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For 1st grade (Form 1B), Charlotte Mason had children start learning the tales of their country’s pre-history. If you make history about memorizing lists of names and dates, children probably won’t enjoy it very much. But if you can find books that bring history to life, you are much more likely to spark a love of history at a young age. Today, I’ll share 3 engaging history books for early elementary aged children that our family is enjoying.
We’re following a Charlotte Mason approach to our homeschool. I’ve shared about the curriculum we’re using and how we structure our days. While I do most of the teaching, my husband is a great story reader. He usually does the evening read-aloud time with the kids. After he has finished reading, they are always negotiating for a few more pages.
Mason insisted that children read the best books. She had no time for books that were what she called twaddle. The term “living book” is what she used to describe the books that were full of stories and ideas that would nourish the child’s mind. Mason had no time for dry textbooks that were a mere compendium of lifeless facts.
By reading living books, children are able to take in the thoughts that stand out to them and integrate them into mind. When children have more freedom to remember what’s important to them, they are more likely to remember it. If they are forced to remember certain facts, chances are they will eventually forget them because they haven’t resonated with them.
Engaging with Pocahontas
We are regularly on the hunt for living books. One of the first history books we read to our kids this year was Pocahontas by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. This isn’t one of the texts we’re using for school but instead is an evening book. Both my 6-year-old and almost 3-year-old enjoyed this book and begged to hear it each night.
The pictures in the text were beautiful and the story was captivating. I was impressed that both of the kids were so engaged in the story. Since this wasn’t a formal lesson, we didn’t require a narration. But the ideas in this book definitely relate to the book we’re using to learn about Native Americans.
Furthermore, neither of the kids realized they were learning history. Instead, they were learning about the life of a young Indian princess. They weren’t focused on what year John Smith landed in “Virginia.” Rather they heard the story of how Pocahontas befriended and helped save the English settlers and how she eventually traveled to England. They not only learned history but also learned about kindness and friendship. The lesson wasn’t moralistic. It was deeply embedded in history.
Engaging with Columbus
The second engaging children’s history book that our family has enjoyed is Columbus. Columbus is written and illustrated by the same authors as Pocahontas. We adopted a similar pattern with this book. It is not a formal lesson book but is something Daddy reads to them in the evening.
Columbus tells the story of the life of Christopher Columbus in a way that draws in the reader. It is a fast-moving adventure story. By hearing the story of Columbus in a narrative form, the children are able to get a bigger picture of the times in which Columbus lived.
Columbus’ life is a long adventure. By telling the story of his four journeys across the Atlantic, the authors engage us. We desire to know more of what happened. Would Columbus succeed? Would he find the gold he was seeking? Would he ever become viceroy?
The book also asks us directly and indirectly whether Columbus actually a good man? By reading the story of Columbus through the lens of history, we can see his complexity. We read about the hardships he faced, his persistence, and we also see his personal failings. The fact that people are complex is a good thing for children to learn early in their lives. By reading about Columbus in this way, they can answer the question without relying on a textbook to answer it for them.
Engaging with Leif the Lucky
Leif the Lucky is also written and illustrated by the same authors. Likewise, it is a beautifully told story and beautifully illustrated book. The authors are able to bring the story of Leif to life in a way that makes you want to hear more. Rather than history being stale, boring facts, it is very alive and engaging. Even young children are able to understand the arc of the story. And the swashbuckling action makes it a page-turner.
In the life of Leif, the children hear about the struggles, hardships, and dangers that Leif faced. Stories like this can inspire children to be brave when they face challenges without having to say this in an artificial way. In hearing about the experiences of Leif’s extended family, they can see the challenges of cultural misunderstanding and the terrible nature of war.
Engaging the Science of Relations
If you’re looking for some excellent read-aloud books for history, I would recommend these three. In addition to the great literature and art, these books connect with other books and ideas children will be reading. The book about Columbus talks about the way Leif’s discovery of Vinland inspired Columbus in his exploration. As we study the lives of the Native American of North America in our history lesson, we make connections with these European explorers.
Learning is more than memorizing facts. It is also about making connections between different ideas. These connections help us understand our world. Just as we shouldn’t separate the sacred and the secular, neither should we limit our learning to subject categories.
While we aren’t requiring narration for these books, there are other ways we can encourage our son to engage with what he is hearing. His favorite way is to draw a picture of what he has heard. Some children may want to act it out in play. By reading living books and talking about the ideas, we are placing a great feast before our children.
Have you come across any books you would recommend? If so, drop me an email at hello @ amblesidetales.com or leave it on the Facebook page! Be sure to subscribe and follow Ambleside Tales on Facebook and Instagram.