danger and dragons, knights and ladies, and most of all, a time of chivalry and high ideals. The 5th grade literature selections, Adam of the Road and Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and Robin Hood, reinforce history lessons, and so 5th graders seem to live the whole year in that magical kingdom called Camelot. They continue their study of geography with the Eastern Hemisphere and their study of the Bible with the New Testament. The highlight of the year is the 5th grade play when Robin Hood and his merry band roam Sherwood Forest once again.
Sixth graders are looking squarely at a life milestone; the horizon of adulthood is beginning to dawn on them. And so 6th grade is both a review year and a year of preparation, a year of looking back and a year of looking forward. Students review Greek myths, Roman history, and Bible stories with our 100 key question sets and K-5 Bible verse review. They prepare for the 7th grade by studying those exasperating Greeks inFamous Men of Greece and by reading Olivia Coolidge’s Trojan War. And as the crowning achievement of their grammar school years, many undertake the challenge of memorizing all seventy stanzas of Horatius at the Bridge, using the Memoria Press study guide, a feat for which they are honored at the Closing School Ceremony.
For students who have read The Trojan War in the 6th grade with our comprehensive study guide, the characters and events of the Iliad and Odyssey are familiar territory, and thus our students are well prepared for the amazing feat of reading these timeless classics in the 7th grade, every page, every line. We use the Butler prose translation, which in my opinion is both more poetic and more readable than the newer verse translations. Students spend about 10 weeks on each book with our comprehensive study guides, reading nearly every line aloud in class. A review of Greek history with The Ancient Greeks (Dorothy Mills) and a survey of the other ancient empires with The Ancient World (Dorothy Mills) complete history for the 7th grade.
Eighth graders who have read the Iliad and Odyssey are well prepared to read the third great epic of Western Civilization, the Aeneid, in which Vergil seems to enjoy name dropping every deity and character in the ancient world. Nothing illustrates the importance of a well-designed curriculum that truly prepares students to read classics more than the Aeneid. Student who have followed all of the curriculum recommendations that I have described here will have the background to read this great work without being overwhelmed. I recommend the West prose translation. Students revisit Rome with The Ancient Romans (Dorothy Mills) and for Christian Studies read Eusebius and Early Christian Writings (Penguin).
There is no one correct curriculum map. The one I have outlined here is the one we have developed over many years based on the experience we have gained teaching students at Highlands Latin School. It takes advantage of the best resources available and matches them carefully to the age of the child. It is successful in preparing students to read the classics and enjoy them. It works well for the majority of students at HLS and I think it will work well for the majority of homeschoolers seeking a classical education. I think the outstanding feature of our curriculum is that it is based on in-depth learning rather than superficial, survey, coverage. Our goal with every book we read is that students will have an experience with that book that will stay with them forever.
A curriculum is a course of studies like a road. It can be an interstate that gets you quickly from one point to the next; you have arrived but you haven’t seen much along the way. Or it can be a beautiful journey on a road that adapts itself to the hills and dales of the landscape.