Our Homeschool History and Literature this Year

This is an ongoing series where I share how we have been doing different subjects in our homeschool this year. This is how we are doing history and literature this year!

The short answer: We use BookShark (or Sonlight).

The slightly longer answer: I love both programs because I am a dedicated box checker and I love having everything neatly laid out for me each day. In my instructor guide I have book summaries, questions to ask the kids (plus the answers!), vocabulary words, and suggestions for timeline and mapping work. There are also lots and lots of notes. I love the notes in the early years because they add a little extra layer of understanding or clarification. Starting at about Core 100, the notes get very long and are often overly opinionated for us. So we tend to mostly ignore the notes starting at that level. We don’t use the language arts portion of either program, but we do use pretty much all of the history/literature as it is written. We started using Sonlight about 9 years ago and have used it pretty much ever since, with a short break when we tried Oak Meadow. When BookShark started selling secular versions of the Sonlight cores, we switched to primarily ordering from that company, except when Sonlight has a product we need and BookShark doesn’t (case in point, Core 300).

Here’s what we’re doing:

11th grade: My 11th grader is using Sonlight Core 300, which is 20th Century World History. The history spine for this Core is the The History of the Modern World. I would rather have seen a more engaging spine, like my younger kids have this year, but it serves it’s purpose. It is a very comprehensive encyclopedia and I do like how it is divided up by year. Basically, she just has assigned pages to read each day and we discuss them once or twice a week. I started out the year trying to read ahead of her so that I could more properly discuss, but have found it difficult to keep up with. To go along with the spine, there are several biographies and historical fiction novels. This level also has included mapwork and timeline work, but we mostly keep it simple and just focus on reading and discussing. Here’s a little peek at some of the books used:

She also uses the Core 300 literature. I try to read some of these before she does in order to better discuss them, but I don’t always succeed! There are some great titles here, though there were a couple she didn’t enjoy overmuch ( like Kon-tiki) and one she ended up skipping because she just couldn’t get through it (Cry, the Beloved Country). She’s going through this program a bit more slowly than previously planned because she’s also juggling a couple of dual enrollment classes right now, but she should still finish by year’s end. This will be her last Sonlight core, which I cannot believe! She plans to take history and English at the college next year.

Here is a sample of the literature books for this level:


9th grade: My 9th grader is using BookShark 100, American History, along with the literature. In general, I am a fan of this level. I love the spine, Joy Hakim’s History of Us. I love many of the literature selections. I love that this is the first year when he has his own guide so he can see what’s on the schedule and what we will be discussing. We don’t stick strictly to the schedule though; he just has “work on your BookShark reading” on his daily list and he gets to what he can. This is the first level that has no scheduled read-alouds, but his dad and I have read several of the titles aloud with him anyway. He isn’t a big fan of fiction and he seems to process it much better when read-aloud. It’s fun doing it this way too! We tend to read with him in the evenings, and we each have a book from this level we are reading with him. I also read-aloud from his assigned poem book with him, because I just think poetry is better read aloud.

I haven’t had to skip much from this level, though I did skip the book World War II because it is very opinionated and I just didn’t feel it was appropriate as a “history” book.   Like I mentioned above, we also skip most of the notes in the instructor/student guide. The instructor guide has daily suggestions for dates to add to the timeline book. We pick and choose from among these and add them in. His timeline book is getting quite full! You can see my review of the Timeline Book here.  I still love it! This level also has separate mapwork, where the kids are supposed to plot various locations on black and white maps.  We found this too time-consuming, so we gave it up pretty quickly. Instead, I have him look up the locations on a globe or map. Here’s a selection of history books used in this level:

And a peek at the literature titles:



7th grade: My 7th grader is using BookShark 6, World History 1.  This is my second time through this level, so I am getting to read books again, which I always enjoy. The main history spine is The Story of the World, which I at first thought was a bit too easy, but I find it actually works really well when read at this age. The simplified information is easy to digest and he tends to retain it pretty well. Volumes 1 & 2 are used at this level; volumes 3 & 4 are read at the next level. The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia is also used at this level, along with plenty of historical fiction. The poetry book for this level is Favorite Poems Old and New, my favorite poem book of all time ~ it’s huge! I love all of the read-alouds for this level; the readers have been a bit more hit and miss with my guy.   He could not get into Mara, Daughter of the Nile or Black Horses for the King, so I ended up letting him skip those. He is not usually a fan of fiction however, so this isn’t necessarily a reflection on the books themselves. The instructor guide for this level includes locations to find on the included map (it’s hole-punched and fits right in the instructor guide, which is great). This level also includes timeline figures to add to his Timeline Book. Here’s a peek at some of the history and read-aloud titles for this level:


