The hardest task in creating the Bridge between the Classical model – in the form of Classical Conversations, and Charlotte Mason – in the form of Ambleside Online – is the History. Charlotte Mason advocated a very specific approach to history learning which stands in direct opposition to the approach of CC.
For starters, Charlotte Mason thought a student’s understanding of history should start with the country in which they were born. AO takes this to mean students ought to start with British history, which is an odd place to start for those of us in the United States. One could make the argument that United States History must begin with British history. And I am good with that. This is why I started my kids in Year 1 of the AO booklists working through the earliest British myths which eventually became history.
However, Classical Conversations unrolls history as a sort of highlight reel, a series of events played out in quick time over a three-year cycle. If Classical Conversations has a starting point, I would say it is the Timeline. Obviously, this approach has its drawbacks, too. The student doesn’t get the full story of any one historical event. Instead, he is given the grand scope of history in a way which truly grounds his mind in esoteric “history.”
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What We Have Done in Early Elementary with CC and CM
If you have been following along with either Classical Conversations or Ambleside Online in the early elementary years, you have likely discovered just how difficult it is to reconcile these two approaches.
Slow and steady – relatively deep in content and context
lightning-fast – rather shallow and broad
In the early years, we have allowed the CM approach to take the driver’s wheel in teaching history. That is not to say we have neglected the Timeline or the history memory work in the CC cycles. Rather we have used the memory work for what it is designed to be: anchors or pegs.
What this looks like is relatively simple. We review the memory work for CC during the week – singing songs, playing games, etc. Then as we are reading the meatier stuff of Charlotte Mason-inspired books, we delight in the knowing – of random places on a map, figures of the history sentences, and events on a timeline. We take the time to notice when we know something – no matter how small. We literally will stop what we are reading and sing a song. Or we will simply say, “Hey, we know what that is!”
In this case, the CC work is doing what it has promised to do – provide the pegs on which to hang the greater contexts, the more detailed story. CC has built the structure of the massive storehouse of knowledge called “History.” AO has delivered various stories and details that fill the details into that storehouse.
CC has also provided passageways from one storehouse to the next. “Science” is right next to “History” and “Literature” sits right door, with “Grammar” on the other side. All this – the massive structure and the more minute details – have worked together to build the knowledge and understanding of my early elementary students. Yes, I am viewing this storehouse compound as a circle. Still with me?
Ambleside Online, too, has met its mandate – to bring “a life of rich relationships with everything around them: God, humanity, and the natural world.” My students become aware of the connections inherent in all of life and learning. They literally see them on their own, not because they are solely reading the living literature; but also because they see how what they learn in CC is connected to what they are learning in the rest of our homeschool pursuits. In fact, it ends up being rather seamless – surprisingly so.
Why Not Keep at this Two-Pronged Approach?
This seems to work so well, you might be wondering why I would get off of the two-conductor train I have constructed for myself. As I started to look ahead to the Challenge (or middle school and high school) years, I got more uncomfortable with the discrepancies between the two approaches. I wanted to figure out a way to introduce American History in my homeschool at the same time we were doing Cycle 3 – not by coincidence. The circumstances worked out rather well that my student was doing Year 4 during Cycle 3. But Year 5 of AO continues down the American History trail, while Cycle 1 would take my kids back to Ancient History.
Would there still be connections to be made? Yes, absolutely! I have seen it too many times to think otherwise. However, I started dreaming of a sort of fully immersive curricula. When CC was focusing on ancient history, I wanted to be reading CM/AO-inspired living books to my kids focused on ancient history, too. Then when CC does the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (for the most part), I wanted to be able to dive into the living books in those areas, as well.
With a bit of reworking and compromise, I felt I could structure a Bridge between the two choices of CC and CM.
How the Bridge Works
So, as I said, I am looking to create this Bridge for the upper elementary years. Classical Conversations calls these years the Essentials years. Ambleside Online calls these Years 4 through 6. The idea is for my students to start the Bridge in their first year of upper elementary. No matter which Classical Conversations cycle we are going through, the books and resources will be the same. I have selected books from all three of the AO years (4-6) and some other books from years 3, 3.5, and 7.
