Review: Learning American History Through Literature

Looking for a literature-based history curriculum to use in the upcoming homeschool year? Here’s what you need to know about Learning American History Through Literature from Common Sense Press.

Learn American history through fantastic literature with this flexible curriculum from Common Sense Press!

*This is a sponsored post and I received a free copy of this curriculum for review. As always, I was not asked to write a positive review and all thoughts are my own. See this disclosure to learn more about that.*

It’s no secret that I’m a little biased regarding literature-based learning, especially when it comes to history. I make no apologies for that because I genuinely believe there’s no better way to experience history than to step into the pages of a book and experience life and culture through the eyes of a character who lived it.

Likewise, it’s no secret that anything from Common Sense Press gets my attention. After all, Learning Language Arts Through Literature is the only constant in our homeschool journey. Naturally, you can imagine that I was immediately intrigued when I learned about an American history offering from Common Sense Press.

Deep down, I knew that Learning American History Through Literature would be an excellent match for our homeschool. Now that I’ve had time to work through it with my 10-year-old, I can happily say I was right to expect great things. And because of that, here’s what I want you to know about this fantastic literature-based American history curriculum.

What to Know About Learning American History Through Literature

Before we jump into what stands out about this literature-based history curriculum, here’s what you need to know about the format and curriculum in general.

Learning American History Through Literature is written with grades K-8 in mind and can be used as a standalone curriculum or as a supplement to another history text.

Revolutionary War book lists from Common Sense Press's American History curriculum.

It is divided into seven units and covers the following eras of American history:

  • Colonial Period (1607-1763)
  • Revolutionary War Period (1763-1815)
  • Westward Expansion (1800s)
  • Civil War Period (1860-1876)
  • Industrial Age (1876-1914)
  • World War Years (1914-1945)
  • Postwar Years (1945-1968)

Each of these units contains book recommendations, discussion questions, viewing suggestions, hands-on learning activities, and ideas for further exploration. This allows families to customize American history lessons to fit their children’s interests and abilities, homeschool schedules, and resources. 

Review: Learning American History Through Literature from Common Sense Press

Also, it can be used over one school year or spread out over two years, depending on your family’s pacing and how many of the recommendations you follow. This probably goes without saying, but you’ll go through a unit more quickly if you read a handful of the suggested books and do a single activity rather than read most of the recommended books, watch a couple of the movie suggestions, and complete a few of the hands-on learning ideas in the unit.  

My Takeaways on Learning American History Through Literature

Now that you know the basics about this approach to American history, here’s what makes it stand out in a sea of homeschool curriculum options.

1. It’s flexible.

If I had to choose one word to describe this curriculum, I’d choose “framework.” The cool thing about it being a framework is that it’s flexible in so many ways. I referenced all of these in my overview, but seeing them together helps highlight the flexibility:

  • It can be used over one year or two.
  • It contains picture book and chapter book suggestions. (You can use all of the suggestions or focus on one or two; it’s your call.)
  • From games like shadow tag to recipes like Charlotte Russe and Mock Apple Pie to activities like the tie-dye fun in the photo below, each unit contains a generous variety of activities and hands-on learning ideas.
  • From early elementary through middle school, it can be used to teach one child or several kids at the same time.
  • The units can be used in timeline order or randomly. If you’re studying an era in general, a particular unit could be used to cover American history in that era.
History lessons are always more fun when tie dye is involved!
History lessons are always more fun when tie-dye is involved!

That being said, the idea of using literature to teach American history isn’t new. There are other truly solid history curriculum options out there. Even so, I’ve never used or discovered any that share the Learning American History Through Literature’s flexibility. Not even once in my 13+ years of homeschooling.

2. It’s affordable. 

Another thing to know about this curriculum is that it’s super affordable. Since the book itself serves as a framework for teaching American history in a homeschool setting, there’s no need to purchase matching student books or similar consumable materials.

Additionally, you can literally choose the books used based on factors like cost and library availability. The same is true for the activities and viewing suggestions.

Review: Learning American History Through Literature from Common Sense Press - books for Postwar Years unit.
Nearly all the books we read in the Postwar Years unit came from our local library. In fact, we read this entire stack without making any extra purchases. (And yes, that’s her finished tie-dye shirt from the same unit!)

Regardless of your homeschool budget, you can easily work with what’s available to you and still have a rich, thorough, and thoughtful experience studying American history with your kids. Though it’s not usually the case, it’s something that sets Learning American History Through Literature apart from other options. 🙂

3. It’s comprehensive.

I truly love teaching history and we’ve used our fair share of curriculum options for tackling American history through the years. In my experience, American history often gets equated with colonial times, the American Revolution, and maybe some pioneer families for good measure. That’s especially true when it comes to teaching elementary grades.

If you’re lucky, you may cover the Civil War. However, everything leading to the Civil War and everything after it tends to fade into the distance, but I digress.

All this to say, I sincerely appreciate that Learning American History Through Literature is comprehensive in its coverage. Sure, it covers colonization and the American Revolution, but it also goes well beyond the Civil War into the modern era. Studying the beginnings of the modern era is helpful because it gives kids a glimpse into the historical and cultural happenings that defined their grandparents’ and great grandparents’ generations.

My kiddo experienced green bean casserole for the first time while working through the Postwar Years unit in this American history curriculum.
My kiddo experienced green bean casserole for the first time while working through the Postwar Years unit in this American history curriculum. My mother-in-law said it tasted just like she remembered it in her younger days. 🙂

This comprehensive view creates new connections to history. In doing so, kids become grounded in American history through more than the birth of the nation. They become grounded in how events in history indirectly shape their own stories.

4. It’s Charlotte Mason-Friendly.

Lastly, this American history curriculum option is one you need to know about because it works nicely with Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. I say that because each unit contains plenty of fantastic literature suggestions with shorter reads and chapter books, but no specific order in which to read them.

Also, the units contain plenty of hands-on ideas like handicrafts, period-appropriate games, and cooking exercises, but no busywork.

Review: Learning American History Through Literature from Common Sense Press

And lastly, there is lots of help in the way of vocabulary and comprehension questions, but this help is not book-specific. This allows you to closely follow the CM philosophy in the sense that discussion questions and vocabulary notes don’t influence the ideas our kids take from each book.

Instead, the units and everything encompassed within them — the overviews, the reading suggestions, vocabulary words, activities, movie ideas, discussion prompts, etc. — help to lay a foundation for the reading or bring together all of the themes in the books.

Bring LIterature-based American History to your Homeschool

Ready to learn more about Learning American History Through Literature? Head over to Common Sense Press to order a copy for your homeschool.

American Revolution Unit Preview

Want to see a sample lesson? Head to Common Sense Press to view the American Revolution unit from Learning American History Through Literature

While you’re there, be sure to check out their other curriculum options. In addition to American history, you’ll find help for teaching language arts options, math, science, and more. They also have a generous selection of FREE book studies for elementary through high school grades.

Learning American History Through Literature

Bottom Line: Learning American History Through Literature is the perfect curriculum solution for homeschool families who want to include literature-based learning in their history studies, but don’t want to be bogged down with specifics to be covered from lesson to lesson. It also provides the right mix of guidance and flexibility for teaching American history, making it a great addition to any literature-based homeschool lineup.

There are lots of options when it comes to teaching American History through literature, but we've found the most flexible one out there!

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