Brookdale House is a curriculum provider that specializes in Charlotte Mason style programs. Their elementary-level history curriculum is titled Write Through History, and encompasses Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern History Eras. Because it is designed for students in grades 1 through 5, it has been further divided into two levels. Level 1 is geared to first and second grade students, while Level 2 contains text more appropriate for third through fifth graders. Jude has been working with the Level 1 Writing Through Early Modern History program.
Are you familiar with the Charlotte Mason style of teaching and learning? It's named for the founder of the movement. Miss Mason was a late 19th century educator who sought to remove the idea of learning being "only during the school years." She strove to teach students to create a lifestyle of learning, where they didn't only learn during their time in a desk but through every experience in life. A hallmark of her teaching style was to use so-called "living books," rather than dull, lecture-style textbooks. Her favorite books were books written by a single author who immersed himself in the subject, creating a well-rounded, well-researched study on a topic, rather than texts that tended toward a buffet-style overview. She also refused books that watered topics down for children, calling them "twaddle." (Note: Charlotte Mason-style learning is not about handing your child an adult text and expecting him to comprehend it. There is a difference between "level appropriate" and "dumbed down".) She believed that children were born as innately intelligent persons and should be treated as such; they would rise to whatever was expected of them, so therefore expectations should be high. By reading quality texts (both prose and poetry) and copying passages from them, the student would simultaneously learn reading, the subject matter, composition, grammar, spelling penmanship.
Writing Through Early Modern History is a clearly Charlotte Mason style program. It presents historical texts that are clearly not written at a child's level, but that are taken from original texts and strong translations. This particular section of the program covers early modern history from about 1600 to 1850 AD. While this is a history program, it is not a chronology of history. It contains historical narratives, tales from the Brothers Grimm, poetry from or about early modern history, and cultural folk tales. The program is over 300 pages, and meant to last the course of at least a full school year (8 months). While you could print the entire PDF at one time and bind it, we found that it was easier to print one section at a time. (Use the "Find" feature to go to the page number in the table of contents, and then just print the block corresponding pages.)
It takes a unit-study approach to a text, working with it over the course of a five-day schoolweek. Yes, they are very short tasks, but that is part of the method; lessons should not be overly long and focus more on quality of work than quantity or time spent; Miss Mason's view was that it was better to form six letters correctly than write an entire sloppy paragraph. I like how each option was given a(n approximate) time in history, so that an entire moment in history could be studied nearly simultaneously. For example, "On a Circle" by Johnathan Swift was written at approximately the same time as William Penn's founding of Pennsylvania; where there is no date-corresponding text, you can choose to skip to a folk tale or poem for diversity. It allows you to easily intersperse different styles of texts to avoid becoming fatigued with one genre.
A benefit to a split-grade level design is the lower level texts are simpler, so it was more appropriate for Jude's age and reading level. They were still challenging, however. This paragraph is taken from a passage about Thomas Jefferson, one of Jude's personal heroes:
You can see the vocabulary is not "made simpler" -- the innkeeper mistakes Vice President Jefferson for a "clodhopper" and calls himself a "dunce" for his behavior. Through this single page, Jude has been introduced to at least four new-to-him vocabulary words, (clodhopper, dunce, lodging, bespattered). In addition, he's learned two important character lessons -- to not judge one by his appearance, and while an apology is may be sincere, there are consequences to actions.
After each passage, there is a page for the child to write his comprehension of the questions. A true CM approach would be for the student to summarize a passage, to gain experience writing in complete sentences and paragraphs. Because Jude is just beginning to work in sentences, we utilized the study questions at the back. I would ask him a question, and he would write an answer.
The program is available in two writing styles - manuscript and cursive - to provide the penmanship practice that is appropriate for your student. Although we chose the cursive option so Jude could work on that writing style, both cursive and comprehension are still emerging skills for him. We compromised with manuscript writing for the comprehension section, and cursive for copywork. These are his answers to questions about The Four Friends by William and Jacob Grimm.
There are two handwriting passages for each lesson. The first one is meant to be an outright copy.
The second one is ideally meant to be used as a dictation piece. Through dictation, students learn to sound out spellings where possible, and listen for where punctuation should be. We opted to used these a copy pieces still, because Jude is still modeling cursive form. He is still learning spelling, where punctuation belongs, sentence formation, etc. -- just visually instead of through auditory learning.
If you asked me what our homeschool style was, I'd agree that we have Charlotte Mason tendencies - preferring expert books and multisensory learning - but we are definitely not purists. While I agree with the idea of children rise to expectations, our philosophy is more "confidence first, challenge second." As much as we enjoyed the topics of the program, Jude really struggled with the length of the passages. Generally, they were two to three pages of fairly small text, so if you're considering this program, the first question I would ask is "Can my child focus intently for 5-10 minutes of reading, and grasp concepts from what he has just read?" There are no pictures, no visual cues, just pure reading and comprehending. The passages challenged Jude. If I read the selections aloud, comprehension is almost impossible for him because of his learning disabilities. He does better with reading aloud himself because he is visually engaged, but sometimes he became more focused on "Am I done yet? How much more?" than the content of the text. I think that while this program's content is designed to content that is age-appropriate for a six-year-old, it is not necessarily going to be skill-appropriate just because he's six. (Jude is eight, on a first grade reading level.) I would say that a child really needs to be at the upper levels of emergent reading to be able to do this program well because it does involve so much language coordination.
There is also a lot of writing. That was no surprise, because of the teaching style, but the passages were longer than Jude was used to - he was used to a single medium-length sentence. He was torn between wanting to make them shorter and not leaving them unfinished. The idea is that by modeling good sentences, students will innately learn how a sentence should be written. A grammar study is also included in the program. It focuses on one part of speech each month, allowing a solid understanding of one concept before adding the next.
This is a program we will likely stick with for Jude, but perhaps going a slower pace. I would like to see him gain confidence in one of the areas of the program before we pick up the pace and really challenge him with the others. We will probably stay with a question-and-answer format for comprehension, focusing on answering one or two of the questions with a full sentence before expanding into writing proper paragraphs. I'll also likely rewrite the copy sentences into smaller chunks for him to work with, so he is only seeing one at a time and not becoming anxious that there "should be" more than that one completed and slowly lengthen them into longer passages. I was considering using this program with Damien next year, as he will be in first grade, but I don't think he will be developmentally ready for it by fall (even if we switched to the manuscript program). I'll put it aside until he has both the behavioral and language skills to succeed, and likely begin with the same modifications I'm trying for Jude rather than just saying, "Ok, you're in first grade, here you go!"
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