Tag Archives: Montessori Geography & History

Brick Chronicles – An Ode to Crash Course

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!


Made by R, age 10. After an epic morning of lego building, he emerged with this ‘Crash Course’ set.

Crash Course – Made with Legos

My ten-year-old has been watching Crash Course videos for a couple of years. He found them through Kahn Academy and introduced the entire family to John Green’s hilarious renditions of history. Not only is John Green funny, but these videos are highly educational and reinforce the short chapter lessons we are already reading about in our history curriculum, Story of the World.

I don’t assign these videos. I don’t have to. The kids (and I) love the format, and I think they enjoy them because they are vaguely aware of the people and events he showcases. Lately, I am being asked (more and more) if they can watch a crash course video during their down time. Quite often, I am sitting there watching with them. They are that good.


As my children like to say, “Mr. Green! Mr. Green!”

Language Alert for Crash Course

Depending on how old your children are (and how sensitive you are to language), parental supervision may be required. The videos are directed at teenagers and adults, so some “potty” language is to be expected. For my own family, I don’t worry too much, but my seven-year-old has also taken a liking to these videos. I like to keep an ear out while they watch, so we can discuss John’s language use, if and when such language comes up. It’s similar to Mike Rowe’s descriptions in the show, ‘Dirty Jobs.’ The content is engaging and has an appropriate delivery for adults, but you may need a little extra guidance with young ones.

Crash Course for Kids

That being said, there is a fabulous series called, Crash Course for Kids. I’ve used these short videos while teaching about the constellations. It’s a relatively new venture and at this point, the videos only cover science topics. Regardless, they are entertaining, fast-paced and provide another way to reinforce a particular topic.


A close-up of the fireplace – and yellow chair – where John reads his “open letter.”

So, thank you, Crash Course staff, we appreciate all that you do!

Return to SOTW Ancient Times

Since I already had the activity guide and the book, I bought the optional set of CDs, read by our favorite actor, Jim Weiss.

I already had the activity guide and the book, so this year I bought the optional set of CDs, read by our favorite actor, Jim Weiss.

A Return to SOTW Ancient Times

This year — our fifth using SOTW — we returned to ‘Ancient Times’ and my youngest son was excited to join us. Typically, I would not do so many activities with my six-year-old, but he seems eager for more work than my oldest was at that age. Perhaps that’s the fate of second born children?

Regardless, we needed to move beyond listening to the story and writing a story map, at least for my ten-year-old. I wanted to start with the big bang theory and capture the knowledge of how long ago the dinosaurs lived. I felt that a timeline would be the best way to introduce this idea. It didn’t hurt that a timeline was strongly suggested for the fourth book on modern times. While we didn’t do it last year, I felt it was time to see these historical events spread out on paper.

A picture of a boy making a homemade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

Our friend A helped us to start our timeline for SOTW Ancient Times.

Deepening Understanding
I wasn’t quite sure how to encourage deeper learning with my ten-year-old – without asking him to do a lot of summary writing. I dislike writing for the sake of writing. When we write, I want it to be relevant and useful. So, I bumbled along with the first few stories and made sure my six-year-old was grasping the concept of history, nomads and the distinctions between countries and continents (he had studied continents last year).

A sample of the map activity for Ch. 15 by C, age 6.

A sample of the map activity for Ch. 13 by C, age 6.

To help with comprehension, I made copies of the map work so the boys could see what location we’re reading about, and together, everyone listens to the chapter as I read it aloud. Often, the globe is present by our side – to help place the location in our brains. After I finish reading the chapter, everyone does the map activity from the activity guide. Occasionally, the map activities are too ‘simple’ and the boys will add the major rivers and mountains for the area we are studying – just because they want to do so.

Afterward, we take a break for a couple of days and when we return to SOTW, I let Jim Weiss re-read the chapter and the older boys make summary maps and my six-year-old draws a picture.

C, age 6, draws a summary picture about the first Olympic Games in Greece.

C, age 6, draws a summary picture about the first Olympic Games in Greece. “They are running a race.”

