You don't learn phonics by osmosis, picking up the rules and sounds from thin air until you can read. History is similar: there are rules governing how it's studied, talked about, and presented, but many of the available curriculum options gloss those rules, assuming kids will absorb them along the way.
To be sure, Marcia Brim's Tools for Young Historians isn't just another curriculum: it's a multifaceted guide to the rules of history study, presented from a thoroughly Christian perspective and in a way kids can understand. Brim describes this program as a supplement for grades 5-8, designed to aid the successful study of history through a more in-depth course.
So what are some of these history study rules? They include understanding the dating system and other terminology, building a coherent mental framework of the overall narrative of history, relating geography to history, and identifying the major worldviews that inform cultures, events, and figures. Sound like too much? Brim breaks it down in a way no one is likely to find confusing.
How Does This Work?
The course begins with Lessons on Time, a book and toothpick set that shows kids how centuries are referred to (was the 14th century the 1300s or the 1400s?) and the difference between B.C. and A.D. This might seem like a waste of time....until you remember the last time you confused these. Lessons on Time takes no time to complete, but it's an essential stage. Once kids master these concepts, they can fill out the Scroll TimeLine on their own.
Then comes A Young Historian's Introduction to Worldview, a mulitsensory approach to four basic ideologies: polytheism, monotheism, naturalism, and pantheism. Through stories, hands-on activities, and an Internet-based assignment, children learn to distinguish these terms and their underlying meaning and implications, and to relate them to their Christian faith.
Calendar Quest is a novel about two kids who end up on a crazy time travel adventure with Father Time, who teaches them the origins of the modern Gregorian calendar by introducing the men involved in its development. This book is well-written and engaging (and at times, even funny), and it makes a normally ho-hum topic fascinating while actually teaching that topic.
At the core of Tools for Young Historiansis the teacher guide/activity book What Every Child Needs to Know About Western Civilization. Integrating Calendar Quest and the "Hats of History Cards," it's a four-week jet-fueled race through world history. The purpose isn't to fill in gaps, but to give an overview of major eras and themes (with a few important figures and events) which can then be fleshed out during the rest of the student's history-studying career. Without context, Brim asserts, history is meaningless and doomed to be forgotten.
The Historical Fact Sheets are a supplement to the supplement, offering reproducible worksheet pages for students to use in creating mini-reports about different religions, places, artworks, figures, events, eras, etc. These are quite useful for helping kids implement the tools they've been given, and to see how scouring details can lead to deeper understanding.
These seven products comprise a 10-week course for grades 5-8. Brim suggests you fit it in during a summer session, so as not to detract from actual history study during the school year. This is genuinely one of the best history/worldview courses we've seen: children must learn to engage history ideologically, and these tools show them how from a Christian perspective.
A variety of other materials are also available from Brimwood Press to expand the ideas within Tools for Young Historians. Color the Western World is an oversize coloring book timeline of major events; Conversations from the Garden is a series of dinner table conversations for parents to hold with their kids to teach a biblical worldview using the first three chapters of Genesis; the Kenny Kwiz is a comprehension guide for Calendar Quest; and Historical Novels for Engaging Thinkers are a series of four historical adventure stories designed to show each of the four major worldview types in action (each of the four are also available separately).
One of the best books Brim has written thus far is an introduction to narrative theology for slightly older students called Christian Theology and Ancient Polytheism. Part biblical theology and part comparative religion, this 25-lesson course uses Secret of the Scribe (the first of the Historical Novels) to help kids form a biblical worldview by identifying the narrative flow of Scripture, and by presenting the pagan alternative through documents like the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Code of Hammurabi. This is a much needed and highly recommended text.
Our Honest Opinion:
Overall, we're quite impressed with what we've seen from Brimwood Press so far. The study of history is only worthwhile and only makes sense in light of God's project for the world, and these resources ably demonstrate that in ways kids will find fun and illuminating. We can offer all these books and materials without reservation, and pray that they'll help you educate children who can think clearly and biblically in a dangerous world.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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