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Saturday, March 01, 2008

History Odyssey

One of the fastest ways to get me excited is with a new homeschooling book. I just received History Odyssey in the mail, after having ordered it by the slowest mail some time ago. And I have to say, it doesn't disappoint. It looks fantastic, and I can't wait to start with it. What I ordered is, specifically, History Odyssey, Middle Ages, Level 2. It's the guide for grades 5-8 or 9, and it approaches history from a Classical Education perspective.

Now, if you've seen my previous words on the subject of Classical Education, you realize that when I say it, I do not mean an education that focuses on Rome and Greece. In fact, as you can see from the title of this guide, we are not even studying Rome and Greece this year, but the Middle Ages. And that includes Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, India, Africa, and the Americas. Wow. That alone was a tremendous selling point for me, as so many history programs focus only on one part of the world, and almost all English language programs seem to ignore Asia and Africa, and give only passing acknowledgment to South America.

For those who homeschool or afterschool and are interested in this program, let me tell you a little about it, at least what I can tell so far. You can decide for yourself if this is a program you'll like; but I'll warn you, my enthusiasm may rub off.

The first, and perhaps most important, thing you need to know is that this is not a textbook. In fact, it isn't a book but a set of hole-punched pages. It does not contain the reading material for your history program, but instead organizes your program and lays out in-depth assignments. It comes with a list of materials you will need to buy (or check out at the library), so you may find it costlier than many other programs. That's the biggest disadvantage. The flip side is that the reason for this is that it makes use of real books, not twaddle. These books are written by real writers. They include genuine reference books, novels, even literature. This is the stuff that turns kids on to history, not off. If you have ever known someone who was truly excited and knowledgeable about history, I'd stake my favorite pen that he or she reads historical fiction of some sort. Not only does historical literature awaken the real drama of the past, but it also presents historical people and events from varied perspectives, as opposed to the trimmed-clean versions you find in textbooks, that have all interest removed in order to avoid offending whoever writes the current rules of political correctness.

Besides the literature, this program is heavy on research, writing, notebooking, outlining, and timelining. But it doesn't leave you on your own to figure out how to do these activities; it guides you through the process. In addition, it contains a number of blank maps and worksheets for completing the assignments that require them. In that regard, the program is self-contained.

The work itself is divided into mostly one-session lessons. The exception is the books to be read within the program. Each session should last up to two hours, and is made up of a list of activities with check boxes. This may sound silly, but those check boxes look very helpful to me. It helps me to keep track of what is done and where exactly we are in a program. It's funny how overwhelming a program without a "list" or check boxes can look. The lessons themselves are subsections of parts or units that divide the study geographically, so that the student studies the era systematically, not neglecting large areas of the world.

When I ordered the program, I didn't realize how necessary the other books were. Specifically, it is impossible to get started without first obtaining The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and The Story of Mankind. So, alas, I have to get these books before we can dive in. But I can't tell you how eager I am to get started. I think I may get them from the library until I have my own copies.

I'd love to hear from anyone else who has used History Odyssey, or any other Classical approach to history, and how it has gone for you.