Rabbit Trails Homeschool publishes literature-based courses for various subject areas, but I focus on their five Rabbit Trails through History courses for this review—courses on ancient history, early settlers (U.S.), America's founders, westward expansion, and inventors. (A course on medieval history should also be available later in 2023.)
All courses use a Rabbit Trails guide (PDF) along with a collection of children’s picture books that you can borrow from the library or purchase. Each course will take 12 to 18 weeks to complete, so you will probably complete two of them per school year. The courses should be best for children in grades one through five, although I would recommend adding some chapter books and more-challenging resources for fifth graders.
Rabbit Trails courses reflect a relaxed approach to homeschooling. Courses are written from a Christian perspective and are based on Charlotte Mason’s recommendation to use living books rather than textbooks, along with hands-on activities. Students will also create a notebook in which they will write or draw. There are no worksheets, quizzes, or tests.
Each course incorporates a set of six or seven main books that typically have 32 to 40 pages. There are a few slightly longer books, such as Leif, The Lucky, which has 60 pages.
The courses are divided into lessons, each of which should take two weeks to complete. Sample schedules are available online, such as this one for the course on America’s Founders. You will read one of the main books for each lesson, but you also need to choose some resources or activities from the Rabbit Trails, Library List, and More Ideas sections for each lesson where you will find suggestions for other books, videos, and activities. (Occasionally, an embedded weblink is included for recommended online resources, but I wish there were more.)
For each of the main books, the course guide has a page of historical information to provide a fuller historical context. You are welcome to use a different book in place of a main book, but the closer you stick to the topic, the better the tie-in between the book and suggested activities.
For each lesson, the guides include a copywork quotation from a historical figure related to the topic and a scripture memory verse. Optional sets of timeline cards and scripture memory verse cards are available for each study as PDF products. Each card set has one card per lesson.
There is a main activity for each lesson that includes a brief description and a list of supplies. Another list of possible activities is under the heading More Ideas. These suggestions don’t include supply lists. The activities vary in difficulty for younger or older children. This is true even for the main activities, which often seem most suitable for younger children. You should choose the activities that suit the ages and learning styles of your children.
Here’s an example of the activities for the study of the War of 1812 in the Westward Expansion study. The main activity is to build a battlefield using toy soldiers, popsicle sticks, paper, grass, leaves, branches, and whatever household items you can think of. The seven optional activities are:
- Do an art study on Tom Freeman, painter of The Night They Burned the White House, and discuss what it would have been like to witness the event.
- Listen to the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.
- Write a news article about a battle or person from the War of 1812. Younger children might dictate their article or draw a picture.
- Explore an online exhibit at the Canadian War Museum that gives four different perspectives on the war.
- Read the poem “Peace” by Esther Talbot, then write a poem or an acrostic.
- Research and give an oral report on an important person from the war.
- Make a list of the causes and effects of the war.
I will provide details about each study below, but overall, the Rabbit Trails through History courses should serve well for parents who enjoy reading aloud with their children, occasionally using the internet, and doing some hands-on activities.
Rabbit Trails through History: Ancient History has seven lessons and takes 14 weeks to complete. The lessons cover Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Greece, Rome, and The Mayans.
The main books used are Gilgamesh the King, Tutankhamen’s Gift, Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths, The Emperor and the Kite, Under the Bodhi Tree: A Story of the Buddha, Escape from Pompeii, and Rain Player.
Rabbit Trails through History: Early Settlers is a 12-week course, consisting of six lessons that should each take two weeks to complete. The topics covered are Native Americans, Vikings, Explorers, Pirates, Pilgrims, and the French and Indian War. The main books used with this course are Between Earth & Sky; Leif, The Lucky; Follow the Dream; Blackbeard, The Pirate King; Three Young Pilgrims; and A Picture Book of Daniel Boone.
Rabbit Trails through History: America’s Founders should take 16 weeks to complete. It takes a biographical approach through its eight lessons based on George Washington, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, John Adams, Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson.
The accompanying books are Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President by Anne Rockwell, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Betsy Ross by Alexandra Wallner, The Revolutionary John Adams by Cheryl Harness, Leave It to Abigail by Barb Rosenstock, How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer, Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown, and Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman.
Optional rabbit trails give children a broader perspective by introducing them to many other historical figures such as Ana Strong, John Hancock, Sam Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Thomas Jefferson, as well as topics such as the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Liberty Bell. The rabbit trails for the lesson on Benjamin Franklin take an interesting side trail into inventions of the 1800s.
Rabbit Trails through History: Westward Expansion is the lengthiest of these courses with nine lessons that should take 18 weeks to complete. It features lessons titled Lewis and Clark, The War of 1812, Removal of Natives, Battle of the Alamo, the Oregon Trail, Gold Rush, the Pony Express, the Homestead Act, and Railroad.
The primary books used are Seaman's Journal by Patricia Reeder Eubank, The Town That Fooled the British by Lisa Papp, The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz, A Picture Book of Davy Crockett by David A. Adler, Apples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson, Gold! Gold from the American River! by Don Brown, They're Off! The Story of the Pony Express by Cheryl Harness, Pioneer Girl: The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson, and Locomotive by Brian Floca.
Rabbit Trails through History: Inventors is a 14-week course with seven lessons. It covers a broad range of history under the lessons titled Ancient and Middle Age Inventors, Early Modern Inventors, Early 19th Century Inventors, Late 19th Century Inventors, Contemporary African American Inventors, Contemporary Female Inventors, and Other Notable Contemporary Inventors. In these lessons, students learn about inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Grace Hopper, George Washington Carver, and Henry Ford.
The main books used are The Warlord’s Kites; Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci; In the Garden with Dr. Carver; Samuel Morse, That’s Who! The Story of the Telegraph; Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives; The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford; and Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code.