Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Last school year, my kids and I embarked upon a year-long study of ancient history.
Rather than focusing on memorization of dates and names, I sought to give us all a small sense of the culture in each region of the ancient world. To make our Ancient History unit study more holistic, I decided to incorporate the following for each region:
stories and folk tales
chapter books, including books for my own education
connections to math, science, and art
audio books and videos to accompany the read-alouds
pictures of art and famous sites
foods and recipes
Read-Alouds, Not Worksheets
I wanted our unit study to be an enjoyable, shared experience between me and my children. To that end, I purposely avoided basing our unit study upon worksheets, which are often used as busy work, and which my children would come to dread. Instead, I built our unit study around read-alouds.
With read-alouds, I was able to easily introduce my children to new ideas, cultures, and places. Through read-alouds, we were immersed in loving households, in the triumph of overcoming struggles and challenges, and in the wondrous fantasy of folk and fairy tales. Read-alouds also sparked some of our most important discussions, leading to the foundation of good character, integrity, responsibility, and kindness.
Ancient History Resources
We used the following resources to aid in our study of the ancient world.
Ancient History "Spine" Books
There were a few books which I read to my children throughout our Ancient History unit study. These books served as "spine" books to provide a flowing narrative of ancient history.
Story of the World Volume 1: Ancient Times by Susan Wise Bauer - This book tells of ancient history in a story format, interweaving myths and legends in with the history. I loved the convenience of using the audio version of this book while we ate meals or were driving in the car.
Child's History of the World by V.M. Hillyer - Although this book is a bit dated and doesn't cover as many regions of the ancient world as Story of the World, I knew from previous experience with Hillyer's geography book that his writing style is very engaging to my kids.
The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim - This book made it easy to incorporate science and math alongside history. I would not recommend this book for children much younger than 9 years old, as it would be much too heavy for very young children. Nonetheless, my children enjoyed this book and it was a nice way to make our unit study more well-rounded.
With all of these "spine" books, I chose to read the chapters out of order. I felt like things were too fragmented in following a strictly chronological timeline and jumping around all over the globe, so I purposely grouped the chapters by each region of the ancient world. This allowed us to immerse ourselves in the culture of one particular region at a time before moving onto another region.
Regional Ancient History Books
As we progressed around the ancient world, I checked out many, many books from the library. We read lots of picture books as well as a few chapter books. (If you want to know more about what we read, I've put together a comprehensive list of books for our Ancient History States unit study here.)
Nurturing Our Own Interests
I purposely incorporated our individual interests into the unit study. For instance, since my son is quite interested in machines and structures, we read books about buildings and monuments as we progressed around the ancient world. To tie in my daughter's interests, we read books about art in the ancient world.
Part of what made this unit study so enjoyable for my family was that I included topics of my own interest. I love cooking and developing recipes, so making recipes for each region was a great way for me to fuel my own passion while doing this unit study with my kids. We all enjoyed having meals with foods from each region of the ancient world.
Audio Books and Videos
Wall Map and Timeline
I've observed in the past that having visual aids hung on our walls really helps my kids learn more effectively. To this end, a large map of the world in our living room enabled me to easily incorporate geography into this unit study. We referred to this map often throughout the year.
One relatively simple visual project that my children enjoyed throughout our Ancient History year was a wall timeline. I created a year number line using a permanent marker and Artist Tape (in my experience, this type of tape does not damage paint, even when left in-place for many months). Then, as we read about new civilizations, developments, and people, I let my children choose whether or not they wanted to add things to the timeline.
All of the pictures were attached to the wall with Artist Tape. By the end of the year, our timeline spanned the Ancient World and provided an interesting way to see which developments were happening around the globe at any given time.
How We Carried It Out
We spent about a month studying each region of the ancient world, including Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, China, Africa, Mesopotamia, Jews, and the Americas. I wanted our ancient history unit study to be unstressed and fun, so my kids and I would thoroughly enjoy it. To that end, I made sure to never make our unit study into a "requirement". Rather, we just enjoyed reading books together, looking at pictures of each region, listening to audio books, and watching videos about each region.
Introducing Each Region
I began the study of each region by briefly taking time to introduce the region. We referred to our a large map of the world to see where the region is located geographically, and I read a chapters from Story of the World Volume 1: Ancient Times and/or Child's History of the World.
I printed out pictures of the art and famous sites in each region and hung them on the wall. It was quite enjoyable to see the different regions in this way, adorning our walls and shifting as we progressed around the ancient world.
Digging Into Books, Videos, and Audio Books
A few days each week, we read picture books for the region in the morning, generally before or during breakfast. It worked well to read one fiction book (such as a folktale or story book) as well as one non-fiction book (such as a science or history book) at a time. Then we followed up the reading with any associated short videos to accompany the books.
Because videos and audiobooks can be quite engaging, it generally worked best to NOT use them prior to read-aloud time. Some other time of day, we listened to an audiobook for the region, such as during drive time, whilst doing chores, or during our afternoon quiet time.
In the evenings, we read more picture books and then the chapter book for each region. We saved any regional movies for a family movie night, so they could be shared with the whole family.
Exploring the Foods Once or twice a week, I made a meal incorporating regional foods. We enjoyed these meals in an unpressured way, allowing everyone the freedom to fall in love with or reject the new foods. The main objective was just to have an enjoyable regional meal together, to experience a small taste of the regional cuisine.
Enjoying My Own Regional Books In addition to reading books aloud to my kids, I made time to read some regional books on my own. These books allowed me to fuel my own interests throughout the unit study. When children see their parents feeling passionate and excited about their own interests, the children are inspired to do the same.
Want to Have Your Own Ancient History Study?
My kids and I had so much fun exploring ancient history in this way. I hope this post helps you feel inspired to have your own read-aloud unit study of the ancient world.
To make it easy for anyone else who wants to have their own Ancient History Unit Study, I have created a comprehensive Ancient History Unit Study and Cookbook. It includes over 200 book recommendations and 25 recipes, as well as associated audio books, videos, and famous art/landscape pictures. It also includes recommendations for tying in art, math, and science into the history studies. The unit study is available as a print-ready PDF here on my blog, or there is an ebook-reader version on Amazon here.
Have you had any success with unit studies in your homeschool? If so, what were your favorite features?
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