Writing Through History: A Charlotte Mason Writing Program is a homeschool writing program with eight courses that repeat a four-year cycle of world history at two different levels. Level 1 courses break history into four periods: Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern, repeating the same cycle of history with Level 2. The actual titles of the books are Writing Through Ancient History, Writing Through Medieval History, etc.
Drawing from older resources that are in the public domain, Kimberly Garcia has selected historical narratives, fables, fairy tales, the Bible, primary source documents, and poetry that relate to each period of history. Applying Charlotte Mason’s methods, children read (or are read to) selected literary works or excerpts by talented authors from different eras of history.
Children respond first with either oral or written narrations of the piece that was read. Questions that might help prompt students with their narrations are in the appendix.
Next, copywork helps students become familiar with the structure and style of well-written sentences as well as the spelling of words that stretch beyond the normal grade-level list. All courses are available in your choice of manuscript or cursive, so you can choose courses to reflect the type of handwriting you want your child to practice.
The basics of grammar can be introduced through the same literary models used for copywork. Finally, dictation exercises help students train themselves to be able to accurately record what they hear, with proper punctuation and spelling.
Level 1 courses are for the lower grammar stage of about grades one through three while Level 2 courses are for the upper grammar stage of about grades three through five. I think you might find both levels can easily stretch for use with students a year or two older than the given age range.
History coverage within these books is not intended to be comprehensive. It might still be sufficient for first and second graders, but beyond that you will definitely want something with more thorough coverage.
Credit toward areas of language arts is much more significant than history coverage. While students will accomplish much of their language arts work with these courses, they will also need direct instruction on some topics. For example, you will need to explain various types of punctuation as students encounter them. You might need to work more with students as they learn how to compose their written narrations into coherent paragraphs. And they will need instruction as to how to form cursive letters for handwriting.
In addition, grammar instruction must be integrated into the lessons by the parent. At the back of each book (as well as in the answer keys) is a brief Grammar Guide that outlines how to teach the eight parts of speech within the context of the each book’s lessons. Students learn to define and identify parts of speech, circling each with different colors. This is very basic instruction. For example, while it teaches the difference between common and proper nouns, it doesn’t address the various functions of nouns: subject, direct object, indirect object, etc. While you might not cover all eight parts of speech with first or second graders, this light-handed approach is fine for those grade levels. You might want to go deeper into grammar with students in third grade and above, although Charlotte Mason left the formal study of grammar to fourth or fifth grade and beyond.
Answer keys for Level 2 books that will be particular helpful for the grammar portion of the lessons should be available soon. Answer keys include mark-ups of copywork models, identify parts of speech for the copywork models, and show the studied dictation models along with their punctuation explanations.
Reading passages are from historical narratives, primary source documents, poetry, fables, fairy tales, cultural stories, and scripture. Copywork and dictation are drawn from the reading. While content includes a significant number of stories from scripture in Writing Through Ancient History, pagan and mythical sources that are also included might be troublesome for some parents. In Writing Through Ancient History Level 2, Garcia says, “Some of the copywork and dictation passages are about ancient religions and pagan gods. If you do not want your student to copy those passages, see page 31 of the Appendix for substitute models which are from the bible” (p. vi). However, in my opinion, substituting scripture verses for copywork isn’t likely to allay possible concerns about the reading material itself.
You can and should use lessons out of order. For example, instructions suggest that you might use a lesson from the first part along with a lesson from another section such as poetry within the same week. You might also select lessons to align with the historical time period you are studying in another resource. The time periods to which each literary work correlates are shown in the table of contents. (No correlation is shown for some works such as the fables from Aesop.) This makes it easier to select those works that tie in with your history studies.
I received the Writing Through Ancient History books for review, so the following details are based upon the two different levels of those books. Garcia tells me that the other levels are similar in design although the literary selections differ.
Each book is substantial with from about 300 to 400 pages each and from around 60 to 80 lessons (literary works) per book. If you are able to accomplish two lessons per week, you might be able to finish an entire book in one year. Remember that you don’t have to use all of the lessons!
Writing Through Ancient History Level 1 uses a number of sources for literary works. Chapter I includes historical narratives (including Bible stories) from sources such as Wonder Book of Bible Stories, Fifty Famous People, and Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Chapter II uses Aesop’s Fables from Aesop for Children. Chapter III uses poetry from or about ancient history, and Chapter IV features myths and tales from various ancient cultures from sources such as Story Hour Reader and a Beacon Reader.
Garcia mentions that some of the literary selections are above the reading level of even most third graders. However, reflecting Charlotte Mason’s approach, parents can read the narratives, fables, or poetry aloud discussing vocabulary and concepts as needed. Children who are able can read the literary selections aloud themselves.
After a selection has been read, children will provide an oral or written narrative. Students will also do copywork from two excerpts (models) for each literary work. Models are presented in large fonts. The first model is on a lined page with lines for the child to write immediately beneath each line of the model. The second model is presented in one block with lines for the student beneath the block. This makes it easy for children to complete their work with the models in view. While you can select either the manuscript or cursive version, this program does not provide instruction on formation of letters in either manuscript or cursive.
Dictation can be introduced when children are ready. You can use both of the copywork models for each lesson for dictation or just one of them. You might shorten passages if that seems appropriate. Further instructions for different methods of dictation, including studied dictation, are described at the beginning of each book.
Writing Through Ancient History Level 2 is divided into four chapters as is Level 1. While three chapters are similar to Level 1 with historical narratives, poetry, and cultural tales, Chapter II in Level 2 has primary source documents rather than the fables found in Level 1. Literary works are drawn from sources such a Guerber’s The Story of the Greeks and The Story of the Romans, The Wonder Book of Bible Stories, the Bible, World’s Best Poetry: Vol. 10, Baby’s Own Aesop, Tales of Wonder Every Child Should Know, and More Jataka Tales. Examples of some of the primary source documents are the First Tablet from “The Babylonian Legends of the Creation” (held by the British Museum), an excerpt from Works and Days by Hesiod (translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White), an excerpt from The Tao Teh King, or the Tao and its Characteristics by Lao-Tse (translated by James Legge), and an excerpt from The Categories by Aristotle (translated by E. M. Edghill).
A few lessons use literary works or excerpts and copywork that are identical to those in Level 1. If a student encountered these four years previously they are unlikely to recall the duplication. The work is challenging enough for older students as well, so the only problem would be if the same books were used very close in time with one another.
Students at this level are expected to respond with more written narrations than would have been required of younger students. Still, parents need to judge whether oral or written narrations are best.
The font sizes are a little smaller in Level 2. Only one copywork sample is presented after the reading passage, and it is shown in a single block with lines for students to copy directly in their books. A second model is only found at the back of the book. The parent needs to copy it on to paper or a white board for use as “studied dictation.” Students have the opportunity to study this model before taking it by dictation. The instructions explain the method for studied dictation on page ix.
Grammar instruction is the same as that described in Level 1, so it is very likely that older students will be using another resource or method for further instruction in grammar and usage.
Writing Through History takes copywork and dictation to a more useful level by tying it in with history. Even if used without correlation to other study of history, I think students are more likely to be interested in copywork and dictation when it is presented within the context of lengthier passages as this series does.