A friend of mine caught me on Facebook to ask for my perspective on two history programs: Simply Charlotte Mason (we used in the past) and Beautiful Feet (we are currently using). I happily typed up what was a not so brief response. I know other families might be interested so I'm sharing it here, edited for clarity. Please remember - this is just my experience. I'm coming at this comparison of the pros and cons from a decidedly large family perspective with 9 children, 6 of whom are officially old enough to be considered students. I'm also a long-time homeschooler - we started homeschooling from the very beginning and our oldest student is currently a 10th grader. We purchased each curriculum at various times. With those details out of the way, here we go!
Simply Charlotte Mason History Guides
For SCM the history guides are broken into 6 modules. In a module you have books that are family read aloud titles and then lists of books for different grades: 1st-3rd, 4th-6th, 7th-9th, 10th-12th. They offer a free curriculum guide online with books listed and no schedule. The SCM guide takes these books and divides them out into daily reading assignments. It will incorporate map work for geography about once a week (or there is a separate geography product SCM now offers) and bible study about once a week (there are journals/books to purchase from SCM for these). A day's plan will tell remind you to ask your children about what happened the last time you read together, then what to read that day in your family read aloud, as well as what each child is to read in their grade level based book list (you read to younger kids, older kids read independently).
· You are all in the same time period, though not always the same topic at the same time (ex: Vikings for 1st grader may be a week or two before the 5th grader begins their Vikings book).
· There is a daily reading schedule so you know exactly what to read each day. This can also be a con, as there is less flexibility to adjust the daily readings to fit your week without having to rewrite the guide. For example, it may work better for my family to read 3 chapters one day and 1 chapter the next, due to an appointment on the second day.
· Literature based. Your family is reading from whole books, not a textbook of choppy facts crammed together. I like many, but not all, of their book selections, depending on which history year you are doing.
· Book choices - I don't like some of the books they use as the spine/family read alouds for the year. They're too dry for my family's taste. You can replace these with your own picks of course, but then you have to schedule out your own readings.
· Cost - It's expensive to get all those books. Depending on your local library system you may be able to borrow some, but SCM tends to spread out the reading over multiple weeks so you may not be able to keep the book long enough. Also, getting books from the library for the specific week you need them is sometimes hard to accomplish. We tend to buy books to avoid these issues.
· Kids really spend the majority of their history reading separated by grade group. The family read aloud averages 1 chapter per day. Then kids separate to do their individual books. I prefer having most of our readings together until a child is in high school. You can get around this by choosing to use one grade group of books for all your children. For example, if you have five elementary age children like I do, you could use just the family books and the 4th-6th grade titles, reading them aloud to the group.
· There are no discussion questions, research assignments for high schoolers, or other helps to round out the history study when desired. You have to come up with these sorts of things yourself when using SCM.
Beautiful Feet Books History Guides
Beautiful Feet has a variety of history guides to choose from based on your interests or ages. They do not have a single guide containing all grade levels. However, as my plan is to group kids together this doesn't bother me, I find one guide that works for several ages. They have a recommended sequence here if you are curious.
Each guide has a book list for the year and is written for a grade range. For example the Medieval History Intermediate and Junior High guide is written for 5th-8th grades. Then there is a Senior High guide for the same time period written for 9th-12th grades with a heavier book list. The guide includes:
- Reading assignments for that week. You get to break it up to fit your week. It may say read chapters 1-8 in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, but I get to decide if that means we’re reading 2 chapters a day, or 3, or what. Reading for Intermediate level averages 100-150 pages a week, so 20-30 pages a day.
- Vocabulary for the books including the first page your student will encounter the word.
- Map work as it relates to the time period and books.
- Writing and research suggestions with included websites to begin your research.
- Discussion questions - just a few quality ones each week to really get you and your students thinking and talking.
- 1-2 book suggestions for the library if you want more on the week's topics.
- An occasional hands on activity for those who want one.
- Together in a time period - you can keep your family in the same time period generally. This promotes conversations about shared topics.
- Flexible weekly reading assignments - you get the books divided up for you so progress is made but you have ultimate decision making as to how many chapters on which day each week.
- Literature based - Your family is reading from whole books, not a textbook of choppy facts crammed together. I really like the book selections. The Intermediate/Junior High level has quality, interesting books. They are reading many of the same topics at the high school guide on a more age appropriate level (in page count, depth, and content).
- All the other goodies in the guide I described above, from discussion questions and research or writing assignments to vocab and mapping that directly relates to the books/time period. Again, this is flexible. If you want them, they are there for you ready to go. If just reading the books is enough at any point then you don't have to use the rest of the assignment ideas.
- Cost - yes, you have to buy books. It's going to cost something. I do think BF is reasonable in the number of books they assign and you may be able to find books used or at your library.
How We're Using Beautiful Feet This Year
We chose to group my K-6th grade kids (5 kids!) in the Intermediate/Junior High level guide that is written for 5th-8th. To make it work for all ages I read aloud the books. Kids have a higher listening comprehension than reading ability from early on, so while my Kindergartener can listen to Robin Hood and follow the storyline he could not read it on his own. Grouping my children together is wonderful because we have great discussions and grow to love and loathe the same characters. We can do the discussion questions aloud. I have the kids keeping notebooks. They illustrate and write about the reading, with younger kids doing oral narration I write down on their picture for them. There are the writing and research ideas in the guide and sometimes I give one of those to the older 2 kids in this group.
I would have even been happy to put my 10th grader Makayla into this level too, because she could have done every research assignment, including writing papers, written responses to the discussion questions sometimes instead of oral, and had a great year. So why didn't I?
She fell in love with the Senior High book list. It is way too hefty for junior high or elementary kids! She'll be reading Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc (452 pages) while the Intermediate Joan of Arc book is 119 pages. She's got side by side translations of Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales with their original language while the Intermediate level book choices are written in story format. She loves the reading and is still in the same time period with many of the same topics so we are still having great conversation across all ages. She also is doing most or all of the other assignments each week in her history guide.