Archive for the ‘Teaching History’ Category

What’s Labor Day all About?

Monday, August 25th, 2014


Child labor

“Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt.” by Lewis Hine, 1912 – 1913

Picnics and barbecues. Parades. Weekend beach getaways. Last days by the pool. These are what most people think of when the words “Labor Day” come to mind. We enjoy time with friends and family as most people have that day off from work. However, Labor Day has a greater and richer meaning than that!



More than 100 years ago the labor force was completely different than it is today. Men, women, and even children of five and six labored ten to twelve hours a day for little pay, seven days a week. There were no weekends. No sick leave days. No vacation days. No over-time pay. Working conditions were often dangerous and unsanitary.

In 1872, a New York City carpenter by the name of Peter McGuire rallied over 100,000 workers to go on strike and march through the streets of the city. Many people have credited McGuire for the idea of Labor Day. McGuire fought for a decade to earn rights for workers.

Workers began organizing into labor unions to fight for higher pay, shorter days, and rights for children. They fought to set an age limit on the children who worked to prevent them from injuries. Finally, in 1882, McGuire had the idea to designate one day as a special holiday for workers.

On Tuesday, September 5, 1882, ten thousand workers once again joined together in the streets of New York City. However, this time it was for the first Labor Day parade. The Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York by also celebrating a “workingman’s holiday.”

Labor Days in the late 1800s typically consisted of street parades followed by festivals for workers and their families. Elected officials used the opportunity to speak, and picnics and celebrations abounded. Then, in 1894 Congress passed a federal law declaring the first Monday every September as Labor Day.

Labor Day is the day we are thankful for our country’s productivity and strength, and pay tribute to past and current American workers who are largely responsible.


Labor Day Ideas for Children


  • Have children create an “Occupation Collage.” Provide magazines and newspapers for children to look through and find workers. Cut out pictures of various workers in our country. Glue and display the pictures onto colorful, patriotic paper.
  •  Thank You Cards. Show your children how to write/stamp the words “Thank You.” Allow them to stamp the words onto paper. The children can decorate cards then deliver them to community helpers (Library, Fire station, Bakery, Post Office, etc.).


  • Have children choose an occupation. They can draw a picture of the specific worker then together brainstorm a list of the responsibilities or things a person must do for the job. See the link for a helpful worksheet.
  • Thank you cards are perfect for elementary students! Also consider the folks that pick up the trash and deliver the mail (but nothing inside the mailbox, please!)
  •  Interview. Children can select a few jobs that interest them or that they want to know more about. Schedule interviews with people in the community and allow the children to conduct the interview after first working together on listing appropriate questions.

 Middle School

  • Build a Resume.  Middle school students can research what skills and education are necessary to obtain  jobs they might be interested in. Have them create a “future” resume of what they would need to accomplish in order to be chosen for a job in that specific field.


  • Volunteer. Have your high school students choose a job that they would like to pursue. Have them arrange a day where they can volunteer or shadow someone in that profession to experience the responsibilities and commitments that are necessary for success.


Note: The little girl pictured above worked in a mill. She told the photographer she was twelve, although her coworkers all said she was ten. 


How to Combine High School and Elementary History Study

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

How HS and Elem Students can Study History Together

It makes sense to have all of your children study the same period of history at the same time. But what if you have a high school student and two elementary students?

Sounds challenging.

This is the question recently addressed by our Info Desk:


        I have a few questions regarding your curriculum that I’m considering for my kids next year.

        My oldest daughter will be entering high school, 9th grade, next year.  I also will have a 5th grader (my son is pretty smart but also severely dyslexic which hinders his independent reading and writing), and a 1st grade daughter.

