Our Journey Westward exists to encourage parents to homeschool creatively, abundantly and joyfully. Through practical blog posts, creative curriculum, speaking, hands-on workshops, and phone consultations, Cindy West gives you the resources you need to thrive in homeschooling.
I love using living books in our homeschool. If you’ve been around here any time at all, you know that living literature is a key tool I use across all ages and all subjects.
Using literature to teach high school history works especially well. There are so many nuances of an event or era that can be understood through books. Living books also have a unique way of drawing students in and placing them smack-dab in the middle of a time period to meet important people, experience meaningful events, and feel real emotions.
Just talking about all the benefits of literature makes me want to go grab some historical fiction right now!
I received Modern U.S. and World History for free and was compensated for my time in writing this post. As always, all opinions are strictly my own. Affiliate links are included in this post.
High School History Curriculum
In the past, I’ve found success in pulling together various “spine” and living book resources for high school history. But quite honestly, it took a lot of research and hours of work to create a meaningful course.
I had to find a spine that was thorough and didn’t mince the facts of history.
My 6th grader just finished a mini French and Indian War unit study that was a great pit stop in our regular history studies.
I just love the slow and steady pace we’re taking to go through the Story of the World curriculum this time around. I used to follow pretty strict 4-year cycles in history, but with this 3rd child of mine, I’m confident that moving at a slower pace and savoring certain events is as good a way to learn as any.
As we read through the Story of the World and something strikes our fancy, we take some time to dig deeper. Sometimes through extra reading or a documentary. Other times through mini unit studies.
The mini unit studies give Eli a chance to practice important project-based learning skills and urge him into some independent learning, too.
Get a printable copy of the unit study below.
French and Indian War Unit Study
Pick and choose what works for your needs – or let your child(ren) pick and choose. You could easily spend a few weeks with the ideas below.
There is not one teaching resource I treasure more than picture books. The good ones have such a masterful knack for laying out factual information in the midst of wonderful storylines. The illustrations, of course, help our children put pictures to names and places and ideas.
When my children were younger, one of the best things I did was use picture books for nature study. There are so many wonderful picture books that can inspire a deep interest or understanding of nature!
Sometimes, we would pack along a picture book and a blanket and actually read as part of the nature walk. This mid-walk reading might have the purpose of a cozy rest time or a specially planned inspiration to find more, learn more, or discuss more.
When I knew what the topic of the walk was ahead of time, I would often pre-read a picture book before setting off. Giving children pre-knowledge, or even just building excitement, can make nature walks more productive to be sure.
Oftentimes, we would find something interesting during our walk and and pertinent picture book would follow – again, to further explain or inspire even more discovery next time.
Nature study is certainly a big deal in the homeschool community at large – even outside of Charlotte Mason circles. For that, I am very excited!
But, I still get the impression that many view nature study as a fun extra to their regular homeschooling. “Yes, it might bring a little more goodness into the week, but it isn’t a make-or-break subject.”
I’m on a mission to broaden the vision for nature study.
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I’ve written before about how much real science is at the heart of nature study. It’s so true.
Whether nature study is used as the full science curriculum, or it serves as an extension lessons to the “regular” science curriculum, or even if it stands alone as its own once-a-week curriculum in addition to the “regular” science lessons – there is much value in nature study.
And really, I believe is it a make-or-break subject.
Anyone who has ever taken the time to truly study nature will tell you the same thing. Through observation and inquisitiveness, so many intricacies of this world can be understood and connections made between big ideas.
I finally had a chance to take a peek at the Grammar Galaxy curriculum to see what all the buzz is about. Teaching doesn’t get much better than using stories to impart serious language arts skills – and enticing children into those stories through exciting missions.
The author, Dr. Melanie Wilson, is a dear friend of mine, but I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m saying nice things about Grammar Galaxy because of our friendship. She has truly written an engaging elementary language arts program!
This post contains affiliate links.
What is Grammar Galaxy?
Grammar Galaxy is a language arts program for 1st-6th graders that uses stories and missions to teach language arts concepts.
Each lesson includes a new story in the continuing saga of the evil gremlin and his quest to destroy Grammar Galaxy. Within the story line, language arts skills are creatively taught. Your children become part of the story as they complete quick missions in the workbook that require them to use language arts skills to deter the gremlin.
