Colonial Housing on the Computer

As I mentioned in this post, I am using both Konos and a workbook on Colonial Life for our homeschool American History activities this year. One of the reasons I love Konos so much is that the activities they have fall right in line with one of my top goals for our homeschool – what I call ‘3D’ learning. I try to relate the topic we are learning to the world around us as much as possible – to make it ‘3D’ if you will. When we do real life activities or incorporate all our senses into what we’re doing, I feel like the kids not only have a better understanding of a topic, but also retain the information better.

We have been concentration on colonial life leading up to the revolution this semester, and lately we’ve been looking at the different cultures that came to the Americas to colonize. One of the Konos activities is to write a paper on the differences between Dutch and English colonial architecture. I took this idea and modified it a bit to have the kids learn while doing one of their favorite things – playing on Minecraft.

Rather than write a paper, I had them research pictures of both kinds of colonial homes. We looked at characteristics of each, and then settled on one particular house from each kind that they liked. I then had them ‘construct’ one on Minecraft. Since this is time consuming, I had them split the work and my daughter built the English house while my son built the Dutch one. We have Minecraft on our Xbox, so it allows them to split the TV screen in half and work at the same time, making it easier for them to collaborate.

They also ‘furnished’ the interiors of their homes being careful to be historically accurate. (Well, as accurate as you can be with the blocks available). They used only stone and wood for finishes, all centered around large fireplaces.

There are many ways you can expand this activity to incorporate other subjects. You can assign them to create a home of a certain size, and maybe sneak in some perimeter and/or area work. For science you can have them create a ‘farm’ for the house with crops and animals specific to a certain area. After they create the houses, you could have them write a story about the imaginary colonist family that lives there. You can also use this as an ongoing project and have them add more houses and change the architecture as you learn more about American History and how the cities grew.

Imagination is your only limit, and my kids love to play and learn together. I laugh when their friends come over and they start explaining the features of what they’ve built for school. That’s when I know real learning has taken place. I also find that in order to build these houses on the game, they have to pay close attention to the little details of the real thing. This helps them to notice them easier when we see other pictures from that time or visit places with historic homes. They’re still quick to point out Classical Greek architecture in buildings in our town after building a Greek temple on Minecraft last year.

What are ways you’ve used video games to teach?

Colonial Life: Home Sweet Home

As I was cleaning out my bookcase for a big homeschool book sale over the summer, I came upon a little booklet I had picked up several years ago that was filled with worksheets and projects related to Colonial Life. Although a lot of the worksheets are for kids younger than mine, the project ideas are fantastic, so I am sprinkling them in where I can.

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For this semester, our history focus is on the founding of the colonies, so most of what I use from Life in the Colonies will be during our first 6 weeks.

We’ve been reading and talking about the harsh life the Jamestown colonists faced when they arrived here. I wanted to make sure the kids understand that when we read that they built houses for themselves that we aren’t talking 3,000 square foot suburbian homes. So I took them out to the cul-de-sac armed with a tape measure and sidewalk chalk.

One of the projects in the book is to have the kids draw out an 8″x10″ rectangle on graph paper and try to fit in beds, tables, and a fireplace to see how efficient their houses had to be. I decided it would be more fun to draw out the real thing, so we drew a 16’x20′ rectangle out in the street.

Yes, he's in his pjs. It's how we roll. :)

Yes, he’s in his pjs. It’s how we roll. :)

Our colonial home was ahead of its time since it was equipped with a sewer cover

Our colonial home was ahead of its time since it was equipped with a sewer cover

The three of us stood inside it and talked about how the beds would be arranged, and it became obvious very quickly about how cramped just the 4 of us would be – much less if we had a bigger family like was common in those days.

I asked them some of the questions from the Life in the Colonies book about what disadvantages they could see these little homes would have, how it would be different from the way we live in now. All of which my daughter (the pioneer girl) brushed aside with a cheerful “I think living in a tiny house would be fun!” Yeah, okay. 😉

American History Semester 1 Plan

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As I mentioned earlier, we are trying out a school schedule this year of (6) 6 week semesters with at least a 1 week break in between. I also mentioned in this post that I am using The History of Us books, Konos, and movies for our homeschool American History ‘texts’ this year. Below I have the plan for semester 1, which will start with Book 2 of the series, Making 13 Colonies.

Week 1:
-Read chapters 1-7 History of Us Book 2 Making 13 Colonies(HOU)
-Konos activities:
—Vol 1 AT: pg. 63 #5c, make rug pg. 70, pg. 71 #t
—Vol 2 RB: pg. 50 make and eat gruel, pg. 51 make wattle & daub wall, pg. 51 #7, make Jamestown newspaper pg. 52 #14

Week 2:
-Read chapters 8-14 HOU
-Konos activities:
—Vol 2 RB: pg. 56-60 #34, #36-38, #40, #51, #54, #60
—Read actual Mayflower Compact
—Watch Mayflower video on History Channel

Week 3:
-Read chapters 15-21
—make our own bread and butter
—Do a biography on William Penn

Week 4:
-Read chapters 22-28
-Konos Activities:
—Vol 2 RB: pg. 68-73 #74, #80, #83
—make our own vegetable dye and dye fabric

Week 5:
-Read chapters 29-35
—visit local plantation museum
—watch clip from National Treasure about the original Wall Street

Week 6:
-Read chapters 36-41
—make corn muffins from scratch
—Watch Rebels video

As we work through these activities I’ll post pictures and more in depth tutorials. Just a few more weeks until we begin!