Thus, some of the books for a fourth-grader entering the Bridge will be “stretching” books. What stretches a fourth-grader will be appropriate books for fifth-graders and sixth-graders going through the Bridge that same year. Regardless of the age-grade level of the books, there will be fewer books per term and per year than Ambleside Online would have. Where AO would recommend upwards of 7 history textbooks for a year plus geography and biography, 5 science books plus biographies, and 4 novels plus other literature, I am only scheduling one or two books in each of those categories per term.
I am going to only refer to the cycle number of Classical Conversations in naming the elements of the Bridge. This program is intended for 4th-6th graders. The only thing that changes each year is the cycle.
Last year – Cycle One – worked out beyond my wildest hopes! My kids thrived in the readings, loved the books, and enjoyed working together in conversation with one another about the subject matter.
The Bridge – History Cycle Two
I feel like I have a LOT of prefatory remarks about this Bridge. Keep in mind I am trying to answer all the questions which come into my head. However, I am sure others will have more questions. Please ask away!
If you are like me and want to read even more, I’ve got you! Here are the other articles I have written specific to the Bridge:
- Combining Classical Conversations & Charlotte Mason in Upper Elementary
- Charlotte Mason in our Classical Homeschool
So without further ado, here’s how I am breaking down history for Cycle Two
There will be three terms per year, set up as 12-week terms. The first term of Cycle Two focuses on The Middle Ages and Crusades. Term 2 will focus on the Age of Exploration and Age of Absolute Monarchs. Lastly, Term 3 will focus on the Renaissance and Reformation.
If you look at the history memory work for CC’s Cycle 1, you might find it is surprisingly diverse in its ancient history scope. You might also be surprised to see it stretch itself into the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and even modern history. In general, when I hear people talk about CC Cycle 1, they say Cycle 1 is the ancients year. Well, it is and it isn’t.
Having dealt with this problem last year by focusing largely on the overall subject of ancient history, I am dealing with a similar problem this year. Cycle 2’s history stretches from the Middle Ages in Europe to the 20th century. Instead of trying to stretch my Bridge over that many centuries, I used geography to help me narrow the focus to Europe. It started to come together when I thought about it in a Euro-centric way. I know this will likely offend some historians, but it fits in my mind in such a clear way. And while the Cycle will start out mostly European, the rest of the world will come in – almost as it is discovered and explored by Europeans. I hope the richness be brought forward once again, as it was last year.
These books are piquing my interest – big time! I can’t wait to dig into them with my kids. Here’s the list of books for history for Cycle Two.
- Famous Men of the Middle Ages by John Haaren and A.B. Poland
- Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation by Rob Shearer (this book is sometimes published under the title Famous Men of the 16th and 17th Centuries)
- Famous Men of Modern Times by John Haaren & A.B. Poland
- The World of Columbus and Sons by Genevieve Foster
- The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster
- Heralds of the Reformation by Richard M. Hannula
In an attempt to lighten the load on my students, I have also included some optional books. To be real, I cannot seem to narrow down these wonderful options, so I will let my students choose amongst these options:
- The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin
- The Magna Charta by James Daughtery – if we read this we will only read parts one through three (part four is about the Magna Carta’s influence on America and free societies)
- Longitude by Dava Sobel
Plus there is one geography book I hope prepares our students for the map drawing of Challenge A, while scratching the itch of my art-loving eldest student:
- Draw Europe by Kristin Draeger
The Schedule for History for Cycle Two
I am still working on putting all this into a printable schedule for you. Instead of releasing the schedules individually, I will be creating an overall master schedule similar to the ones you will find in AO.
Since the history for Cycle Two of the Bridge is in kind of big chunks, some of the information will be introduced in the history books and then will be seen again later in the literature selections. I view this as a feature, not a glitch. In our homeschool experience, my kids like to “remember” things. They like to see things they vaguely remember and then suddenly hear one tiny detail which unlocks the entire store of the memory they have.
My daughter (3rd grade) had this experience last year. We were reading about John Smith and I mentioned, “You have met him before in history.” She listened attentively until the moment Pocahantas sprang into the narrative. Suddenly, she was alive with memory, alive with the “knowing!”
This is what I am looking for in the Bridge – for my kids to see the connections through exposure and immersion.
Following the Bridge
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