The concept is brilliant really. The stories are full of humor and the lessons move so fast that children may barely realize school is the name of the game.
I have always loved teaching a Leonardo da Vinci unit study because it covers just about every single academic subject easily.
The Renaissance, various science topics like inventions, simple machines, & the human body, and art & artist study are all easy topics to cover while learning about da Vinci. Add some fun research-based learning activities and good books and you have yourself a really fabulous unit study!
Get a printable copy of this unit study below.
Leonardo da Vinci Unit Study
Taking two or three weeks to study the life and impact of da Vinci just might inspire your kiddos to dream big and do hard things. His incredible inventions, discoveries, critical thinking, and art made quite the impact during his lifetime and even reach far and wide into many modern day technologies and such.
This simple unit study will give your students a nice overview of his life and work, while allowing your children to dig deeper into various aspects they find most interesting.
Extend or expand your study with Famous Artists of the Renaissance!
I never like to admit when I’m barely treading water, but it happens almost every year as Thanksgiving approaches. The moment the leftover turkey is put in the fridge, it seems that December and its giant to-do list overwhelm me.
Besides the regular crazy that we call our day-to-day around here, December kicks it up more than a notch or two. We celebrate a birthday in December, practice for and attend several special Christmas programs and parades that my children and husband participate in, and the colder weather means daily feeding of the cattle on top of regular jobs. And of course, there’s all the home decorating, shopping, and general memory making that December seems to require.
Every year I have to choose joy over stress. I’m not perfect and have my share of breakdowns, but I’ve found one key that really, really helps me choose joy more often.
Organization. Organization is they best tactic I’ve found to maintain joy in any busy season of life.
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How To Take the Stress Out of December
It sounds simple, but if I make plans ahead of time for everything from homeschooling to healthy meals, I’m way more likely to live in peace even when the days are full of too much.
I’m all about giving purposeful gifts for Christmas. Not everything has to have a grand purpose, but I don’t want to waste my money on frivolous things that will never be touched again either.
That’s why I spend some time each year coming up with a list of educational Christmas gift ideas. I keep the list handy when buying for my own children, nieces and nephews, Christmas Angel children, and even the $5 gift exchange for the kids at church. Any family members who ask for ideas for my kids get the list, too.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We don’t limit gift giving to only educational items. My children make their own wish lists which definitely include other things. We set a budget each year and try to fulfill at least a few of their wishes first.
There are ALWAYS at least a couple of educational gifts added to the mix. Sometimes those gifts are meant for one child in particular, but there have been many years when we do educational gifts for the entire family, too. Games and audiobooks are good examples of family gifts.
Picture books for middle school? Shouldn’t older students have moved on from picture books years ago?
Not necessarily. Many of the best living picture books include amazing stories with rich language that big kids are finally able to read and enjoy on their own.
Additionally, some of the picture books we have on our shelves do a beautiful job of introducing kids to serious topics – like war or racism. And I purposely tend to hold these back until my kids are old enough to handle the emotional content.
Even with books that don’t cover heavy topics, there are many picture books with nuances that are best understood by older children.
This book contains affiliate links.
I’ve included more than 100 picture books for middle school students below. This is by no means an exhaustive list because there are so, so many picture books that could be appropriate for middle school students to read.
You may see some books on the list that you’ve read with younger children before. It’s okay! Some of them are entirely appropriate for younger children, too, but I’ve included them on the list because of the nuances that can be read with an entirely new perspective now that your children are older.
We follow a four-year cycle for teaching science. In the elementary years, science picture books have helped me introduce and explain scientific topics so well that I consider them as much curriculum as anything else we use to teach science.
While we do use the occasional science textbook during the elementary years, much of the learning takes place through three modalities:
Nature Study covers most of the biology and earth science topics. We consider nature walks to be our outdoor science labs and spend indoor hours reading, researching, and sometimes completing hands-on projects.
Unit Studies cover most of the chemistry and physical science topics. We spend plenty of time reading, completing experiments, and sometimes preparing show-what-you-know projects.
Living Books support us through all the nature studies and unit studies. They connect us to real-life science, demonstrate concepts, and even serve as the teachers of information for all of the sciences. We use them before, during, and/or after nature study or unit studies.
Since science picture books have been such a wonderful thread of learning over the years for us, I thought it was high time to pull together a mega list of our tried and true favorites.