When I was a kid, I hated social studies. I struggled to keep myself awake. The teacher always taught from a textbook and homework consisted of answering comprehension questions at the end of the chapter. Boring.
When I began homeschooling, I determined that I would do it differently. Biographies and narrative non-fiction such as Our Island Story and The Mystery of History were favorites. Historical fiction, museums, re-enactments, documentaries, and crafts brought history to life. Even though we favored hands-on, experience-based social studies, we still used some resources to round out the learning adventures. Here is my round-up of homeschool social studies resources.
Elementary age (ages 8 and up)
Children under age 8 really don’t do history and geography. They are not developmentally ready to learn about places beyond their own geographical area. So, I don’t recommend doing any of these programs with someone below 3rd grade.
This is not a curriculum, but a supplemental resource appropriate for children ages 8-14. They offer beautiful maps, timeline figures, and project packs that include lapbook projects, games, and craft instructions. Did I mention that the images are beautiful? The lapbook creations are truly unique and often have the text prewritten on each individual item. For children who struggle with writing, this is a great blessing. The crafts were not the “cut and paste” type. Children created items out of fabric, leather, wood, and other real materials that resulted in keepsakes that last. My daughters still like to take out their finished lapbooks, pull the tabs, and open the little doors. The only negative about this resource is that there is a LOT of cutting and coloring. Sometimes the cuts were very tiny and intricate. If you are willing to do some of the cutting yourself, this resource doesn’t disappoint.
This, too, is not a curriculum, but a resource. My first choice was Homeschool in the Woods, but their offerings were limited. One of my daughter insisted on doing lapbooks, though. Hands of a Child offers literally hundreds of options for children ages 5-15. This is another lapbooking company and that is pretty much their specialty. However, they offer unit study lapbooks, not just time period ones, and they don’t limit themselves to social sciences. They also offer science, language arts, math, and holiday lapbooks. Their mini-books for the larger lapbook are much easier to cut and are generally in basic shapes, which my younger son liked for a while. They offer a “write-in” option so that you can write your child’s notes on the pages and then print them out for him to cut and assemble. Very nice.
This is a supplemental resource, but so popular in our house, I had to list it. Jim Weiss is the king of storytelling and our preferred way of learning popular cultural stories and myths. My kids have also enjoyed his CDs about well-known historical figures and their antics.
Yes, I offer a botany course through this online curriculum provider. This site offers a TON of courses and our favorite ones are the cultures, geography, and history courses. Some of them have video, which we love. The best part, is that if your child doesn’t like one class, there are so many others that you are sure to find something that he likes. All courses are self-paced and vary in length. As there are more than 300 courses designed by more than 200 different individuals, it is difficult to summarize their offerings. I will say that it is appropriate for preschool to high school, offers parent helps and learning centers, and integrates material from World Book Encyclopedia, all great pluses.
Middle School and High School Resources
This is not a curriculum but a resource that is basically a book of books. There are several volumes, each covering a different time period. Each one is a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, list of books divided by reading level and subtopic. I used these as a reference tool for library visits. If you are unsure about what books to look for on a specific historical topic, this is a fabulous reference to have around.
This is a complete history program that attempts to teach to all four learning styles and the eight intelligences through audio CDs, different writing activities, and hands-on suggestions. We never really used it as it was designed, but we did learn details about history that we didn’t learn in other places. This program emphasizes church history and big ideas, not names and dates. I feel this is more appropriate for older kids because the audio moves pretty fast and covers some difficult subject matter. Many of the suggested supplemental books are only appropriate for ages 12 and up and the hands-on activities require greater skill.
This is also a complete history program and is simpler to use than the one above. Enrichment4You created a CD of craft instructions specifically for Mystery of History, which yields beautiful, professional-looking keepsakes of historical “artifacts” if you have crafty kids. We used the artfully done audio version for the Middle Ages. Her soothing, melodic voice made history come alive. Similar to the Story of the World, it follows a chronological approach and covers world history from all cultures, not just a European perspective.
My sons mainly used this in middle school for a year because it allowed them to learn independently and they enjoyed the computer. Veritas is a classical curriculum provider and while I did not like the emphasis on names and dates, I did like the interactive, entertaining way that they presented history. Using a conversational, fun approach that includes mini theatrical bits, games, and quizzes, my sons learned a lot of interesting information about American history that most adults don’t know.
So, there you have it, my round-up of homeschool social studies resources. Please keep in mind that I only used each of the curriculum mentioned for a year under special circumstances, so my assessment is biased. My preference, as I mentioned at the beginning, is to use the library. But, some library books are biased because of revisionist history, worldview, or limited perspective. It helped to have a spine from a faith perspective, too, so that we had a balanced presentation of the topic. That is hard to find, so I bought some materials to help. If you find that you need to do the same thing, I encourage you to be creative and not limit yourself to the publisher’s recommended use. You are the boss, not some stranger!