Mystery of History is a BIG program to sort through. I have found that it is easier on me if I do the majority of my planning and preparing before I read the first page to my kids.
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Step 1: Make a Lesson Planning Grid and Fill it Out
For me, the first step to planning is to print up a simple grid to use as a planner. I used Google Docs to make a four column grid and included enough rows for two weeks worth of lessons per page.
As I glanced over the lessons, I took notes for each lesson. In the first column, I wrote the title of each chapter, lesson number, and page numbers. The second column is for writing additional readings. I also used it to jot down map activities and quizzes I planned on doing. The third and fourth columns are to jot down notes on narrations and activities I want my kids to do. Most of the activities come straight from Mystery of History, but a few come from Story of the World Activity Book 2.
After going through the book and filling out the grid, I jotted down the titles of relevant library books at the top of each page so I can quickly go to our library's website and reserve the books I need. I found most of these books by browsing through the literature recommendations at the back of the book and in the Story of the World Activity Book 2. I also checked to see if our library had the books I wanted before writing the titles down.
I used the bottom margin to jot down notes on lessons that I want to include. I plan on doing a lesson on William Tell, because he is part of my heritage. I also plan on adding lessons on ancient Mexico, because that is a part of my husband's heritage.
I still have to write in my son's additional readings, which will be from books like Adam of the Road and the Adventures of Robin Hood, but I don't have all of those books in my hands yet.
Step 2: Make Copies and File Them Behind the Relevant Planning Page
I hate making copies. Since I hate making them as much on busy school days as on lazy summer days I decided to put on a podcast and make all the copies that I would need for history for the year.
It actually took a few podcasts to get the job done.
After making copies, I filed them behind the relevant lesson planning page.
Not all of my copies were from the Mystery of History book. Some I found online and some of the other supplement books I drew from were:
Amy Pak's History Through the Ages Timeline Figures
History Pockets: Ancient Civilizations
History Pockets: Ancient Rome
History Pockets: Native Americans
Story of the World Activity Book 2
Days of Knights and Damsels
I reviewed some of these supplemental activity books in this post and discussed how I used them.
Step 3: Pick a Storage System and Put Everything Away
I store my copies and plans in colorful folders and a file box. I include 12 lessons per folder. This is what my finished folders and file look like:
You could just as easily store everything in a binder and pull out pages as you need them.
Whenever I pull out a set of copies, I usually just put them in my Mystery of History book at the relevant chapter, so I have them ready to go the minute I open the book.
That's it! Since I'm already familiar with Mystery of History, once I got started, it only took a few hours to plan my year and a couple more hours to make copies and file them.
If this is your first year using Mystery of History, you will probably want to take a couple more hours to read the introductory chapters and familiarize yourself with the book.
Here's everything, shelved and ready to go! Here is a link to my exact small file box and large file box. Both are super sturdy and I've used them for years.
Be sure to read my next post in this series: Activity Books to Use With Mystery of History, Vol. 2
I hit the end of last week and I was exhausted. In addition to five days of cycling through my typical duties of feeding my family, running a homeschool, keeping the house and yard clean enough, transporting to and from activities, and monitoring my kid's behavior and hygiene, I also had a couple of evenings where my husband was home really late from work , a birthday to plan for, a math unit that turned out to be much harder that I hand anticipated, and we had just been camping, so I had the after camping chores to do, too. I was on my feet for nearly five days straight and the work still wasn't done. It's no wonder I could barely think by the time Friday rolled around so I texted my husband to please plan on my not being around for a stretch of time on Saturday.
After a walk and a visit to the bookstore, my mind cleared enough to realize that I had not taken a single hour during the week to just read a book or write a little or draw a picture or sit in the garden to soak up some sunshine and enjoy the signs of spring. I had neither renewed my mind nor my soul.
I needed rest. Not the zone out on the couch with the TV or smartphone type of relaxing that is merely an escape from life, but the deep soul rest that Christians call Sabbath and classical educators call scholé. I thought about how I could work in a little scholé time in during the week.
A couple of friends in college had introduced me to the concept of a 24 hour Sabbath, where a person could choose a 24 hour block of time, preferably overlapping Sunday church services, during which no regular work (such as studying or a job) could be done. If you started your Sabbath after dinner Saturday night, you would have 24 hours of rest before hitting the books on Sunday evening. I tested out the 24 hour Sabbath before I committed to it, and after a few week of getting a lot of work done while always having a Sunday to devote to leisure, I was sold and kept a Sabbath all through college.
As a full time mom, a 24 hour Sabbath would be impossible for my work was always before me as I had young kids who need feeding, and dressing, and bathing, and loving attention whether it was Tuesday or Sunday.
The Lord models rest for us in the very first chapter of Genesis. He creates for six days and on the seventh he rests. Later, we read in the Gospels that Jesus spends his days healing and preaching and spending time with children, but he also slips away from the crowds to pray. If the God of the universe takes time to rest, perhaps I should, too.
