Saturday, September 9, 2017

Changing Frontiers - How One Family Does History With Toddlers to Teens

As a history buff and avid book collector, I love looking through book catalogs and choosing a curriculum that fits our family's educational needs.  Last year we wanted an early American history curriculum from an Anabaptist perspective which incorporated numerous biographies and historical fiction that could be used with various age levels. I couldn't find exactly the curriculum I envisioned.

Changing frontiers

I kept coming back to Changing Frontiers, CLP's new eighth grade American history book. The book itself was eye-candy with many maps, timelines, and color photos. But eighth grade? My four scholars were in grades two to seven last year. But we chose Changing Frontiers as our spine book for our family history study, though we didn't use the book in the way CLP planned.

Books And More Books
My children learn more if they are immersed in history beyond a list of facts and dates. Since I was using the textbook for students younger than its intended age, I searched for biographies and historical fiction books to enhance the textbook.
  1. Picture books
Recently, publishers have produced a plethora of lovely historical picture books. Not only were they ideal for my younger children, but well-written picture books can also cement facts for older students. For example, JeanFritz has written memorable picture books about several early American leaders.
  1. Biographies
The textbook tells us about the movers and shakers of American history, but little about what experiences shaped their individual lives. I chose both short picture biographies and longer chapter biographies. Some books I read aloud, while others I assigned to my older children.
  1. World history
Did you know that Shakespeare was writing his plays when the first Englishmen were settling America? Neither did I. Though we focused on American history, studying about some world events enriched our understanding. We learned about individuals such as Good Queen Bess, Peter the Great, and Napoleon (usually with the aid of a good picture book such as those written and illustrated by Diane Stanley) which helped us put American history on the world stage.
  1. Historical fiction
Many of us will never forget the devastation of a locust infestation after reading Onthe Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Choose a well-written historical fiction book as a family read-aloud and your children won't realize you are “doing school” for their bedtime story. Our family has a habit of reading at least one book together at all times, so we chose a book that connected with our history study. We sailed stormy seas with Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, visited a colonial school house in Skippack School, and survived an Ohio winter in Cabin on Trouble Creek.

Schedules and Details
So how to pull this all together? I rarely write detailed dated lesson plans, because if we miss one day I panic. Instead I write a loose plan and adapt as needed throughout the year. With Changing Frontiers as my guide I didn't worry about missing anything important.
  1. Divide and conquer
We planned to spread our study of American history over two years. The first year we wanted to cover the years from Columbus to the Civil War—the first fifteen chapters of Changing Frontiers. I went through each chapter figuring roughly how much we would read each day. Though our school calendar has 180 days, I scheduled only 100 days of reading from Changing Frontiers, giving us time for other books. Then I divided up the sections into the school months and slipped this schedule inside the front cover of Changing Frontiers. If I had a guide of where I should be in January, I wouldn't have any rude surprises in April.
  1. Book lists
Next I searched our bookshelves and the public library to compile a list of picture books, biographies, and historical fiction. I did not assign these on particular days in our school calendar, just worked through them as we could, adding more or deleting, depending upon our time. The beginning of each chapter in Changing Frontiers lists important events and people mentioned in that chapter which is perfect for finding books to connect with the chapter.
  1. Organizing
I organized our family library in chronological order. When we finished a read-aloud, I could pull the next historical fiction or biography off the shelf. I kept a basket by the couch with the books we were currently reading. Besides Changing Frontiers, this basket usually included several picture books, a biography, and a historical fiction book.
  1. Library
Libraries are an incredible resource, especially for those who own few books, but also frustrating to a mom with many children. Any mom who has searched the library shelves while holding a baby and watching the toddler pull books off the shelf knows why I once said that I'd never go back to the library again. Then I discovered online reservations. Now each month I check Changing Frontiers for the next topics, reserve the needed books online, and pick them up at our local library.

Since we were using Changing Frontiers with a younger audience, we chose not to use the Lightunits or quiz booklets available from CLP. But without workbooks or tests, how would I evaluate our history study? We used the study exercises and class discussion questions in Changing Frontiers for informal verbal review at the end of each section. Often these discussions went down rabbit trails and became the favorite part of our school day. I also assigned writing projects connected with our history studies. For example, each child wrote a report on an early American explorer and then wrote a historical fiction story pretending they were an explorer.

School curriculum is designed to serve teachers, students, and families. The perspective of Changing Frontiers gave a solid foundation for our American history study and we were able to adapt it to fit our family's needs. 

This year we look forward to learning about modern times as we delve into the second half of Changing Frontiers. I'd love to hear what books you suggest we read to connect to our history studies. I especially looking forward to our study of the Civil War since we live near several major battlefields. I know where we'll be headed for some family field trips this fall.

This article was first published in the magazine 'Homeschooler's Friend' by CLP. This post contains affiliate links. 


  1. I enjoyed this review. It is always interesting to see how other families adapt books for home education. I appreciate your thorough, candid style.

  2. Have you heard of Living History published by Faith Builders? It's AMAZING! It's made up of read-aloud books, maps and pictures, and a timeline--a very thorough history course and our kids love it. Living History sounds a lot like what you are doing but with the hard work of finding books etc. already done. Thanks for the tips and ideas!

    1. I've drooled over their history program, and shamelessly stolen oodles of books recommendations. But haven't purchased the program because I like to study history chronologically.

  3. Thank you for posting this!! This is exactly how my husband and I would like our history studies to look next year, but I was having trouble figuring how to put it together. This is perfect and immensely helpful, plus it came at the exact time I needed it! Thank you!!! We might use a different spine which I already own (from R&S), but following your general plan. You are such a blessing!


  4. Oops - I think I just posted my comment under Rosina's Living History thread. I meant it to be under your original post. Sorry!


  5. Thanks so much for this info. I will pass it on to my oldest daughter who is now homeschooling her 4 children.

  6. Any books suggested by Beautiful Feet have been winners for our family from first grade through senior year in high school. You can find them here:

  7. Do you have the book list that you used with the Changing Frontiers book? My eighth grader is using that book this year and I would love to know what all books you used.
    Thanks!! Darla

    1. I do have a list but it isn't complete since we are just now going through the second half of the book. But maybe I could post the first half if it would be helpful.

    2. Yes! That would be very helpful!


  8. I'd be interested in seeing a book list too. Including what you read to younger ages, as I have a second grader and younger.


I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!


Related Posts with Thumbnails