When you say every student of Ancient History should read at least two comprehensive histories (sometimes called “spines”) for both Greece and Rome do you mean one after the other or do you mean two different spines over the course of their elementary schooling years, the way the three and four year curriculums suggests? – Linda
Q: Why does Heritage History recommends Reading two Comprehensive Histories, and does this both mean at one time, or over the course of their elementary years?
Unfortunately, this simple question has a complicated answer. This is because the whole “living books” program that Heritage History recommends is organized differently than most three or four year programs. We think some of these curricula are quite good and our books can be used as supplements to such programs (Ambleside, and Tapestry of Grace, for example), but we are far more flexible, especially in the early grades.
The Heritage program (you can read more about it here) is most useful for families that enjoy flexibility and want to customize their history program to suit the interests and abilities of individual children. We provide a few guidelines and reading recommendations for older students, but encourage students to take detours and follow their own interests. The “two spine” recommendation then, in the context of our program, is a minimum requirement for making sure older students are well acquainted with the “basics”, while giving them free reign to read supplemental books that most interest them.
We do not, however, think that such a rigorous approach is necessary for younger children, especially those who are not reading fluently. Reading just one spine, for a struggling reader, is a monumental task, and most families that follow a conventional program for younger children just read-aloud from one spine over the whole course of a year.
Developing a history curriculum for the grammar school years is challenging because of the wide range in abilities for that age. Some students learn to read fluently in first grade, and are voracious readers from an early age. It is hard to find enough high quality books to keep these youngsters going. Other students simply don’t take an interest in reading until fourth or fifth grade, and aren’t reading fluently until 6th grade. How does one design a program for such a huge range of abilities? (Hint: Check out our Young Readers Curriculum).
The place where the Heritage program diverges the most from traditional programs is exactly in the younger grades—by fifth or sixth grade most students are reading well, and ready for the comprehensive programs we provide, usually starting with Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. But in the lower grades, we don’t really assign spines at all. Instead we offer a collection of over eighty easy-to-read books that touch on much of world history, and can be read in any order. In this way, avid readers never run out of books, and struggling readers can read at whatever pace is comfortable. We don’t recommend students start studying comprehensive history until they “outgrow” the Young Readers collection.
Once students are ready for a comprehensive approach to history, the two spine approach is an easy way to increase retention. We favor story-based histories over textbooks but even comprehensive histories written in a storybook fashion cover a great deal of information. Fluent readers can read through an engaging history book fairly quickly but are unlikely to remember most of the details unless they review the information. Other programs use tests or worksheets to force students to go back and re-read the material, while at Heritage History we just recommend that they read a similar book that covers the same material.
An additional benefit to reading two spines, especially for older students, is that it introduces them to more than one writer’s perspective. Writing history always involves deciding what to put in, and what to leave out, and even writers with similar worldviews often approach history with different priorities and sympathies. We don’t believe that any single author, no many how excellent should be a child’s sole source of historical information.
This explains our reasons for recommending that most students read two comprehensive histories when they study a civilization, but there are several exceptions. First of all, studying one spine is usually plenty for younger children. Second, if your child has previously read a comprehensive history and is familiar with the basic outline of the civilization, he can get by with a simple review. Third, if you are combining Heritage History with another curriculum, then you may use our library for supplemental selections rather than “core” reading assignments.
The Heritage History curriculum is intended to be flexible. We believe that families who follow our guidelines can be assured that their students are learning the fundamentals of history well, but we also believe that knowledgeable parents know what will work best for their children and can adapt our resources to suit their needs.
But whatever you decide to do, keep history fun! Don’t turn one of the most interesting subjects imaginable into a chore.