God shows us that there is a proper cycle of work and leisure. Work is followed by rest. The next round of work should not start until rest has been taken.
What if, within each 24 hour period, I were to carve out one hour for rest for every six hours of work? What would my day look like if I intentionally followed a schedule of work and rest? It would probably look something like this schedule where I the leisure time is blue and the work time is orange:
6:00 Quiet. Coffee. Read the Bible. Pray. Journal. Read.
7:00-1:00 Breakfast. Dishes. Get kids ready for the day. Homeschool. Laundry. Lunch. Dishes.
1:00-2:00 Read or Paint or Write or Gather a bouquet of flowers or Talk to a friend or Sit in the sun and daydream.
2:00-8:00 Laundry. Clean. Exercise. Plan. Make phone calls. Dinner. Baths. Put kids to bed.
8:00-10:00 Get ready for bed. Talk to husband. Read. Watch a show.
That hour of rest in the middle of the day is huge, but I have to be intentional not to flop on the couch and waste time on Instagram because even though it occupies my attention, it is not restful.
Without that carefully placed hour of leisure in the middle of the schedule, my day would probably look something like this:
6:00 Drag myself out of bed to read the Bible and hopefully pray.
7:00-8:00 Breakfast. Dishes. Get kids ready for the day. Homeschool. Laundry. Lunch. Dishes. More laundry. Clean. Plan. Be grumpy. Forget something. Dinner. Baths. Put kids to bed.
8:00-11:00 Get ready for bed. Complain to husband. Instagram. Watch a show. Stay up too late.
The first schedule is so much better than the second and I can say so because I've tested both. I've probably spent far too many days following the rest-less schedule than the first, but the days when I follow the first are so much better.
Linked to: Monday Musings, Mommy Monday, Hip Homeschool Moms and Homeschool Blog and Tell
Stay tuned for part 2 where I write about adding rest to your student's homeschool days.
For Further Reading
In a perfect homeschooling world, we'd always have a couple of uninterrupted hours at the end of the week to gather materials and plan out the upcoming weeks, no one would get sick, December would only be a little bit chaotic, Mom would always get eight hours of sleep, and family crises would just not happen during the school year.
Unfortunately, life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Giving our kids a good education means that sometimes we have to flip on the autopilot switch and homeschool the best we can in the middle of our crazy lives. Here are a few thing that I've found help me educate my kids well during the busiest times of the year.
Have a Routine to Fall Back On
Having a routine means that even when I fall short of sleep because I'm up most of the night with a sick kid or because I'm a bad sleeper, I can fall into the pattern of breakfast, get kids ready for the day, read aloud time, math lessons, then supervise the kids' independent work. A routine saves our homeschool day more often than I care to admit.
My kids have their routines that they fall into, too. My oldest son is so in the habit of narrating what he read in his history and literature readers that even if I am in the middle of cleaning up a big spill, he will be telling me about the Panama Canal while getting me another towel. He knows that he can't check history off his list and move on to the next subject until that part of the lesson is done. Believe me, he doesn't like to be doing a lot of work after lunch, so he is motivated to move forward.
My daughter (age 5) is still learning her schedule but she knows that she has to write something, read something, and do a math activity before she is free to do drag out her art supplies to make yet another messy mixed media collage/drawing/painting/masterpiece. So she will ask to do her math before she asks to do art.
Always Be in the Middle of a Few Longer Books
For a while, a few subjects in our homeschool week were solely dependent on shorter books from the library. This meant that if I didn't reserve my books or couldn't go to the library, we didn't have anything to do for history, art, or science.
While I still depend on the library to round out our curriculum and to add richness to our homeschool day, I am careful to have a few longer books that we are reading aloud at all times.Genevieve Foster's books and the D'Aulaires books are great read for reading aloud to a wide range of ages and they are long enough to last several weeks. My kids all time favorite science book was Birds do the Strangest Things. We would read about one bird a day over the course of a few weeks and they still talk about the crazy birds we read about. Often, I will take a book from theLets-Read-And-Find-Out series, divide it into quarters, and read it over the course of a week.
Currently, during our morning read aloud time, we are always working through a book of the Bible, a history book, a poetry book, and a science book. Even on the craziest days, if I just continue to read a chapter or section of each of those and add in math, give the kids free reading time, and ask each child to write in their journal, we've still covered seven subjects in our homeschool. That's what we call a minimum day!
Map Out Subjects So It's Easy to "Do the Next Thing"
While with some curriculum may be easy to open the book and do the next section, some subjects are a little more difficult to do without a little planning. A math book may need change for a lesson on money or a compass for a geometry lesson. A history lesson may require a trip to the library for a research project. Science labs always require materials. A writing curriculum may have some lessons that take less than 20 minutes while others take close to an hour.
