Beautiful Feet offers two different guides for the study of Medieval History using real books. Medieval History: A Literature Approach is written for grades 5 through 8 while Medieval Reformation and Renaissance History is for grades 9 through 12. Both guides cover the time period from the fall of Rome through the early 1500s.
There is quite a bit of overlap with the two guides both using Genevieve Foster's The World of Columbus and Sons, James Daugherty’s Magna Charta, and Geraldine McCaughrean’s version of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights along with different versions of Beowulf, Joan of Arc, and The Canterbury Tales. While you might use both guides with students working at different levels simultaneously, it is important to note that the guides do not line up very often to cover the same topics at the same time; this does happen occasionally, and both studies are chronological but you will rarely be reading and discussing the same books at exactly the same time.
Each study uses a core resource book or “spine” to ensure thorough coverage. For the younger level, the core book is The European World by Barbara Hanawalt. Along with this and the books I’ve already listed, the study for younger students uses a number of other books such as The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green, Castle by David Macaulay, Morning Star of the Reformation by Andy Thompson, and The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly.
At the older level, the core book is National Geographic’s Medieval World. Rather than having students read a large number of literary works, this guide has students read selections from an anthology titled An Anthology of Medieval Literature in Translation along with the six books already mentioned and The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter.
Both of these guides are relatively recent publications, and they feature the colorful format typical of most of Beautiful Feet’s newer guides. They also incorporate hands-on activities and projects and many websites for both additional information and activities. Hands-on activities such as creating your own medieval manuscript will often require additional resources and a significant amount of time. Some activities such as writing a medieval ballad and performing it just require time. Other activities such as adding pictures to a timeline are relatively simple. Map work also receives serious attention with numerous assignments.
Students create a notebook for their vocabulary words and definitions as well as their answers to comprehension questions. However, they also create a portfolio of their best work—reports, projects such as the medieval manuscript, photos, poems, etc. Recognizing that we live in the digital age, the guide suggests that the “portfolio can be a dedicated notebook, a website or blog—whatever medium the student feels most comfortable using.”
At the younger level, parents should be reading aloud with fifth and sixth graders while seventh and eighth graders might do more independent reading. Each family will need to figure out the best balance in this regard. Many of the questions lend themselves to discussion rather than written work, and some questions might serve as essay topics. Parents will need to determine how to use the various questions. Answer keys are at the back of each book.
With 35 lessons in each guide, they should each take a full school year to complete if you try to use one lesson per week. Lessons are presented by weeks rather than by days. This means that parents have to select and assign activities. For this reason, I think the downloadable versions of these guides are likely to be most useful. Parents can copy and paste assignments from the guide to a student assignment sheet, arranging them into a daily schedule if need be.
Additional books that students might read are recommended at the end of each lesson most weeks, but I suspect that most students will have plenty to read between the required books and internet source material.
Both studies have an occasional Protestant slant. The inclusion of The Morning Star of the Reformation at the younger level and suggested internet resources at the upper level present a decidedly Protestant version of the life of John Wycliffe. The treatment of Martin Luther and the Reformation, in general, is generally through a Protestant lens.
Most of the books used in both studies are more religiously neutral even though they cover religious events.
While there are no tests for these studies, this approach to learning tends to be very effective for long-term retention since students usually become very engaged with the stories. Discussing and writing essay-type responses and reports coupled with the internet and hands-on activities provide multi-sensory learning opportunities that help students assimilate the information and process it at a deeper level than when they simply read a textbook memorize information and repeat it on a test.
Beautiful Feet sells the guides by themselves as well as packages with each guide plus the required books for each level. Beautiful Feet publishes a timeline package that was designed to work with an earlier Medieval History guide which has been entirely replaced by these two guides. While it does not align exactly with either of these guides, it is still helpful and is included in the lower-level package. Note that the upper-level guide is available only as a downloadable file as I write this review, although Beautiful Feet has plans for a print edition in the future.