The activity guide recommends literary suggestions to accompanying the stories, and if I think about it ahead of time, I will put a few on hold at our local library. Sometimes these are picture books and sometimes they are books for independent readers. I think these books are great way to plant the historical idea (or place) in the heads of my children.

But, I wanted my ten-year-old to go just a bit further in his understanding. Having a lively discussion about the chapter is good for that, but I wanted him to notice more of the details. Thankfully, a fellow homeschool mom turned me on to World History Detective from The Critical Thinking Co. This is a great activity for my older son to work through on his own and for us to discuss together, once he is finished. It also gives us a chance to notice various aspects of ancient history and see how they are covered differently between SOTW and History Detective.

He doesn’t do these exercises every week, but I use them to spark conversations about the time period and the written passage. Since my kids do not take standardized tests, this is a good way to work on some test-taking skills. We talk a lot about the best answer – based on the evidence in the passage. I wouldn’t want to do all of my teaching this way, but I also don’t want my kids to be blindsided when they do take a standardized test.

A picture of the book, World History Detective.

A side path into Ancient Greece – paring fiction with history

Although I’ve been wanting to read Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief for some time, it wasn’t until this past December that I finagled it. Since it was for my bookclub, my oldest son wanted to read it with me…which was exactly what I was hoping would happen. I didn’t make him read it, but he took off and finished the series (and Riordan’s next series) WAY before I did. But, in doing so, his understanding of Greek mythology was strengthened. I had bought the D’Aulaires Greek Myths back in August, and he found it and read through it…all because he was curious and wanted to know more. All on his own. I just made sure the resources were available and left where he could find them. I like to think that this is the value of a prepared environment.

A picture of the D'Aulaire's book of Greek Myths

This year, we also introduced the stories of Odysseus. Five years ago, none of us were prepared to sit through an abridged version of the The Odyssey, but this year, I brought book one home after Christmastime and Dad began an evening read-aloud. At the present time, they are awaiting book six from the library and can’t wait to find out what happens when Odysseus’s true identity is revealed. (Spoiler Alert: It’s a bit bloody and I hope Mary Pope Osborne has toned it down a bit. We’ll have to see).

A picture of a handmade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

An up-close picture of our homemade timeline.

We are currently on chapter 26 in SOTW, but there are 42 chapters all together. We may skip a few, or we may read through them, but not make any writing or drawings to reflect our learning. As you can see, we don’t add to the timeline for every chapter – that would make it tedious and not very exciting. Instead, if we have extra time that week (or if I think the event is very significant), I’ll ask if they want to draw a picture for the timeline. Often, the answer is a resounding yes!

A picture of a homemade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

A bigger look at the partial timeline for Ancient Times

My older son loves history and I think that’s what drew me to the Story of the World series. My husband and I are both history buffs and we love hearing about (and remembering) some of the stories from our youth. Our youngest son is also coming to love these historical stories and in turn, we are creating a shared cultural knowledge. We probably would read these stories anyway, due to our love of history, but it seems especially relevant when we consider our place in a global society.

A picture of a homemade timeline for SOTW Ancient Times

The start of our timeline. We used books from the library to find out what happened millions of years ago.

PBL – Geography


Student Choice

Most of my favorite “teaching methods” put students’ choices at the forefront of their learning.

I know!!! You must be completely shocked that a Montessori-trained educator would value choice and self-direction! All kidding aside, a lot of research is saying the same thing. It’s easier to learn something if there’s an interest and often, that learning starts with a question. For older students, there’s problem-based learning,  where students collaborate to find a solution to a problem (or answer a question).

At our homeschool co-op meetings, we’ve been doing project-based learning. Our students range in age from five-years-old through twelve. Each of them are going to approach a topic differently. We need to honor that. Last semester, the parents choice physics as the topic of inquiry. Then, we supported our children through various explorations into windmills, bridges and catapults.

This spring, we’re focusing on geography, specifically an in-depth country study.  It’s self-directed because students choose the country they would like to study. They also decide how they want to present the information that they’ve learned. In this way, it somewhat mimics project-based homeschooling. It’s not quite as open-ended as project-based homeschooling, but it can be a good way to stay on track with project-based learning.

