For those of you who may not be familiar with that term, streams, in an educational context, it is how we describe the practice of offering more than one focus in a particular subject during the school year.
Charlotte Mason often had her students learning about more than one country’s history during the year. For example, she might have them read and narrate English history a couple of days per week and French history another couple of days in the week. So it’s helpful to picture them as two history streams, flowing through the school year.
Now, when it came time to determine our history streams, we knew that they would not look exactly like Charlotte’s. Her programs were designed for students who lived in England 100 years ago, many of whom studied in classroom settings. We wanted our program to be designed for Christian homeschooling families who lived in America in the 21st century. But we definitely wanted to stay true to her methods and principles.
So we took a look at our goals and at Charlotte’s guidelines for teaching history in order to come up with history streams for our curriculum.
One thing that was very important to us was helping our children place Bible history in the context of what was happening in the world at the time. When we were growing up, we learned Bible stories in isolation; they were simply stories that we read on Sunday or in Bible lessons. It never occurred to us that those were actual historical events that happened side-by-side with other world history events. For example, we learned the account of Joseph’s interpreting the pharaoh’s dream and being promoted to second in command; but we didn’t connect that event with the history and culture of ancient Egypt, because the Bible accounts were not presented in a historical context.
So we wanted to make it a priority for our children to learn about Bible history alongside the world history of those time periods. They needed to see how the decisions that those Bible characters made were made in the midst of trends, beliefs, and traditions held by the people around them. Our children needed to learn about the stronghold that idol worship held in ancient Rome from the centuries filled with their worshiping gods and goddesses, so they would grasp the significance of why the mob chanted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for hours, and the violence with which they attacked Paul for daring to talk about Jesus Christ. When the children understood the context, they would realize what it meant for him to stand against the popular culture of that day in that town.
When Paul revealed his Roman citizenship to avoid an unjust beating, it adds depth to realize all that Roman citizenship stood for and why. And when he appealed his case to the emperor, more comprehension dawns if you know who that emperor was and what he was like—in fact, what direction the Roman emperors were heading morally at that time in history. When you know the historical and cultural context of a Bible event, you understand much more about the personal experience and gain more spiritual insight and fortitude from the person’s example.
That was one goal. Another goal was that our children would understand the long chain of cause and effect that led to the founding of their own country, America. Studying history in chronological order is the best way for students to trace cause and effect in the events. That’s a Charlotte Mason principle.
In history studies “the work throughout the Forms is always chronologically progressive” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 177).
In the scheme of things, the United States is a young country. England can trace its history way back to ancient times, but America didn’t come on the scene until Early Modern times. So we wanted our children to see that pageant unfolding as they worked their way through history and also understand what was going on in the rest of the world as American history happened.
As the world becomes “smaller” through technology, it is increasingly important that our children learn to lift their eyes and see the big picture of history as it happens around the globe. Focusing on just one’s own country can foster unwanted attitudes of arrogance and prejudice. Other countries have histories too. Let’s help our children see that history is the story of our fellow human beings, no matter where they live on this planet. As history rolls on in modern times, interactions between humans around the world become more vivid and more frequently intertwined.
Charlotte understood the importance of learning about other countries. In fact, that was one of her principles for studying history: don’t study your own country in isolation.
“Let him know what other nations were doing while we at home were doing thus and thus” (Home Education, p. 281).
History helps us gain knowledge of our fellow man, and when it is studied properly, it helps us become better global neighbors.
Of course, we wanted to use living books to teach history. Since the Bible is the Living Book, its historical accounts fit quite nicely in our history book lists. And we wanted to adhere to Charlotte’s principle of bringing in primary sources, literature, biographies, and historical fiction of the time periods for the older students.
So with all of that in mind, we put together our history streams.
The first three studies present Bible history as one stream, the accounts from Genesis through Acts, and bring in ancient world history as the second stream. These studies are spread over three years, because following Charlotte Mason’s principle of not hurrying through a time period, we didn’t want to cram all of the events from Creation through Paul’s missionary journeys into one year. Spreading it out also allows us to focus on ancient world history as stories of people, shining the spotlight on those major nations that were the influencers as the centuries rolled by.
Once we have covered all of the historical accounts in the Bible, we have only the epistles and Revelation left and will bring those in as Bible lessons on the side. So we pick up the world history stream with a study of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, while the other stream focuses on church history events, picking up where Acts left off, from the early church through the Reformation.
As we arrive at the Early Modern era, the fledgling nation of America comes on the scene. One history stream focuses on world history events and the other on American history during those years.
And Modern Times continues those two streams up through present day: world history and American history. Studying the two streams side-by-side adds understanding to the world wars and other major conflicts of the era.
There you have it: the history streams of the SCM Curriculum. Do we think that our application of Charlotte’s principles for history is the only way to do it? Not at all. It is simply our attempt at applying her guidelines to fit a modern American home school, and it reflects our heart’s desire for children in a Christian home to know the Bible well.
If you share the same goals, our history studies are available to help you reach them. The book lists are posted on our website by time period, along with our suggestions of where you can find them—from SCM, at your local library, free online, or at your favorite bookstore. Feel free to pick and choose or use all of those favorite living books for history.
- Genesis through Deuteronomy & Ancient Egypt
- Joshua through Malachi & Ancient Greece
- Matthew through Acts & Ancient Rome
- Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation & Epistles
- Early Modern & Epistles
- Modern Times & Epistles, Revelation
If you would appreciate more guidance along with the book lists, daily lesson plans are also available to walk you through those books for every grade level one day at a time.
Don’t you find it encouraging that Charlotte’s methods and principles are so sound that they can be adapted in different centuries and settings and still remain so astonishingly effective?
Three FAQ about SCM History Studies
Q: Which history time period should I choose?
A: If you are just starting out, you may want to start at the beginning of history with Genesis. Others like to start with Early Modern, including American history, which might be more familiar to a child. If your children have already studied a time period, feel free to pick up from there and move forward in subsequent years. Really, you can start anywhere you prefer. The important thing is to continue in chronological order from there. Once you finish Modern Times, you can start over again with Genesis, using the older-level books. Keep in mind that if you are starting with high school students headed for college, they will most likely need to cover Early Modern and Modern history before graduating in order to include American history.
Q: How does your curriculum teach history family-style?
A: You have certain living history books that you read aloud to the whole family. Then there are additional books, covering the same time period, that you assign to the older students on their grade levels. The whole family can do oral narrations from the read-aloud book that they share, and the older students can do either oral or written narrations on their independent book assignments.
Q: Do certain History Studies go with certain Enrichment Studies?
A: You can mix any History Study with any Enrichment Study. Our Enrichment studies give a resource list and daily plans for adding music, art, poetry, Scripture Memory, habit training, handicrafts, literature, and more—for the whole family. Since some time periods have a dearth of artists or composers and other time periods have an abundance, we like to simply offer a steady supply of three per year. If you are faithful to enter them into your Book of Centuries, your student will have the pleasure of making many personal connections as his history studies intersect with the artists and composers he has already come to know.