Curriculum Plans 2020/21 – History (for a 9- and 11-year old)

History acts as the backbone to our homeschooling year, with a large percentage of the literature we read, drama sessions we do, documentaries we watch and, in normal times, trips we go on, centring around the time period we’re studying. Thus, it’s always the subject I plan first. This year, we’re starting with the Victorian era, on through the Suffragettes period and up to the start of WW1. I’m always intrigued by others’ homeschool plans, so I thought it would be useful to share ours, warts and all! Hopefully it will give you an insight into the planning process (and its imperfect nature) as well as suggesting some interesting resources for these time periods.

Since the start of our home ed journey, we’ve used the treasure trove of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World curriculum as the spine for our history studies (here’s the activity book for our current volume). Over four volumes, designed to be taught across the same number of years (although it’s taken us much longer), it covers the history of human civilisations chronologically from the ancient times until the present, across all the continents. What I love about this curriculum is how thorough it is (personally I’ve learned a HUGE amount through their history study over the years), the excellent literature recommendations, its world-perspective (so important in this day and age) and the fact that it’s a ‘pick up and go’ curriculum, requiring little preparation on the part of the parent.

However, where it links into important British events, we dip out of this curriculum and spend time expanding on the topic to fully cover the content of our local history. This year, given the importance of the time periods to British history, we’ll use a combination of the Story of the World and our own tailor-made plans (requiring slightly more planning).

What Does Each Lesson Look Like?

To create the plans, I initially break the topic down into smaller sections, each one covered by one or two lessons. We normally complete one of these lessons each week, but on our weekly schedule, I just mark out time for history study rather than allocating a specific lesson to an exact week. This means that if we fail to finish a lesson in the allotted time, for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter; we don’t get behind. Instead, we simply work our way through the lessons at the pace that works for us. If we don’t finish them all by the end of the school year, we merely roll the remaining lessons over to the following year.

Each lesson includes some of the following components (the first three elements are always included, the remainder only where appropriate):

  • An element of reading from a non-fiction text/s.
  • Comprehension questions – these are provided for the passages in the Story of the World, but for the tailor-made elements, I simply ask questions as we read, with a few at the end, to check their understanding.
  • Writing a summary of key information, an outline of the text or a biographical fact file, to be filed in their history folders.
  • A review of some primary historical sources, i.e. first-hand evidence from the time period in question, such as diaries, letters, interviews, oral histories, photographs, adverts, newspaper articles, government documents, poems, novels or plays.
  • A corresponding piece of mapwork, which simply involves colouring or highlighting the key locations in the world where the historical events they’re studying took place.
  • Reading relevant historical fiction – we either read these books together each day in our Morning Basket or in our evening read aloud, and some of the books they read individually in their personal reading time.
  • A timeline component – either adding the monarch to our kings and queens’ timeline, pinning key historical figures to our overall timeline or reading the relevant section on this wallbook timeline of British history.
  • Watching documentaries or You Tube clips, which bring the time period to life for them.
  • Listening to supporting audiobooks, either in the car or during mealtimes.
  • Making recipes, playing games or completing craft activities from the era in question
  • Day trips to historical sites, museums or events which bring the time period to life – given the Covid situation, I haven’t planned these this year. Instead, we’ll do this in an impromptu manner as the year progresses.

The next part of this blog post is very detailed, but hopefully there will be some useful information in here for you to dip into when you need it.

Topic One – The Victorians

The first fourteen lessons of the year cover the Victorian era, including the following overarching topics:

  • Queen Victoria
  • The Empire & the Indian Rebellion
  • Life in Victorian times, including daily life, laws, transport, women, politics, holidays, home and art
  • Poverty in Victorian cities
  • Children & education in the Victorian era
  • The Crimean War, including a study on Florence Nightingale
  • Health & medicine in Victorian times
  • Potato famine in Ireland
  • Major inventions & discoveries during Victoria’s reign, focusing on Isambard Kingdom Brunel & Ada Lovelace
  • The Scramble for Africa, with particular focus on Stanley and Livingstone
  • The Boer War

Supporting Literature

My two both love reading to themselves and being read to, so discovering all the new books I’ve ordered for the topic is always a delight. I went a little crazy on the Victorian era and was concerned I’d gone overboard, but judging by how many they have already devoured by the end of the first two weeks of term, we’ll probably manage to read all of the following (either as part of our Morning Basket work, weekly history lesson, evening read aloud or their individual reading time):



Audiobooks (all of these we had already and are excellent resources):

Documentaries & Films

Ever the advocates for the power of a documentary or good period drama, here are our selections for the Victorian era:

Additionally, we’ll also enjoy some You Tube clips I’ve been recommended from Victorian parlour games to how to make soup for the poor. And at Christmas, we’ll research and make some Victorian decorations, recipes and gifts.

Primary Historical Sources

For the first time, we’ll be using and discussing the importance of primary historical sources in our studies. For example, Queen Victoria kept a diary all of her life, so I showed the kids where to find these online and let them have a peruse of her daily ponderings. I found Bean11 flicking through them over the weekend!

Secondly, Jamie C. Martin, who heads up the Introverted Moms group that I’m a part of (which I would highly recommend if anyone is interested in signing up), recommended an excellent resource in the National Archives online. You can print off each section, such as Victorian Britain, A Healthy Nation? review each primary source, from adverts, to letters to posters, in more detail and answer questions on them. I’m genuinely excited about this part!