As an educator (not just a homeschool parent), I think it’s important to allow students the freedom to decide how long they want to study their country – and require that they present their information to someone else. In this case, my children will present what they’ve learned to their fellow learners at co-op.

Although it is more structured than unschooling, there is a lot of self-direction and choice. Maybe we should invent a new word – Monteschooling? Lots of choice, but with some guided direction (constraints) and adult facilitators around to help continue the learning when they get stuck (or want to give up).

Part of the "city" project - the boys were laying out and creating their own city.

Part of the “city” project – the boys were laying out and creating their own city with clay.

Project-based Learning – Geography

On our first day of “class,” I stood in front of our students and let them know they needed to choose a country to research, and that by next week I wanted two books on their topic. Since almost all of these kids are younger than age twelve, I wanted them to stick with books. Web research is great, but it requires some higher-order thinking to be able to determine a safe, reliable and accurate web site. For now, books are key. The obvious exception is the CIA World FactBook, since it takes the guess work out of determining whether or not it is an authoritative site.

Picture of kids' books on egypt and ancient Egypt.

Most of C’s books are centered around Ancient Egypt…not necessarily present day Egypt.

Then, I started asking questions. I suggested that they might want to pretend they are going to visit their country. “What would you like to go see first? What language would you need to understand? What type of food do they eat in your country?”

None of these are required questions to answer, and there is no standard form on how to give their presentation. Instead, we left it as open as possible, allowing for the fact that some students will go into more depth, while others might just draw a picture and point out one or two facts.

Since we have a large age range of students, each family was free to put more constraints on their children’s projects. One of our parents is requiring her two children (ages 10.5 and 12) to complete a presentation every 3 weeks. I asked my children to choose one of the countries that still exist from our study of ancient times, but didn’t put a time requirement on their learning. If they want to study one country for the next 3 months, I’m perfectly fine with that.

Making clay models of the pyramids in Giza

Looking at a library book to make the pyramids at Giza.

My kiddos decided to study Greece and Egypt, although the six-year-old is pretty fascinated with ancient Egypt, and I’m not sure how much present day Egypt will feature in his final presentation. I don’t care because he is reading all sorts of books and creating items to reflect his learning. For my oldest, I have asked him to include a works cited page in his presentation, but otherwise, he is only limited by his imagination. I think a large part of his project might be devoted to Greek Mythology, since we have recently read Rick Riordan’s fabulous series on the Greek myths.

I try not to put my judgement on their ideas or choices, though I know it happens. I try to offer multiple suggestions and leave resources (books, videos, etc.) around the house for them to discover on their own (if they didn’t find them at the library). Since they don’t know everything that is out there (nor do I), I think it’s a bit unfair to step back and assume they will know where to look. That’s part of their training in teaching themselves – exposing them to resources (the library, the Internet, local businesses and government offices). It’s not completely self-directed, but I do try to (mostly) respect their choices.

Picture of a kid's desk - pencil, paper, and opened book

R has decided to make a book about Greece. I sketched out a storyboard so he could plan out his book.

As such, I was asking my six-year-old how he wanted to show off some of his knowledge about Egypt and threw out a number of suggestions – a drawing of the pyramids, a written poster, clay models of the artifacts he found. He immediately jumped on the idea of making clay models of the pyramids and I made sure to follow through when we were at home that week.

picture of homemade clay pyramids

We have a big slab of clay on hand, so it’s an easy way to extend the learning.

I even managed to make a connection between the pyramid from our Montessori geometric solids and the pyramids he was making. Nothing formal, just an observation about the pyramids and how many sides they have, etc. He made sure to point out the four sides on his pyramids and I quickly agreed. It’s a slight connection, a teaching moment in the midst of an innocent art project. But, it helps to solidify small connections of learning, while reinforcing the  the value of a teacher-facilitator.

We’re continuing with projects. My youngest is feeling that his might be coming to an end, and my oldest is trying to meet a 4-H deadline. This week promises to be a flurry of making, writing and organizing. I can’t wait.


