Thursday, May 24, 2012

Putting the Story Back into History

From the Heritage History Introduction: "We developed the Heritage website with the intention of helping to repopularize old-fashioned narrative history. We believe that the current trend of teaching Social Studies rather than history to young people is unfortunate, not so much because it is politicized, but because it is boring. Too many students leave school with a vague disinterest in history because it was never presented in an engaging manner.

At Heritage History, we seek to promote, not so much the study of history as the enjoyment of History. By making available old-fashioned history, as it was enjoyed as a pastime rather than studied as a subject, we hope to help reawaken the interest of a new generation."

Heritage History is one of those products that makes me very glad I am on the TOS Review Crew. It has been an almost perfect fit for our family, so you will pardon me if I gush a bit.

I want to start out by telling you, though, that at first, I wasn't so sure why it would be all that useful. I am a clever and enterprising individual and at last count I had over 1200 quality, older ("heritage") FREE books in my Amazon Kindle account (utilizing their free app for desktop computers). Why would I want to buy a collection of e-books when I can find so many online for free?
Columbus Discovers America

Speaking of free, Heritage History offers ALL of the books available on their disks FOR FREE online. How's that for generous?? You can read them to your heart's content on your laptop or desktop directly from their site. You can even download and print up FREE timeline figures, maps, and character sketches. I especially like the timeline figures since they are all pictures from old books instead of cartoon-y clip art. Not to mention that they are FREE!

What is offered for FREE on the Heritage History site is absolutely amazing, and exceptionally helpful to anyone studying almost any sort of history: Greek, Roman, Christian, American, World Wars, Norse, African, Asian, and more. The only facet of history that is missing is the more modern history because the books used for Heritage History area all printed before 1923.


So why invest your hard-earned homeschool budget in buying a disk of Heritage History e-books if they are available for free online?
  1. Well, first there's the altruistic reason that you should buy the disk to support the incredible efforts these folks are making to their growing site.
  2. Then, there's the convenience of being able to access the books even without an internet connection (which is handy if you have limited time online or prefer to have your kids use their computers offline).
  3. There is also the benefit of the Teacher's Guide and printable reading registers (book lists and accountability forms) to help you implement the curriculum.
  4. Not to mention the fact that the disk makes the e-books printable, so you can choose a book (or ten) and print/bind them yourself for off-computer use (or take them somewhere to have it done).
  5. But my main #1 reason for LOVING the disk option (vs. reading from their site) is because it allows you to download the books onto your Kindle (or other e-reader).
Did you catch that? I said the "K" word. YES! I did get a Kindle Touch for Mother's Day and we have been using it non-stop since then.

If you know me at all, I'll bet you'd never have guessed I'd go for an electronic reader. My cell phone is almost four years old (yes, I know I am due for an upgrade), but I am resisting changing it because I just don't want to get sucked in my all that Blackberry web-surfing and texting and constant Facebooking/Twittering stuff.

Then there's the fact that we own some where around 12,000 REAL books...we donated over a thousand back in Florida before moving this last time and did not even put a dent in our supply. Anyway, I just love the feel and the experience of holding a REAL live book in my hands. Curling up with a good book on the couch on a rainy day just wouldn't be the same as using a cold, hard electronic device to read a book...would it?

I am not going to try and tell you that using the Kindle (or other e-reader) is as good as a book. It's not in many ways. BUT it does have two advantages over real books which we have found very helpful in our homeschooling: Text-to-Speech capability and type-size customization. Wowsers!

My Three Amigos are LOVING these features in every way. Text-to-Speech allows them to "read" the more difficult books from our Young Readers Classical Curriculum from the beginning, and the text-customization allows them to follow along with ease.

Here's what we've been doing for history/reading/writing for the last few weeks since I received the Kindle and downloaded the Heritage History Young Readers Collection to it:

