If anything is Excellent or Praiseworthy: Books for the Classical History Cycle

I love using the classical cycle of studying history, because I know that my children will encounter each time period in history 3 times throughout their homeschool career.

When they study a topic the first time, we can start to build a framework, and they can fill in the details when we hit that subject again.

The Classical History Cycle

The classical cycle begins with a year of studying the Ancient times, followed by a year devoted to the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, a year for the 19th century and a year for the 20th century. At the end of that four year period, you go back to the Ancients and begin again, each time using more resources which challenge your children at their current level of understanding.

What about “holes”?

Many homeschoolers worry about leaving “holes” in their child’s education. When I started homeschooling almost 10 years ago this was a concern for me, as well. As I began studying history for the first time with my child, I quickly realized that my own public school education had plenty of holes in it! There were vast time periods of history that I had never studied before!

I realize that I can never teach my kids everything there is to know about history, and that the most important thing is to give them a zeal for learning and teach them where to find answers when they have questions. However, I wanted to give them a more systematic approach than the one I had grown up with.

Throughout this Library Builders series we have been reflecting on how the principles laid out in Philippians 4:8 relate to what we should be reading. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Every book we read must be excellent

We are told to think on “Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy”. Families today are busy, and most of us probably don’t have as much time to read as we’d like. The bulk of our reading is done for school. Therefore, every book we read for school needs to be excellent.

Some homeschool curriculum providers give children snippets of the classics in textbook compilations. I view this approach a little bit like chewing up a child’s food and then giving it to him to swallow. There comes a point when a child needs to learn to chew the food on his own, and digest it himself.

I do use some excellent history texts as a spine, such as Your Story of the World. We listen to a couple of chapters a week from the volume that corresponds with our history study, as a kind of framework. But the bulk of our reading is classic literature, biographies, hero stories and moral stories relating to the time period of our studies.

Building on a Framework

This framework gives me a basis for choosing books topically. Each summer I get out all the books for the time period we will be studying next. Right now, I am prepping for our study of Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation and Revolutionary war.

I look at all the books that I already own for these topics….the biographies, the hero stories, the moral tales, the theological books, art and music books, and the classics. I set aside the ones we didn’t like the last time we went through this cycle, and make a note of which ones were favorites that we mus read again. Which sections of my bookshelf are wanting….do I need more biographies for this time period, or more art books? As I prepare to make purchases for the coming year, I take note of what I still need, and of which books on my shelves can be substituted for the books my curriculum recommends. I see no point in purchasing a new book about Michelangelo when one on my shelf will do just fine.

The Classical cycle has given me some boundaries, to know how long to spend on a given subject and when to move on. If we spend too much time on the Greeks and not quite enough on the Romans, that’s OK. I know we’ll be back to this material again in a few years, and we can make up for it then. I can feel confident as I look back over almost a decade of homeschooling that I have done my best to provide a systematic study of history. I’m trying to do the same thing with science, taking time to study biology, chemistry, physics and geology in a rotating cycle, as well.

Here are a few of the titles that we have enjoyed during our trip through the Classical cycle. I’ll build some of the links for you, and others you’ll have to google search for yourself!

Ancient Times

G. A. Henty’s The Cat of Bubastes

Tirzah by Lucille Travis

The God King by Joanne Williamson

Ancient Egyptians and their Neighbors by Broida and others in this series

Archimedes and the Door of Science

Classical Kids and other books by Laurie Carlson

Daily Life at the Time of Jesus by Vamosh

Peril and Peace by Mindy and Brandon Withrow

Famous Men of Greece
and Famous Men of Rome by Haaren

The Story of the Romans by Guerber

Trial and Triumph
by Hanula (spans multiple time periods)

The True Story of Noah’s Ark

books by Peter Connolly

Black Ships before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus by Sutcliff (it is worth it to find the illustrated versions)

Hostage Lands by Douglas Bond

Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation

The Great and Terrible Quest has been one of our all-time favorites for this time period

Crown and Covenant series

Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, both by Diane Stanley

Monks and Mystics: Chronicles of the Medieval Church and Courage and Conviction: Chronicles of the Reformation church by Mindy and Brandon Withrow

The Princess Adelina
by Julie Sutter

The Spanish Brothers: A Tale of the 16th Century by Alcock (another memorable favorite)

To Have and to Hold
by Johnstone

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children

Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford
and other favorite books for Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims

Reformation Heroes

Stories of the Old Dominion

Famous Men of the Middle Ages

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

A Child’s Story of America by Michael/McHugh

Faith and Freedom series by Douglas Bond

Drums of War series from Peter Reese Doyle

19th Century

Charlotte in Giverny by Knight

The Boy in the Alamo by Margaret Cousins

Jack Archer by G. A. Henty

The Drummer Boys’ Battle by Jackson and others in the Trailblazer series

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Machlachlan

Seabird by Holling C. Holling

The Star Spangled Banner by Peter Spier

Modern Times

Twenty and Ten by Du Bois

My Secret Camera

Sergeant York and the Great War
by Alvin York and Tom Skeyhill

World War II for Kids

Albert Marrin biographies

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp

The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien


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