Book Review :: Story of the World

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

We are on our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we're cycling back to ancient times.

We are in our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we’re cycling back to ancient times.

Audience: Ages 6 and up
Reading Level: 4th grade and up due to lots of historical names

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume I: Ancient Times: From the earliest nomads to the last Roman emperor. Revised Edition. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA, 2006.

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World Activity Book I: Ancient Times. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA , 2006.

Story of the World

This is our fifth year using the Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum. That’s saying a lot for a homeschooling family. We have a lot of choices to choose from and need not stick with a curriculum unless we really like it.

As for my own teaching style, I use music CDs, workbooks, regular books, library videos, dinnertime discussions, general observations and board games to teach my kids about the world (and math, writing, reading, history, etc). I use Montessori materials for reading and math (up to age 7 or so). It’s rare that I use any sort of comprehensive curriculum – except for SOTW and as they get older, Beast Academy and Singapore for math. Although there are a number of activities you could require your children to do with SOTW (including tests), I follow the lead of my children and adapt the curriculum as needed.

Picture of all four books in the Story of the World series.

A glimpse at all four books in the Story of the World curriculum series.

I really like SOTW because it’s a chronologically-based history ‘program.’ The stories are told in order, beginning with the nomads and moving up through modern times. When my oldest was young, we started with the nomads and I didn’t worry about encompassing the big bang theory or placement of the dinosaurs (something we corrected when cycling back to ancient times).

I think the chronological order mimics Dr. Montessori’s Cosmic Education without requiring too much learning (or buying of resources) on my part. The Cosmic ‘Curriculum’ is presented in the 6-12 classroom, and since I did my training for ages 3-6, I love that SOTW has stories that are easy for me to read and that the guide has pre-printed maps and suggested activities. It’s less prep work for me. I also love that I can adapt it to my needs and feel less pressured to use the “correct” Montessori materials (i.e. prepared timeline).

First Year – Story of the World – Ancient Times – Ages 5 – 7
The first year we started with SOTW, my oldest was five and a half, but he LOVED listening to stories. He didn’t care for reading instruction, written math or having to retell a story. He wanted to listen to the stories and that was it. So, that’s what we did. With a globe nearby, I read the stories and supported them with the occasional picture or non-fiction book (many of which were recommended in the guide). We discovered the “craft” section of the guide and R chose a recommended activity each week. We also skipped some chapters and focused on a few select topics. At the end of the year, he knew a lot about ancient Egypt, ancient China and the Roman Empire. He was also very familiar with the non-fiction section of the library.

Although my oldest doesn't remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do - and it is one of our fondest memories!

Although my oldest doesn’t remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do and it is one of our fondest memories! These were drinks of water so they wouldn’t be parched in the Gobi Desert.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment - complete with stuffing in his back.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment – complete with stuffing in his back.

Second Year – Story of the World – Medieval Times – Ages 6 – 8
There are typically 42 chapters in each book, so we really didn’t get to the end of the first book until the end of the summer, which meant that we started the second book around October. These stories seemed much more interesting – knights and castles and barbarians (which he didn’t really like because they were scary). Since he was technically a first grader, we didn’t do any summaries or written work. I read the stories and he chose an activity from the guide. Since his younger brother was much more active that year, we didn’t even do a lot of literature reinforcements, just a chapter and an activity.

Picture of a homemade marshmallow and cereal castle

This castle is made from puffed cereal and melted marshmallows. Four years later, my children STILL remember it fondly.

In addition to choosing an activity or craft from each week, we made sure to visit the local Medieval Faire that year. Also, for R’s 7th birthday, he and his dad attended the show at Medieval Times in Orlando. While it’s not quite authentic, it’s close enough for a 7-year-old. All of these events helped to make the connections in his brain grow stronger and hopefully solidified some knowledge of medieval times.

Third Year – Story of the World – Early Modern Times – Ages 7 – 9
This was the year R attended a charter school, at least until Christmas break when we pulled him out to continue homeschooling. It was a change we all needed and has served us well in the ensuing years. Regardless, he said he wanted to keep reading the stories when he went to school, so once a week we read about history from the 1500s to the 1850s. His second grade teacher required a written summary each week, so he often chose to summarize the chapter that we read (upon my suggestion).

