How We Made Our Own History Year: Native American Studies

By Caitilin Fiona


As I was contemplating my son’s fourth grade and my daughter’s third grade history options (they do most of their subjects together, being at basically the same level, though twenty months apart in age), nothing was capturing my fancy. I was not even a little bit excited about studying and teaching through the “history cycle,” though I do think it an excellent organizing principle in general. Somehow, I just couldn’t get my head in the right space for it. At that same time, I happened upon a book at my local library, in the New Titles section. This was The Story of The American Indian, written by Sydney Fletcher. I took it home and spent some time with it, thinking as I did so that it would make an excellent text for a co-op class. Finally, the penny dropped: I could organize my OWN history program, using this book as a text! I dove into planning, head first.

My first stop was the education boards on the Well-Trained Mind Forum, where I read and solicited opinions on which books were suitably unbiased, and at the right level. Taking what I had gleaned there, I moved on to purchasing my books.

First, naturally, I bought The Story of the American Indian, as it was the title that started it all. Of all the books I bought, it is the most challenging to read for an elementary student. I planned to (and did!) read it aloud, for the most part. The other two texts I bought were The Indian Book, a Childcraft Annual book from 1980, and The Real Book About Indians, a 1950s era book for children by Franklin Folsom. These books I supplemented with the picture encyclopedia of First People, by David C. King.

Now that I had all my materials in hand, I had to decide how to divvy them up appropriately for our school year. [A couple of years ago I had switched our school year from the quarter system to a “six weeks on, one week off” system, labeled A through F, so I had to divide up the books both according to region and to sixths.] I divided the school year into eleven subject groups:

–Native American Immigration and Origins

–Southeast Tribal Groups

–Northeast Tribal Groups

–Great Plains Tribal Groups

–Southwest Tribal Groups

–Central and South American Tribal Groups

–Great Basin Tribal Groups

–Pacific Northwest and Plateau Tribal Groups

–California Tribal Groups

–Arctic Tribal Groups

–Caribbean Tribal Groups

I took each book individually and found and labeled the chapters according to which of these sections it would fall into. In none of the books were we able to proceed straight through from beginning to end, but had to jump around, often quite a lot, unfortunately. However, it seemed to me to make the most sense to have the whole year be coherent rather than any single title in itself. In the end, it worked out fairly well, as I made up a schedule where I wrote down the chapters from each book that related to each topic, and the weeks in which each would be studied.

So in section A we studied the Native American immigration and origins and the tribes of the Southeast. Section B was devoted entirely to the tribal groups of the Northeast, while C was dedicated to studying the peoples of the Great Plains. After our Christmas break, we learned about the tribes of the Southwest for all of section D. In E we covered the Central and South American native peoples, as well as those of the Great Basin. The last section was an overview of five different tribal groups: the Pacific Northwest, the Plateau, the California, the Arctic, and the Caribbean.

Clearly, there was a great deal more information on some tribal groups than others, but I was not troubled by this as there is no perfect system for any historical endeavor, and this was merely an elementary level overview.

As we read each new chapter, my children wrote narrations of what they had learned. This exercise gave me new insight into how difficult a skill to acquire this can be, but with perseverance, they improved a great deal.

Caitilin Fiona is a homeschooling mother of six children, ranging from sixteen year old twins down to a five year old. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include language and languages, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

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