        I am trying to figure out how I can keep them all within the same time period for history.  I see your curriculum could accommodate some of that possibly, but what I’m considering is the American History I for my oldest.  Would there be a way to incorporate that for my younger 2, or would I need to consider the unit programs for all 3?  Quite honestly, that seems a bit overwhelming.  I guess I’m just looking for some recommendations.  The kids are all spread apart just enough age-wise that I have a hard time planning things together.  I know my oldest needs more high school level work and I don’t want to frustrate my younger 2 either.  It’s a bit hard to coordinate :)

        Also, from what I understand- the Secondary Unit Program is book lists and ideas to incorporate into the school year (I hope I’m not over-simplifying it), yet the American History I is more of a complete- not necessarily day by day- but more broken down and more in-depth study of a certain time period?  Is that correct?

Thanks for your time and input- it is greatly appreciated!!

Grace and peace,

Hi Cheri!

Thanks for your inquiry!

You do have a spread of ages — I can see that could be challenging, but our curriculum can easily accommodate.  Our American History I covers four units:

  • Colonial Life
  • Revolution
  • Westward Expansion, and
  • Civil War

Our Unit Programs include the same four units. You may easily have everyone study the the same historical periods/topics at the same time by using American History I for your 9th grader and our Unit Programs for your 5th and 1st graders.

I recommend you order the Primary Unit Program  for your 1st grader,  the Intermediate Units  for your 5th grader, and American History I (scroll down a bit) for your 9th grader.

Then, follow the schedule of American History I for your family and spend nine weeks on each of those four units using your unit programs.

Additionally, I would recommend one more thing for your rising 9th grader.  Has she taken a high school level composition course yet? If not, I would recommend she take our Essay Styles  course along with her American History I course.  That would allow her to become familiar with the high school level essay styles she would be asked to use in the American History course.

In awarding high school credit for our Essay Styles course you have two choices: you could award her  credit for an English elective, or use Essays for a 9th grade English credit, if you study some literature along with it.  (Ask if you need more information about that.)

Your thoughts about the  Secondary Unit Program are correct. It contains quite a bit of information about teaching from sixth through twelfth grades, along with many book selections arranged by time period and topic, but it is an unstructured program. In other words; it is like a lavishly appointed salad bar with lots of choices, but you put together your meal among all of the options available.

American History I is more like a sumptuous dinner delivered right to your table. It is structured,  specifying what books to read, yet giving you some assignment choices for each book, along with evaluation tips of what to look for as you grade your student’s assignments.

If you have further questions, Cheri, please feel free to write again! We would love to help.

Hi Dana-

Thanks for your thorough response to my questions.  You make it seem NOT overwhelming :) I had forgotten to ask about the Essay Styles course and you answered it – thanks!  I would be interested in making it into an English credit class.  How would I go about that with the literature?  Pick a few titles to have her read and write about?  I’m such a newbie when it comes to planning high school!  Thanks for your help!

 Thanks again,


Our next post will answer Cheri’s question about adding literature study to Essay Styles to make it a well-rounded 9th grade English course. In that post I will list several excellent high school level book options for American History as well as give you several assignment ideas that would fit almost any high school level book.

Stay tuned!

Have a great week!

Dana Wilson at Train up a Child Publishing

Using this Simple Graphic Tool Will Make You a Better Teacher

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

No matter what type of homeschooling curriculum or methodology you use, this simple graphic tool will help you be a more effective teacher and your student a better learner.

The Rubric

This is my favorite graphic tool because it is SO helpful, on so many fronts, for both me and my students! Maybe this is something you have never done, but I have been guilty of quickly throwing an assignment at a student, without really thinking it through, let alone sufficiently explaining it. And then I would wonder why it wasn’t at all what I was expecting when it was done!  Especially if you are a newbie at homeschooling, I bet you have struggled with this, too.

A simple rubric often eliminates this problem by:

  • helping you think through the assignment before you give it.
  • giving you a clear, concrete way to explain exactly what you want your student to do.
  • providing a written reminder to your student of what he’s aiming for as he works on the assignment.
  • offering you the perfect tool to evaluate and discuss your student’s work with her.

Rubrics work equally well with written assignments, oral presentations, hands on projects or anything else you might dream up, for history, science, language arts and many other subjects you teach. You can make your rubric as simple or complicated as you want, depending upon the age of your student and your grading criteria.