This was one of the hardest things my struggling writer had to do, but he made his way through it. Often, he would dictate his summary to me and then copy it in his own hand. His thoughts were much more advanced than his limited spelling and writing skills, and this was a good way to bridge that gap. It also gave him good practice with learning how to summarize (sort of). His assignments came with no “summarizing” instructions, but we talked about what was most important in the story and he took it from there.

After he returned to homeschooling, I taught him how to do summary maps using this book as a general guide. It provided the concepts of main and supporting ideas and gave my visual-spatial learner a way to organize his thoughts and write a summary – without having to write an entire paragraph.

Fourth Year – Story of the World – Modern Times – Ages 8 – 10
For the fourth year of history, I continued to require that he make story maps for one of the stories in each chapter, though we did try to begin outlining, as Bauer recommends. He just wasn’t ready, especially since he didn’t particularly care for the summary maps either. I did read many of these aloud to him, but as his 4.5-year-old brother was becoming interested in the stories (and these are pretty violent retellings), I had him read many of the chapters to himself. He was an accomplished reader at that point and had already been reading lots of kids’ books on WWII, civil rights and current events.

Looking back on these past four years, I realized that I used this curriculum to create a love of history (and hopefully pattern recognition), to establish the concept of geography and a sense of being part of a bigger whole, and to gently introduce writing and note-taking skills (with transferable results).  I have been very happy with the ability to adapt the SOTW curriculum. I have been able to add or remove activities and stay on certain topics longer, if I choose to do so, and if my children show an interest.

It’s important to note that the author does place a Christian-slant on history by including chapters on Abraham and God, and the birth of Jesus, but she also introduces many other major religions and includes their origin stories, specifically Islam and Hinduism. If you are not Christian, you could skip such chapters as there is not a Christian theme throughout the rest of the chapters.

This year, we have returned to ‘Ancient Times’ and my six-year-old has joined us in our ‘Story of the World’ activities. I will be detailing our return to this time period in a follow-up post. Since it is my ten-year-old’s second time through this curriculum, we have increased the activities and added elements that deepen our learning and understanding.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road - complete with chocolate chip "snacks" that you could buy at a local store.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road – complete with chocolate chip “snacks” that you could buy at a local store. I can’t wait to re-enact the journey of the Silk Road.




what we’ve been learning :: montessori geography

It's kind of a silly title, really. All of us (especially those of us over 30) are always learning…the content sometimes differs according to age…sometimes not.

This summer marks our very first start to official homeschooling. Ronan is starting his kindergarten year. There's always learning going on here (as anyone with children knows…it doesn't stop when they get home from school). But, this is going to be my official way to capture some of what we've been learning. An easy way to do a portfolio, right?

Ronan is fascinated with space and the planets…and he's trying to understand the concept of geography. And maps. So, according to Montessori philosophy, we start with the concrete and move to the abstract. Which means, make a map "real" to the student. And what better way to go from 3-D to flat surface than a map of oneself?


I had previously made labels to go along with his map (once we got around to doing this lesson). The labels are great practice for reading. So much of our language doesn't follow a set type of rules and the words need to be memorized. We've been learning the common sight words (the, was, or, etc.) to help get through the first and second set of Bob Books. But, this map provides some additional practice – and it's something that we can do over the next few weeks. It's also helped me to realize that while my very smart five-year-old can put together any lego structure, read a book and draw a detailed picture, he doesn't necessarily know his ankle from his elbow. So, a few times a week, we get out his map and sit together as we label it.


Naturally, my child was not content to stop at a map of himself. Not when we had read Me on the Map (a great book for breaking down the concepts of maps in a simple way). He begged me to help him draw a map of his room, like the girl in the story had done. So, we carried the kids' table into his room and I told him to imagine as if he was looking down on his room from the ceiling. And, he made a map (with just a little bit of guidance from me).



I see a lot more handmade maps in our future.