Example Lesson Plan

To give you an idea of what a typical week looks like for this subject, included below are my planning notes for their first two history lessons, which we spread over our first two weeks back to school.

Lessons 1 & 2 – Queen Victoria

This first section is split over two lessons (two weeks):

In our Morning Basket time (for more information about Morning Basket, see this post):

  • Read Queen Victoria; English Empress by Sally Glendinning

In our history lesson time:

  • Read pages 6-9 and 32-33 of The Victorians (Usborne History of Britain)
  • Add Victoria to our kings and queens’ timeline and read the Victorian section of the Wallbook Timeline of British History
  • Read pages 2-3 of KS3 History, The Victorian Empire and verbally answer the questions on page 3 together
  • Write a biographical fact file of Queen Victoria and file under Great Men & Women in their history folder.

(After watching the iTV Victoria documentary, Bean11 has become obsessed with Queen Victoria. On Thursday evening as I was putting her to bed, she told me that she was sooo excited about Friday… I couldn’t for the life of me think why in particular, but she looked at me and said, “because I get to write the biographical report on Queen Victoria!” She wasn’t being sarcastic!! Bean9 was less enamoured about the prospect of putting pen to paper but he has enjoyed finding out more about this important queen of ours.)

Over mealtimes/in the evenings:

  • Start watching the following documentaries over the next few weeks: Victoria’s Secrets, Victoria Season 1-3

Evening real aloud time:

  • My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Independent reading time:

  • Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson/Street Child by Berlie Doherty – rotate between them

Topic Two – World Study of Late 19th/Early 20th Century

For the next thirteen lessons, we move back to the Story of the World book, covering a wide variety of topics at a much higher level than for the Victorians, to give them a world overview of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries.

For each section, we read the SOTW passage together and discuss, then they answer the set comprehension questions verbally; complete an outline of the information; do a simple piece of mapwork (so they understand where in the world these events happened); write answers to some of the questions in the test booklet; and delve deeper only into topics that interest us, using historical literature or saved documentaries/films (I’ve highlighted our selections below). Note that for some of the less important/interesting to us sections, we’ll cover two per lesson, and drop some of the written work.

Topic Three – The Suffragettes

After finishing the above, we’ll study the plight of the Suffragettes for a couple of weeks, an important topic for our own British history. The excellent book, Suffragettes and the Fight for the Vote by Sarah Ridley, will act as our spine for these two weeks. We’ll simply read this book together, discuss as we go, and I’ll ask a few questions to check their comprehension. Then, they’ll write a high-level summary of the key facts.

We also plan to read the fictional books: Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (this one comes highly recommended) and My Story: Suffragette by Carol Drinkwater, and watch two DVDs: the BBC’s Suffragette with Lucy Worsley and this Suffragette film released in 2015 (12+).

Finally, in this KS3 History book, there is a small section on the Suffragettes with some interesting questions using primary sources and comparisons between them, which we’ll have a go at together verbally.

Topic Four – World War 1

I’ve planned 10 weeks of study for WW1, but there will only be the time to cover a few weeks of this; the remainder will roll over into the next academic year. There is only one chapter devoted to WW1 in the Story of the World, so we’ll also use the Usborne book The First World War by Henry Brook as our spine, reading sections together and summarising the important points into their history files. To make it more interesting, all their summary notes will be kept in a scrapbook style, with a combination of annotations and their own drawings or pictures stuck in, similar to the book Archie’s War, My Scrapbook of The First World War by Marcia Williams. I love these examples of sketchnotes – one-page visuals of notes and doodles – completed by students after studying WW1. I know the Beans will love looking at them and doing their own versions.

Three activities will complement the above: 1) digging their own trenches in our woods, 2) making a shoe box model of the trenches and 3) memorising In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. To delve deeper, I’ve found a selection of books, films and primary sources to support their studies.

Supporting Literature

In addition to the Marcia William’s book, we’ll also supplement our learning by reading the following:



Documentaries & Films

It’s quite tough to find films about war that are suitable for children, so we’ve opted to watch a selection of the 33 class clips on BBC Bitesize, along with the film Journey’s End (12+) and The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars, a BBC documentary in which a team of archaeologists examine the labyrinth of war tunnels constructed by British soldiers underneath the Somme battlefield.  

Primary Historical Sources

In the National Archives, there is an excellent and very comprehensive section on The Great War 1914-1918. It’s broken down into six main questions:

  1. How and why have views of the Great War changed so much?
  2. Why did Britain go to war in 1914?
  3. What was life like in the trenches?
  4. What do you think of the military commanders?
  5. Why was it so hard to make peace?
  6. How has the Great War been remembered?

For each question, there are a series of case studies comprising original sources, such as a copy of the map showing the planned movements of German forces in the Schlieffen Plan, 1905, with questions to help guide the children’s analysis of each document. Students are encouraged to study these sources, read a background document, watch supporting clips and then pull all this information together to prepare an answer to the overarching question, either in the form of a report, a research table, a presentation or a speech as if they were the prime minister. I think this is an excellent way of developing their research, analytical and persuasive skills, both in written and oral form.

And that’s it! Two weeks in and we’re loving our Victorian focus (the Beans even composed a quiz round of questions based on Queen Victoria for our weekly family Zoom quiz last weekend!). If you have any questions about anything I’ve covered in this post, just pop a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

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