There are many ways to plan ahead, without investing a lot of time. Spending a little time periodically to look ahead to make note of which shorter lessons could be combined and which longer lessons will require extra days is a great practice. Jotting down a list of materials that will be needed for each unit on post it notes at the beginning of the year and sticking them in the book is super helpful.
Technology as a Substitute Teacher
When I was a substitute teacher, I usually had to take students to the computer lab or pop in a movie. When I was a teacher, I usually kept a few VHS tapes in my top right hand drawer for emergencies. As a homeschool teacher, why should I feel guilty about occasionally relying on technology to fill in the gaps in my kids education?
There are enough great documentaries, movie adaptations of literature, websites, and apps out there that in a pinch I can call in a technological substitute teacher to help me through a pinch. ABCya, Duolingo, Xtra Math, Starfall, and Typing.com are a few websites I can count on to fill in the gaps on rough days. As a matter of fact, most of those websites show up on our homeschool on a rotating basis anyway! We just spend more time on them when Mom or the baby is sick. As for apps, we have Stack the States (geography), Zeus vs the Monsters (mythology and math), Moose Math, and Starfall (reading and phonics). I try to record documentaries on Animal Planet for rainy days. I can also pull up an episode of Salsa Spanish for the little ones.
How About You?
How do you homeschool on autopilot?
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Linked to Hip Homeschool Moms and FinishingStrong
At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I started coming across the name Charlotte Mason, over and over and over. Unfortunately, I had no idea who she was.
I finally turned to Google and came across a series of articles explaining Mason's methods of education. I skimmed over articles on narration and nature study and then stumbled on one about short lessons.
The concept wasn't hard. Charlotte Mason advised that lessons for children should be challenging, varied, and short. A short lesson meant that a child could give full attention to the lesson without a wandering mind. A short lesson wouldn't burn out a child which also meant that the child would be left eager for the next lesson.
Mason's concept of short lessons was so different from how I was organizing education in my mind. I had latched on to a block schedule, thinking it would be easier in the end. Our early block schedule included a substantial block of time for language arts, almost an hour for a math lesson and practice, and then another substantial block of time for either history, science, or art.
To me, it made sense to to get out the books for a subject once and then work with them for a good amount of time before putting them away again. If we only did history twice a week, I only had to get out the books, notebook, and other materials twice a week. It made less sense to get out the history book read a little then put it away and get out the math book for a lesson then put it away then get out a poetry book to read a poem then put it away then get out the spelling book and do an exercise then put it away... Unfortunately my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiently getting out and putting away materials and not much to do with effectively educating a young mind.
It turns out, that spending longer amounts of time in a block type schedule wasn't working even though it seemed to be so common sense. I may not have spent as much time pulling books off the shelf, but I was spending way too much time pushing my son to just get to the end of the lesson.
Unfortunately, my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiency and nothing to do with effectively educating a young mind.
Something had to change, and short lessons was a method that I knew I had to put to the test to see if it would actually work. I began by writing out a long checklist for my son so he could see what we were going to cover during the day. I made a point of making sure no two like activities or subjects were right next to each other. It looked something like this:
Story of the World
Black Ships Before Troy-1 Chapter
Chore of the Day
Of course, I didn't show him the list until he could check a few things off. He would have seen so many things scheduled before lunch instead of the usual three. I finally showed the list to him and of course he grumbled when he saw it. Why did he have to do so much today?
However, we were done with school in record time. We had hit every subject and I never once had to say, can you please just finish this page first and then you can have a break?
At the end of the week, when I added up everything that he had accomplished, more had been done in a dozen short lessons four days in a row than in four days of block scheduling. Also, we had accomplished more in less time.
Switching to a new schedule is hard, and it took me a few weeks to convince my son that what we were doing was better. The familiar pattern of doing things that we inherited from public schools was just that, familiar. We are comfortable with the familiar even if it isn't good for us. "Shouldn't I do more spelling exercises?" I'd see the question in his eyes, but he didn't dare ask.
My son had to build new habits, but I had to build new habits too. Pulling out three books for three subjects at a time and setting them on the table to work through one at a time became necessary because as soon as I turned my back to put one book away and take another out, I'd find myself alone at the table and my son already engaging his sister in a game. I have learned to pull out at least three books at once if I don't want a break between each and every short lesson.
Now that my son is older, I write out his schedule out in the order I want him to accomplish his lessons and he is no longer daunted when he gets a list of 12 tasks in the morning because now he knows that he can accomplish a lot in a little amount of time.
Charlotte Mason's short lessons have transformed our school mornings. We hit every subject between 8:30 am and lunch time with breaks in between. I do save activities that my kids like to dwell on, including science labs, art projects, and PE for after lunch. They have hours of free time for playing, reading, and personal projects.
Short lessons are the first area that I put Charlotte Mason's philosophy to the test, and I am so glad that I did because they just may have saved our sanity during our first year homeschooling.
Linked to The Homeschool Nook, Monday Musings, Finishing Strong and Hip Homeschool Moms