Listen to the book online at Books Should Be Free
  • I chose a book called American History Stories to use for the summer, to give the Amigos a break from Ancient Civilizations, which is where we are in history. Since we live in a historic area, American History is always relevant! Also, the Young Readers Collection is geared towards elementary students, while the other collections are not necessarily as easily independently useable by them. You can check on the Heritage History website for age-appropriateness as they have color-coded each book link according to Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced.
  • The first reading, the children get to sit either with the Kindle or with me and listen to the story (chapter or section). This helps familiarize them with the story and the words. I ask them to narrate back what they learned to make sure they comprehended the information, and they have a chance to ask any questions.
  • The second time they "read" the story, they follow along as the Kindle reads the story. The first time we worked through the process, I demonstrated how they should follow along and we worked out bugs like not touching the screen to point to words or you will mess the Kindle up! The purpose of this is that any difficult words and names will be pronounced again for the child, so when they read it through a third time on their own, they will be very familiar with the story and can read confidently. As the majority of the books in this collection are geared towards upper elementary, I am pleased that they can do the reading alone when it is presented in this way.
  • The final time they read the story, they really read it...independently, out loud, to me. I allow them time to read it silently before they "present" their oral reading to me (and often an audience of non-readers) if they request it, but mostly they are eager to show what they know and don't want more time. I use this as a final opportunity to ask a few questions to make sure they learned the information and as a way to let them show me how smart they are.
  • Lastly, they complete a notebooking page to demonstrate their learning. Ladybug writes most of hers on her own (I may write a few words down on a paper for her to copy after her narration), Cowboy narrates to me and I write his narration down for him to copy, and Firefly either only copies a few words, or I write what she says down for her. We get pages from Notebooking Fairy, Notebooking Pages, Notebooking Nook, Enchanted Learning, or by using a Google search for a specific topic.

During this time we also read a few picture books on the same topics, but we did that at night, for "fun." I feel as if by using this method, we are covering history thoroughly (a bit at a time, at an age-appropriate level), as well as really working on their reading and writing skills (not to mention neatness, diligence, creativity, memory, art, public speaking, and much more)...all using just one book of a large collection of 82 stories which cost only $29.99!!

I keep track of what they read on a reading chart that was in the Heritage History Study Guide that came with my disk.

So far, the kids, especially Ladybug, are very eager to pursue this form of learning. We have used notebooking before, especially for science/nature study and reading (journaling) and I am SO happy we are finally working notebooking into our history program, as well as integrating our reading and writing programs with our history studies even more.

I plan to utilize the excellent collection of clip art to use to develop our timeline later this week. I figure if I start out by adding our timeline figures after every few stories (every other week), I won't get overwelemed by it. We can work it up to once a week, once we become accustomed to it.

There is also a nice collection of maps we can use, though I will probably continue to pull maps from some of my other favorite sources. These will go into the children's history notebook, along with the notebooking pages (they all put their pages in a history notebook together, while their reading journaling pages are in individual notebooks).

I just can't tell you enough about how excited the kids and I are to have found such a convenient and easy way to do history/writing/reading/art and more. Heritage History has inspired and empowered me and I am so thankful for that!

Another thing I love about Heritage History is that it is easily integrated with other curricula. That means that if  you have a favorite curriculum like TruthQuest (which we also reviewed and loved, and which suggests that you can substitute books you do have for any they list that you don't have), you can still use it.

The Heritage History collections will serve to compliment many other programs rather than taking them over, which makes it an enormous asset and very versatile. Think of all the money you will save by having to buy just one disk opposed to having to buy a huge box of "real" books to read (not to mention how much easier it is to buy just one disk, or all of the library trips and fines you will avoid...).

And then there's the fact that when we went to the optometrist's office today, I only had to take one book (well, the Kindle) instead of five or six or...(I usually can't decide what we might be in the mood for or have time for, then each of the kids wants their own books, and my bookbag just gets heavier and heavier, and my back gets more and more painful...). Anyway, it was so nice to be able to take just one small item, then rotate the kids between using the Kindle to read their current book (or listen to it), and coloring one of their (light) notebooking pages (and playing with Boo).

Having all those books on disk might not be my romanticized idea of what it means to "read a good book," but it surely does provide some tangible and appreciated benefits to my family as a resources for filling their ears with really GOOD, heritage, classic, quality books from the Golden Age of Literature, and I am very, very glad I was chosen for this review. Thank you, Heritage History!
A "heritage" historical book
Oh, I almost forgot to mention one last important thing: The stories on the Young Reader's Collection are just plain interesting. They are easy to read, as "living books" are...they will immerse you and your students in the world of the characters and draw them into their adventures. This will lead your students into wanting to go on their own adventures, both in the pages of many other wonderful living books and also in your big backyard (and the rest of the real world). Anything, electronic or not, that gets my kids interested in and excited about learning is a BIG winner for me.

I give this product an enthusiastic bump to the top of my list for favorite history products.



Disclaimer: I received a Young Reader's Classical Curriculum disk and supporting printed materials packet for the purposes of completing this review on this product. All of the opinions you see expressed here are my own based on the experiences and feelings of my family. If you have questions about this product, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.

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