Sample Rubric


Sample Rubric from K-5 Manual







This rubric is a simple one suitable for a story written by a late elementary student.






Personally, I did not grade my children at that age, but I did use a rubric to insure that we both understood what was expected in an assignment.

How to Make Your Own

  1. View and download this sample of  of a (blank) basic rubric.
  2. Decide which skills or concepts you want to evaluate.
  3. List the most important ones in the first column on the left.
  4. Create a table in Microsoft Word or software similar, or use the blank grid provided on the Train up a Child Publishing Tools CD if you happen own one of our Unit Programs. Type or write in the criteria under the numbers with the highest number being the best score. Notice the wording on the sample criteria to help you develop your own.
  5. You may add rows or columns if you would like a more fine-tuned system.
  6. Share the rubric with your student to explain your expectations for the assignment. Encourage her to check the rubric while she is working on the assignment to make sure it is completely finished before  it is turned in.
  7. Evaluate the assignment using the rubric and calculate the points if you are giving your student a grade for that assignment.
  8. As the teacher, you determine the grading scale depending on the number of elements and whether certain elements are more important than others. With our example, a possible grading scale would be:

9—12 points                Passing

below 9 points          Reteach

Another possible scoring system could be:

10-12                  A

8-9                      B

below 8           Reteach

I actually waited as long as I could to begin formal grading; I didn’t begin until half way through middle school. But whether you decide to grade earlier or not, rubrics will still go a long way to ensure you and your students are on the same page with assignments and evaluation.

Have you used rubrics with your students? When did you start using them and how have they worked for you?

Dana Wilson at Train up a Child Publishing

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How to Spice up Your Homeschooling – Try English Country Dancing!

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Including  fun activities along with academics is crucial to maximizing engagement and learning.  Here is a resource that I GUARANTEE your children will enjoy so much they will not even realize that they are learning. 

English Country Dancing DVD - a must have history resource


English Country Dancing

Recently a nineteen year old homeschool graduate Garrett Stowe, whose family is a long time user of Epi Kardia/Train up a Child Publishing curricula, sent me a wonderfully professional instructional DVD he produced to teach others how to participate in the entertaining group activity: English Country Dancing.

I was so impressed!

The cover of the DVD is shown above and a screen shot of Garrett during the film’s introductory comments is below.

English Country Dancing creator

I was thrilled to preview the DVD and found it not only to be professionally recorded, but a solid historical resource suitable for all homeschoolers, no matter which homeschooling philosophy or curricula you use. In addition to step-by-step directions for and demonstrations of six well-loved historical dances, English Country Dancing includes accompanying period music and lovely artwork depicting the enchanting fashions of this era.  Furthermore, the DVD offers additional historical narrative describing Victorian dancing etiquette – even revealing how proper single ladies used their fans to demurely communicate with potential suitors! Fascinating!

Here are some more details about English Country Dancing  from its creator:

Garrett, what inspired you to create this DVD?

Garrett: With my first introduction to the Civil War era dancing, I realized that this was a wonderful way to bring the family and community together for good, “old-fashioned” fun! Unfortunately, there were not many people who knew the dances, and every time we hosted a dance, we ended up spending half our time teaching the new dancers. After several frustrating dances, my (very creative) mother suggested that I combine my enjoyment of the dances and my interest in cinematography to create an instructional DVD that would allow people to learn the dances at home. 

Then when you held a dance, you could spend their time dancing instead of just teaching! Makes sense!

Side note: Even though Garrett and friends enjoyed this type of dancing and thought of it primarily just as fun, I suspect his (also very wise) mother saw this entertaining activity as an extension of their history studies, don’t you think?


Homeschool history resource - English Country Dancing


What historical topics do you cover in the DVD?

The history of the Victorian/Civil War era is incredibly rich and entire documentaries have been dedicated to understanding their society. In our DVD [we] attempted to capture the beautiful etiquette, manners, and fashion of the day; especially where it pertained to dancing. Some of their customs can be somewhat humorous but many still have application today.