Our 2013-2014 Homeschool American History Curriculum

After MUCH searching, scanning, debating, and almost agonizing, I have finally decided to commit to a plan for our homeschool history curriculum for this coming year. We are taking a detour from our regularly scheduled Middle Ages history to do a whole year of American History. I know, I know, that’s not the Classical way, but I have a good reason. One of my best friends is moving just outside of D.C. in a few weeks, and I plan on wearing out the road between us with visits. Since we will be able to visit all the amazing historical sites that surround where she is going to live, I felt studying American history would just make sense. Seeing the inventions at Monticello aren’t as impressive if you don’t know the man behind them; and the bullet-riddled walls in Gettysburg don’t somber you if you don’t understand the horror of what happened there. Besides, the beauty of homeschooling is that detours from The Plan are usually where we find our best moments.

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I couldn’t find any textbooks or pre-written curriculum that were what I had in mind. I really love for history to be ‘3-D’ and relevant for my kids, and I just didn’t feel I was getting that with what I found out there. Then I stumbled upon this post from A Journey to Excellence where she discusses her idea for studying U.S. History using the America: The Story of Us videos from the History Channel. I always have some reservations of what the History Channel considers actual history, but since I am watching these first I can edit if I need to. I love her idea for using these videos, and I’m excited to incorporate them with our reading.

Next, I found where has a video series based off of Joy Hakim’s books A History of US: Eleven-Volume Set: Paperback Set“>A History of US and started digging around for information on that book series.

I was able to borrow these books from our library to see if they were a good source to use as our main text, and I have to admit I was hooked right away. Each chapter is only 3-4 pages long and the books are filled with copies of original documents, advertisements, maps, and portraits. The whole book is written more like a story than a dry text, and she often pauses the historical details to get the reader to think about what life was really like for these people. In my opinion, she makes you feel like you are right there as the events are taking place.

I did read several comments from people on Amazon that said she writes with a liberal bias, especially in volume 10. I don’t think any historian writes without some sort of bias, and when I see something written in a way that contradicts our beliefs, I like to make it a matter of discussion with my kids and talk about why someone might believe that way, and why we disagree. There are a few chapters scattered over the 10 volumes that I didn’t like, and those we can just skip, but overall I felt she deals very fairly with the beliefs and events that shaped our nation, and does so in a very engaging way. I also saw that Sonlight uses these books in their curriculum, so I know that they are sound.

Now that I have my framework, here is my general plan for the year. Once I have the full year planned I will upload it. I’ve made it through the first 12 weeks so far.

Semester 1:  A History of US: Making Thirteen Colonies: 1600-1740 A History of US Book Two

Semester 2:  A History of US: From Colonies to Country: 1735-1791 A History of US Book Three

Semester 3:  A History of US: The New Nation: 1789-1850 A History of US Book Four and A History of US: Liberty for All?: 1820-1860 A History of US Book Five

Semester 4:  A History of US: War, Terrible War: 1855-1865 A History of US Book Six and A Reconstructing America: 1865-1890 A History of US Book 7

Semester 5:  A History of US: An Age of Extremes: 1880-1917 A History of US Book Eight and A History of US: War, Peace, and All That Jazz: 1918-1945 A History of US Book Nine

Semester 6:  A History of US: All the People: Since 1945 A History of US Book Ten (we probably won’t make it through the whole book, but I at least want to get through Vietnam).

I am planning out the specifics this way:

1. I take the book(s) for the semester and scan them to create a list of the main topic for each chapter. For the semesters where we are covering 2 books, I list only the chapters I want to use, trying to keep the total chapters around 42.
2. I have a list I made of all the Konos topics that relate to American History. Once I have my chapter topics, I read the Konos pages that relate to them to narrow down which of the activities I want to do.
3. Next I look through my American History pins and see which activities from there I want to do.
4. Finally, I decide which of the History Channel videos applies, and if there are any other movie clips I want to show. A Heart of Wisdom has compiled a wonderful timeline and link to movies for each era.

Now that I have all my goodies, I am writing out the weekly assignments. To cover 42 or so chapters in a 6 week semester, we have to read 7 a week. Since the chapters are short, this only amounts to 20-30 pages which I am breaking up into 2 days. The rest of the days we will do the Konos activities and watch the movies.

I also plan on adding in music for us to listen to and discuss that relates to the historical events we are studying, which will be a post in itself. I’m a huge fan of history, so this planning has got me really excited for the new school year! I’m hoping it will spark a love for history in the kiddos too!