Early American History and Geography Class
I have known Lynn since I began homeschooling in 2013. I remember meeting her in our homeschool day program in Pasadena; her daughters and my daughter became fast friends! In addition to sharing friends in common, we have continued our journey together as mothers of teenage girls, AND women who love and believe in literature approach learning (and miss homeschooling as our kids are in high school!); Families who take her class will be enriched with her knowledge and passion for history and geography.
~ Christine Echeverri, August 2021
This post features excerpts from an interview between author Christine Echeverri and Early American History and Geography instructor Lynn Haselton.
Why did your family decide to homeschool?
Actually, homeschooling was my husband’s idea. When our children started Kindergarten, we were disappointed with the large amount of “busywork” they were expected to do after school. This homework completely changed my relationship with my children within the first week of school. Instead of being “mom” I was an “enforcer” overseeing assignments dictated by an outside entity. We struggled with this mode of schooling for four years, until we had a great opportunity to experiment with homeschooling. My husband had been a professional teacher and had a lot of experience teaching. With his support and help, our homeschool was a joint effort at first, until I got my “sea legs.”
Home schooling gave us the level of control we desired: what topics to cover and how deeply, how much time to spend on academics during the day, what resources would help us learn. Home schooling also gave us flexibility to incorporate travel and field trips into our curriculum.
You have twins! What were some benefits and challenges to homeschooling kids of the same age?
I can’t imagine trying to teach different levels of home school at the same time! Having twins made the home schooling experience very efficient. In fact, there is a built-in efficiency with twins in general – the first three years are impossible, and then it gets easier. My children also share similar interests, so social and physical activities could be streamlined.
Your kids have returned to full-time high school. How did the transition back to “normal school” go? What were the challenges, if any?
We homeschooled the kids for five years. In 8th grade they expressed an interest in attending a “real” high school, which is a natural time to make such a transition. I introduced them to standardized testing during the application process (to private Christian high schools). They needed to take an entrance exam and I don’t think they had ever filled in multiple choice bubbles with a No. 2 pencil before! So we practiced that, and dealing with the pressure of time limits, and the strategy of skipping the hard questions. They just didn’t have any experience with that kind of test.
The second thing I really tried to do during their last year of homeschooling was to encourage their independence and time management. I probably “hovered” too much during homeschool since I closely interacted with them daily, sometimes hourly. If they didn’t do an assignment, I reminded them and maybe even altered the day’s schedule so they could finish. We all understood that they wouldn’t have that flexibility at “normal” school. We also understood that high school would have a much heavier work load than they were used to. And this proved to be the hardest aspect of the transition to high school – they had to figure out what was required of them, how to keep track of the due dates, how to navigate the online assignment/grading platform. One of my kids, who tended to be a bit disorganized, had a really hard time with this transition. She had to work really hard to develop her executive functioning skills.
In hindsight, what do you love the most about your time homeschooling? And what do you miss most about that time?
My husband and I are lucky to have flexible work schedules, which allowed us to incorporate frequent local field trips into our homeschool course work. Often after our family field trip we would find a restaurant and talk about what we had learned over dinner. And even more special was enjoying off-season family travel, and making that educational. For example, we took several road trips around Arizona and visited the Navajo and Hopi Nations, touring historic sites and museums. It was really fun that all four of us could have this homeschool experience of learning together. It’s actually a bit of a hobby of mine to incorporate some educational activities into our family vacations, which I still do now even though we are no longer homeschooling. After all, we should never stop learning! That’s what I miss most.
What do you hope your students take away from your Early American history class?
I hope my students gain appreciation for this amazing country. I hope to emphasize what else was happening in the world at the time of our country’s founding, and how profoundly unique were the ideas for a new democracy. But I also hope to instill empathy for some of the peoples that were not included in this opportunity, who were exploited, had their lives stolen. We have a complex history, as all history is.
How will you work geography into your course?
As for geography, I don’t think it’s possible to understand history without maps. People are influenced by their physical environment: what resources are available to them, how does the shape of the land affect their mobility, and who are their neighbors? The study of American history offers a great opportunity to study those three questions. And a well-drawn map often can reveal the answers. In my class, we will create an online interactive map together, and at least one of the hands-on project options with involve making a map.
What are some of your favorite periods (or historical moments) and/or issues that you will delve into in your class?
The most interesting aspect about history for me is what daily life was like for people living through these historical events. It is important to know the background: the politics, the power struggles, the discovery and development of new technology, the natural disasters, the philosophies and religions. But more interesting to me is how all of that big stuff impacted daily life for the ordinary person. And one of the best ways to learn about daily life is reading historical fiction. The best authors meticulously research the history, and then they imagine what daily life was like, and then they paint that picture for us, the readers. I think this kind of historical fiction helps to build empathy with people from the past, our forebearers.
What books will your students read in Fall Semester?
I love all of the books I have chosen for my classes! They are like children: you can’t pick a favorite! In the first semester we will read four books. I have chosen two novels with indigenous narrators in my attempts to incorporate a Native American perspective on early American history. I also sought a variety of genres: one is a novel in verse, another is a humorous graphic novel. I haven’t yet chosen the titles for the second semester, which will include voices from African Americans as we study slavery and the Civil War.
You built a historical fiction database website. Tell me about your site, and why you started it. What is your vision for it?
I was intrigued by literature-based learning and had used courses from Beautiful Feet Books and Story of the World to teach some of our homeschool history. My kids are voracious readers so I found I could really load them up with extra reading. I started seeking titles that complemented these courses. While previewing these many books I fell in love with the genre. I ultimately developed my own literature-based history courses for our later homeschool years. I wanted to create courses that were a little bit off the beaten path. As homeschoolers, we are allowed to do that.
While developing my own courses, I formulated the idea for an online database of historical fiction, searchable by geographical location and historical era. (Here is a link to Lynn’s Antique Bookcase site). The user interface would be a map which shows the location of each book’s setting. My hope was that a teacher or parent could find some literature for any historical event in every corner of the world. For example, if you want to teach the history of your own family background, you could find literature no matter your origins and cultural heritage. If you wanted to teach a class (or a unit) on Islamic empires or the history of China, you could source the literature through my website.
Unfortunately, my vision of a map covered with interesting stories from all over the world has not been realized. Roughly one third of the titles in my database take place in America, which makes some sense because I can only read English, and the books must be licensed for sale in the United States and be readily available here. However I have hope that in the near future more young people’s literature set in other countries will become available. There is currently a lot of interest in increasing the racial diversity of characters. And perhaps more foreign authors will be translated into English. In the meantime, I constantly seek out these kinds of books.
If you could go back in time, what US history event would you return to?
If I could go back in time, I would either join the Lewis and Clark expedition or the Pony Express. Sometimes I dream about being a packhorse librarian. I love the idea of trekking off into the unknown wilderness, mapping new territory. I love maps! And horses! And books!