Why did you decide to title your DVD English Country Dancing?  Weren’t these dances done in the United States as well?

Garrett: The title English Country Dancing often confuses people and understandably so; after all, many of the dances we cover were also enjoyed in the United States. We had a hard time deciding on a title that accounted for all the origins of the dances included in the DVD. We had dances originating from Celidah Dancing, English Country Dancing, Scottish Country Dancing and even American Folk Dancing. But, at the root of all these dances was the underlying emphasis on timing and precise movements that so typified English Country Dancing. So, for simplicity’s sake, we grouped all the dances under [that title].  

How old are these dances and from where did they come?

Garrett: Supposedly, the Virginia Reel has been in existence for almost 400 years. Although not all the dances in the DVD are quite so long lived, most originated in the mid-nineteenth century and were most popular in Europe and America through the Victorian/Civil War Era. Some of the dances were peasant dances from Ireland (like the Cumberland Reel), others were dances of the aristocracy (such as the Gothic Dance or Soldiers Joy), but all [played] a central part in every community gathering. There were even dances for children to join in on; my favorite is the Patticake polka … even my three year old sister can dance it like an expert! Today, the dances are enjoyed by everyone with a love for history and a taste for family fun.

Where did you find period costumes to wear for the production?

Garrett: The period costumes used for the dances were almost entirely hand made by the dancers. All the ladies sewed their own gowns and many of the men wore costumes made by sisters or friends.


Using English Country Dancing with your History Studies

Incorporating this entertaining activity into your history studies is easy. Here are several ways:

1.  Just watch it!  This enjoyable and informative DVD is a delightful break from the normal routine.

2.  Use English Country Dancing to introduce studies of this time period. Have your student take notes on the historical portions of the DVD and use ideas from it for further research and writing on any of the following topics:

  • Queen Victoria
  • the Victorian Era (the time Queen Victoria reigned in England – from 1819 to 1901)
  • Victorian Morality
  • The American Civil War
  • Civil War past-times
  • More about Fan Language
  • The Language of Flowers

3.   Have your students study and practice the dances of the DVD as they complete their reading and writing on this time period. Have them use the DVD to help plan a celebratory unit-culminating event with a few other homeschooling families. Make costumes, check out some authentic music from your public library and recruit some other dancers. Serve ice cream to your guests after the dancing. (After all, ice cream was on the scene during this time and considered quite the delicacy.)

Win Your Own Copy of English Country Dancing!

Not only is this charming, well-made DVD academically useful, the dances are suitable for a small to large group from ages 6 to 60, are simple to learn and continually shift dancers to different partners (rather than encouraging ‘couples’).

So could you put a copy of English Country Dancing to good use in your homeschool? If so, please participate in our contest! We are going to be giving away one  English Country Dancing DVD!

We will be collecting entries from now until Friday night 9/28/12 at 11:30 p.m. and having a random drawing Saturday morning, so don’t delay.

Choose one or more of the following activities to participate; each thing you do increases your chances to win!

Make sure you leave a separate comment below EACH time you complete one of the following:

  1. Leave a comment on this post telling us how you would incorporate English Country Dancing into your homeschool history studies.
  2. Leave a comment on another recent post on this blog and let us know you did.
  3. Visit and “Like” our new Train up a Child Publishing Facebook page at
  4. Tweet this offer and let us know you did.
  5. Share this offer on your Facebook page and let us know you did.
  6. Share this offer on one of your Pinterest boards and let us know you did.
  7. Grab our new blog button (at left sidebar) and post it on your blog – include your blog address in your comment.
Don’t forget to include your email address in your comments so we can let you know if you won!

In addition to our give-away we will be offering a limited number English Country Dancing DVDs on our website for an introductory price of $12.97 (plus S&H).  At this price – think CHRISTMAS and buy several!

