Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reading Ideas for Ancient History

This post comes mostly from an email I sent to the mother of another child in Theo's amazing homeschool history class. When I type so many words, i think "oooooo, this feels like a blog post."  

For the record, Scott Powell of History At Our House regularly makes me swoon with educational admiration. You really ought to check his program out and sign up for next fall.


What is working for us right now is for me to check out essentially ALL the books from our public library on whatever subject Mr. Powell is exploring.  For instance, I requested about 85 juvenile books which met the search topic of "ancient rome".  I ended up checking out 67 of them (the others really didn't look compelling).  Then I brought them home and stacked them on the coffee table (well, actually most of the flat surfaces in our living room). Theo sifted through them and the best ones floated to the top of the pile. The obvious rejects I returned quickly to make more visual space for him to discover those that are left.

Theo's a pretty good reader at this point, yet some of these books seemed out of his reach.  I don't worry about reading level. I figure even if he only gets 40% comprehension out of the book, that's a ton more than he's going to get NOT reading. My sense is that for this first level of history we're really trying to create a foundational love for the subject and learning in general. Plus, he completely stunned me with some of what he'd retained about the various Emperors, and I know that information was in several of the more advanced and dry-looking books.

Several people have commented recently on how many books he seems to be reading - I think he's at about 180 books since September.  I've been wondering why he reads so much.  I think part of it is that he really does like to read, part is that his parents are obsessive readers themselves and part of it is that he doesn't have a lot of other choices. He has very little screen time in a week, comic books are only for weekends when all of the week's school work is done and we have 1 hour enforced quiet time everyday. He also wakes up at the crack of dawn has 2 choices: play with toys or read library books.  After his fingers go numb from the legos, he turns to the library books.

Something I learned from Lisa Vandamme is to read the first bit of a book out loud.  Theo is often nervous about a new subject and was worried about the Flavia Gemini series, so I read the first chapter of the first book to his sister while he was nearby. Rosie and I took a break to do something else and the next time I noticed him, he was about half way through the book. He essentially didn't stop until he finished the last of the 9 books. Once he was into the story and idea of Ancient Rome, he really enjoyed the more factual books that we had sitting around.

I did this library binge for Ancient Egypt and it worked well, too.  Ancient Mesopotamia apparently isn't so historically sexy, so we only ended up with 5 or 6 books. I think Theo's level of enthusiasm and knowledge between the 3 cultures Mr. Powell has covered over the year is clearly reflected in the number of books our library holds on each subject.

A few of the books I noted he liked about Ancient Rome:
All of the Flavia Gemini series by Lawrence (Thieves of Ostia, Fugitive from Corinth, Assassins of Rome)
"Tiger, Tiger" by Lynn Reids Banks.
"Heroes, Gods and Emperors from Roman Mythology" by Usher
"How To  Be a Roman Soldier" by National Geographic
"Tools of the Ancient Romans" by Kickinson
"Julius Caeser: Conqueror and Dictator" by Therme
"Augustus: The First Emperor" by Forsyth

Oh, and once he'd read through most of the stack, I went and got out the Astrix books!  But I kept them well hidden for a long time.

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