And a preview of some of the readers:


4th grade: My fourth grader is using BookShark 3: American History 1. This is one of my favorite levels, and it’s my third time through it since my older two did the Sonlight equivalent, Core D. I love re-reading these books with her and she is my bookworm child so she is really soaking it all up. We have a few different history spines with this level, which is nice. We read from The Landmark History of the American People, Beginner’s American History, and The Children’s Encyclopedia of American History. We are usually assigned one to read from each day. Like the other kids, she has a lot of historical fiction, a good poetry book, and a set of readers. There are two choices of readers for this level: regular and advanced. We went with the advanced because she loves to read and goes through books quickly. She also does map work most days with the map included in my instructor guide and keeps a timeline book. Because she loves reading more than anything else, she often asks me to read more than what is scheduled and reads ahead in her readers. She makes me feel accomplished because we are usually right “on schedule” or ahead!

Here’s a peek at the history and read-aloud titles:

And a few of the reader titles:


And that’s how we’re doing history and literature in our homeschool this year!

Bookshark’s Timeline Book: A Review

Rose added her first sticker to her new Timeline Book this week, after we read about the Vikings in Living Long Ago (click here for a little review of that book).   My older three all have the Timeline Book from Sonlight, while Rose has the one from Bookshark, but all of the books are identical.  Both programs use the same Timeline Book for several years, so this is a one-time investment per child. With my first three, I put off buying the Timeline Book for a couple of years to save money, but I am sorry that I did. I wish they had had their books right from the beginning. So this time around, I made sure that Rose had one right away.

 Here is her Timeline Book…

 The book has a nice, heavy, spiral binding so that it will open flat. The front and back covers are laminated. My older two have had their books for two years and they still look brand new, despite being hauled out once or twice a week to work on them. I am very happy with the way these are holding up. The spiral binding has not started to pull out at all, which we have had happen to many of our other books.

 Inside, the book is divided into two sections: “B.C.” and “A.D.”. The “B.C.” pages are shaded in a darker color, which makes it easy to flip to the right section.

The date range is listed in the top corner of each page and then the rest of the page is blank, except for the timeline!

I really love the stickers that go along with each Bookshark/Sonlight level. They are black and white, so kids can color them if they like.  The stickers are all together on one sheet, you just find the one you need, color, and cut it out…..

 Rose was very happy to color her sticker and place it in the right spot.

The sticker sheets can fit into a pocket at the back of the Timeline Book for handy keeping.

This first level does not have as many timeline stickers as the later levels do, but I love that kids can start their books at age five or six and still be adding to it six years later. It is a very worthwhile investment and will make a nice keepsake.

Started: First Grade History

Rose and I are working on week 3 of Bookshark K. The history spine for this level is Living Long Ago. I think it is going to be a great first introduction to history for us.  The text is brief and very age-appropriate and the book is filled with colorful illustrations and lots of hands-on ideas. Here, we read about first clothes. I still need to get her some corks to make the mammoth tusk necklace….

 Lately, we have been reading about the first people, particularly cave people and the first farmers. And we have done just about every project we have come across in the book.

Unfortunately, I have not remembered to take photos of each project, but I am trying to be better about that! For one project her siblings helped her build a little shelter in the woods with fallen branches. For another, she made a version of an early boat using pipe cleaners and a plastic bag. And most recently, she tried making dyes out of natural materials.

We found a lovely assortment of flowers around the yard. They looked really pretty and she was sure they would mash up just as pretty…

 I let her use a mortar and pestle for this, which was great fun….

But unfortunately, the resulting “mash” just didn’t dye fabric very well. I told her we will try again with berries once ours start coming in. I am really looking forward to this first year of history with my baby!