So, if you know your right hand from your left, you can walk and you can count to eight, this excellent history resource will help you make hours of wonderful memories, and teach you something as well!

This is something our whole family will love! How about yours?


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King Alfred’s English: a History of the Language We Speak – a Must-read!

Friday, August 31st, 2012

A homeschooling mom’s dream, King Alfred’s English: A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do includes European and Bible history, etymology, literature and geography – all in one captivating book!  Not only does this excellent King Alfred's English - a must read!read neatly incorporate several subjects in one readable volume, it does so with humor and clarity.

I absolutely loved this book!

Did You Know?

This history of the English language answers several of my questions, such as:

  1. Why are Spanish, Italian, French, etc., called Romance languages? (Because they were all derived from Latin. Rome = Romance)
  2. Why are words in English spelled with so many silent letters, like the k in knife, knave and knight and the gh in night, cough, and enough? (Those letters were initially pronounced, but those sounds were eventually dropped as the English language simplified and the English wanted to sound more French and less German.)
  3. Why do some people write Xmas instead of Christ – mas? Isn’t this practically the same thing as denying Christ? (No – Emperor Constantine used the “X”, the traditional Greek initial ‘Chi,’ to stand for the first letter of “Christ” in Greek.)
  4. Why is the same country sometimes called “Britain” and at other times called “England”? (Because the names actually portray two different people groups who lived in the same place but at different times.)
  5. Who introduced the idea of B.C. and A.D. to describe time? (The Venerable Bede, called the Father of English history, is credited with this concept.)

A former homeschooling mom herself, the author organizes her book around four major periods of change in the English language that she calls “language invasions.” These are major shifts in English caused by the changing political or cultural climates during the history of Britain. I mean England. These ‘invasions’ added hundreds of words to our language.

How Does English Stack Up?

How does the English language match others in sheer number of words? The author compared a few other countries’ dictionaries for a clue.

  • French dictionary – 100,000 words
  • Russian dictionary – 130,000 words
  • German dictionary – 185,000 words

Are you ready?

  • English dictionary – a whopping 615,000 words!
The plethora of words available makes for great creative writing, as the author points out – but for taking the SAT? Not so much!

European History Made Clear

As she defines the shifts and changes in English, the author describes the historical and cultural catalysts as well, and brings us along for the ride. The sometimes complicated history of Europe overall and England, particularly, becomes so much clearer under her tutelage. As well, her chapters on the Reformation are enlightening, helping her reader understand more clearly its impact on the European culture of the time and the generations around the world that followed.

Along the way she interjects an abundance of interesting nuggets, such as: after describing how experts gauge the authenticity and reliability of ancient texts (interesting in itself!), the author includes a comparison of the New Testament with other ancient writings, such as Homer’s Iliad and Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. For anyone who regularly shares with those who doubt the veracity of Scripture, this discussion is  not-to-be-missed!  A concluding quote from the author on the subject:

…anyone who does some honest research will be confronted with the fact that we are in possession of a truly astounding quantity of reliable ancient manuscripts all of which attest to the accuracy of our New Testament.  You can argue whether the events took place, but you just can’t argue that these really are the writings of the men who claimed to have witnesses them.  –by Laurie J. White, author of King Alfred’s English

Mrs. White also introduces a topic that was new to me: how William Tyndale, through his English translation of the Bible  both promoted the Reformation cause and influenced our language with his choice of words and phrases that have now seeped into the fabric of our culture. Familiar phrasings such as “eat, drink and be merry,” “fight the good fight,” and “the salt of the earth” are among Tyndale’s memorable contributions to our literary heritage.

In brief: King Alfred’s English is not to be missed!  Children from late elementary on up will enjoy listening to this as a family read-aloud, and it can be assigned as an independent reader from late middle school on up to your high school student studying British history or literature.  And I promise – you will learn and enjoy it as much as they do!

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.  C. S. Lewis


Have you read it yet? What did you learn that surprised you?




 In the interests of full-disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes, although the opinions given in the review are totally my own.