For our first year of homeschooling, we wanted to finish up US History, since that is what the schools in the area were doing–and my daughter had started US History the previous year, so it made sense to just keep going for the sake of continuity.

I spend a lot of time looking at textbooks. I’ve planned enough college courses to know that the right book can make all the difference, so a lot of time went into all the books we used. While I have a degree in history, American History is just not my thing, so I couldn’t just wing it.

In the end, we settled on the final volumes of Joy Hakim’s History of US. I read a lot of good reviews, there were student workbooks and teacher guides for us to use, and it seemed to cover all the requisite events and time periods. Now that we are coming to the end of volume 10, I can confidently say that we made the right choice.

The three books cover Reconstruction to the present, and they cover “typical” history (politics, wars, presidential elections), social changes (Constitutional amendments, Civil Rights, women’s rights, environmentalism), and popular culture (music, literature, and the arts). Does it cover everything? No–that would be close to impossible. There are topics that are glossed over, and there are others that are simplified. Part of that is that the books can be used at the elementary or the middle school levels–there are different ancillary materials depending in the grade. Not every topic is appropriate for all age groups, but the series strikes a happy medium. I didn’t feel there was anything truly neglected.

My daughter liked that the chapters were short–typically 3-5 pages. That made them manageable, and she typically did a chapter a day, and 3-4 chapters a week. There were often several chapters on significant figures that each focused on a specific period of his or her life–showing how a person’s childhood, for example, shaped the things he or she¬†did as an adult.

I did supplement with other things. Novels and other literary works were brought in to add more information and different perspectives to a topic. For example, she read The Book Thief and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl when learning about World War II, and A Raisin in the Sun when learning about race issues in the mid-twentieth century. We also watched films, TV shows, and documentaries. The CNN series The Sixties has been particularly useful for study of that decade, and we are about to start the companion series The Seventies and The Eighties.

That does bring me to my one complaint about the Hakim series. The most recent history is more skimmed over. I would have liked a bit more depth as we get closer to the present, but I did live through a lot of it, so I can add first-person knowledge–and maybe that is why those years are a bit more under-developed.

Overall, the series was a success for us. In junior high and high school, I never got much further than the Civil War, so I learned a lot too. My daughter has even expressed disappointment that Joy Hakim doesn’t have a similar series for world history, which has got to be a pretty high compliment from a student–the desire to read more.

Technically, we have been homeschooling throughout the summer, and subjects have been worked in throughout the month of August, but this is our first week of full-on homeschool with all subjects.

We tried embracing the full-on unschool philosophy: just follow your bliss and school will happen, but that was an abject failure. Weekly goals also didn’t work–everything was left until the end, and then there was a mad panic. So, we had a talk and agreed that an actual school schedule would be best. She needed class periods and daily assignments. So I went to work to figure that out.

Since I am a college professor, I think in terms of how college classes are laid out, so we have a MWF set of classes (US History, Algebra, and Literature) and a TR set of classes (World Religions, French, and Physical Science). On Tuesdays, there are music lessons, and on Thursdays, we are going to try to learn some Chinese. This way, there is some balance between types of classes.

In addition to planning the classes, I also created an actual schedule with daily goals or assignments, so, for example, US History is 7:30-8:30, then a 15 minute break before the start of Algebra, and so on. When 8:30 hits, that class is done, so any work that is not completed goes into the Overflow times right before lunch and in the afternoon.

For today, at least, it worked splendidly. She finished all her work on time, then we had lunch and took a 15 minute walk before instrument practice. After practice, we went over some past assignments and talked about the first 150 lines of Beowulf, which was her literature reading today. I read some of it in Old English; we looked at some pictures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial; we talked about how Tolkien’s scholarship on Anglo-Saxon literature found its way into his fiction–all the things one thinks off when they think “homeschool.” We even got in an episode of TV while we were eating our lunch.

Right now, I think she is watching cat videos. Considering how well today seemed to go, I think that is OK.

So it looks like this is happening. Our daughter has asked repeatedly to try homeschooling next year, and circumstances have aligned to have that be the best option for her. Our reasons are academic and financial for choosing to homeschool, not religious. Unfortunately, that is the market a lot of companies target with their materials, so resources have to be vetted very carefully.

So far, trying to come up with a plan has been the hardest part. How do we approach this? On our own, with an online school, with a Co-op? In the end, since I have a background in higher education, I decided I can figure out most of the curriculum on my own. So I took to planning this the same way I would plan any other class I was going to teach–with lots of time on Amazon and various publisher websites.

My daughter’s current United States History class will end around the time of Reconstruction, so we will pick up right around then next year. I found the series The History of US, which seems to be pretty good, so we will be using volumes 8-10 of that. Several literary works will also tie in, for example, The Diary of Anne Frank (not the actual title, I know, but that is how everyone knows it), War Horse, by Mike Mopurgo, the young adult version of Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, A Raisin in the Sun, To Kill a Mockingbird, and, probably, Code Talker, by Chester Nez (just need to check that for age appropriateness, but I imagine it will be OK). There are also several movies that we can incorporate, both film versions of books we are reading and others. 

So, at least that is all set!

Kim Harrison

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