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Early American History: Textbook-Free Resources for Elementary, Middle School, and Life-Long Learners

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Ah, history, one of my dearest loves!  Longtime blog readers may have already read or listened to my post about exploring history with a Textbook-Free History approach in our homeschool.

This year our family is studying Early American history, from colonization to the mid-1800s.  We’re planning on enjoying read-alouds, supplemental reading stacks for all the varying ages, movies, art, and lots of fieldtrips!

Since #booksaremysuperpower, as we say @HumilityandDoxology on Instagram, what could be better than sharing some of our favorite resources here?  First in the post you will find an extensive (though not exhaustive!) booklist for early elementary, middle school, and adult life-long learners (I’ll save a full highschool list for later…this post is too long already!).  Continue past the booklists to find geography resources, links to our morningtime memory work, art suggestions, and a movie list!

Combine the reading recommended below with discussion and a bit of exploration, and maybe even a reading journal for your beginners or older students, and you have a complete homeschool curriculum guide for studying Early American History in Elementary and Middle school for free right here in this post!

Add a library card and a sense of adventure and enjoy your Early American History studies!

{Want to join us in a Year of Memory Work?  52 weeks of free videos and printables!}

elementary, middle school, homeschool american history free curriculum and book list

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Core Resources for studying Early American History in Elementary and Middle School

Genevieve Foster’s books are my absolute favorite core texts for our American history studies.  I love her books because they are accessible to a wide age range, and make ideal read alouds.  The engaging, narrative style means that even my youngest children are interested and able to follow the stories.  The depth and breadth of material is not too babyish, however, for my older learners.

Foster is able to communicate how many different people, countries, and events were happening simultaneously at any given time.  You begin to discover how nothing occurs in isolation, but how interconnected all the historical events actually are!

The World of Columbus and Sons

The World of Captain John Smith

George Washington’s World 

Abraham Lincoln’s World

(also check out Year of the Horseless Carriage:1801  and The World of William Penn)

With these Foster books as our foundation, we also provide a wide range of historical fiction and quality non-fiction for our children.  Typically, I gather all the applicable books from a time period and place them on the designated smaller shelf in our kitchen.  Some of those titles I will specifically assign to certain children.  Other times, I will tell them to read for 30 minutes from a book of their choice from that collection.  Every child will not get to every book on the shelf, obviously!!  Since we cycle through the epochs of history on a 4-ish year cycle, there will be plenty of books they miss the first time around that they can enjoy on the second.

Grab your FREE textbook-free history planning pages here.

Booklists: using delightful books in the elementary and middle school years to study Early American History

Here are a few of my very favorite titles from Early American history.  Be sure to comment with your own family’s favorites!  I’ve divided the list into approximately K-3rd and 4th-7th.  However, please remember that younger children can profitably listen in to the older list as read-alouds, and older children can certainly enjoy and appreciate books from the earlier list!

Early Elementary (approximately kindergarten through 3rd grade) Early American History books

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh

What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin (and other picture books by Jean Fritz)

Sam the Minute Man, by Nathaniel Benchley

This is a great book for your early readers to enjoy independently.  Arnold Lobel is the illustrator!

Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin, by Marguerite Henry

The American Girl series make great audiobooks during play time.

Leif the Lucky, Columbus, Pocahontas, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire

The D’Aulaire’s books combine uniquely fantastic illustrations with quality prose.

Betsy and Giulio Maestro’s series on American history

These make a good transition for young learners between picture books and longer non-fiction.

The Fourth of July Story by Alice Dalgliesh

I love to read this aloud before every Independence Day celebration!

Holling C. Holling’s books combine geography and history and gorgeous illustrations!

The Matchlock Gun, by Walter Edmonds

Stories of the Pilgrims, by Margaret Pumphrey

Late Elementary to Middle School Early American History books

I really appreciate The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin, which connects our American history with the previous centuries in Europe.  The birth of our nation did not happen in a vacuum!

History of US, by Joy Hakim

This is an 11-volume set that is commonly found in libraries.  We do not typically read these through cover to cover (although one certainly could), but they make excellent reference guides when we want to learn more about a specific person or event.  For early American history, look for these titles:

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

This is based on a true story, and is on my 2 older children’s assigned reading list for the year.

Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare

I probably read this book a dozen times as a child.  We’ve listened to it as an audiobook in previous years, and I hope we can read it again together this year!

Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare

We recently listened again to this audiobook in the car as a family.  If your children love survival books like My Side of the Mountain, they’ll love this historical fiction.

Calico Captive, by Elizabeth George Speare

Johnny Tremaine, by Esther Forbes

Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham

This is our current read-aloud at lunch!  I like that the chapters are short and manageable in our busy days.

Indian Captive, by Lois Lenski

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving

Justin Morgan Had a Horse, by Marguerite Henry

The Cabin Faced West, by Jean Fritz

Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, by Clyde Robert Bulla (Be sure to keep your eyes out for this author at used bookstores, too!  I’ve found some great old hardbacks)

A Lion to Guard Us, by Clyde Robert Bulla

Skippack School , by Marguerite de Angeli (Did you know this author wrote books other than the classic, The Door in the Wall? So far Skippack School is the only one I’ve found at a used bookstore…but I keep looking!)

A Gathering of Days, by Joan Blos

Calico Bush, by Rachel Field

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

Follow the adventures of a doll and her several owners, and see the progression of history over 100 years!  I well remember falling in love with this book as a ~9 year old girl.

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose

Caroline Starr Rose is making a name for herself writing lovely novels in verse for children.  This one shares the author’s imaginings of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Of Courage Undaunted, by James Daugherty (Another author to keep a lookout for at old bookstores! He also wrote some of the books in the Landmark series, which I mention later on.)

Streams to the River, River to the Sea, by Scott O’Dell

I would recommend this to students on the older side due to some more mature themes.

George Washington: Spymaster, by Thomas Allen

My kids have listened to this audiobook from the library several times!

Frontier Living, by Edwin Tunis

So many fantastic diagrams and detailed drawings!

Landmark Book series

Kathy Weitz at The Reading Mother has a helpful list for collecting and cataloging the original Landmark book series.  I’m working towards building a complete set, and often ask my children to read a title from our current time period of history studies.

I also have an entire post dedicated to books celebrating the contributions of African Americans in our nation’s history.  Rather than type those titles out again here, be sure to check out that booklist!

Life-Long Learning for the Teacher: an introductory book list for parents and older teens

If you don’t know much about this time period and are interested in growing in your own understanding, here are a few additional titles to get you started.  If you don’t feel quite ready to try one of these titles, I would encourage you to read the Coffin series and the Foster series listed above to lay a good foundation!

Esther Forbes, the author of the children’s classic Johnny Tremaine, has also written a wonderful non-fiction history book entitled Paul Revere and the World He Lived In.

Paul Johnson is a prolific historian.  His History of the American People would be a phenomenal reference for the curious parent (or older teen…my 13 year old is reading it for history this year).

Patriot’s Handbook 

Original source documents are so important!  Use this as a reference and guide, or as a source to find new memory work for morningtime.  We’re memorizing excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettsyburg Address, and Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty” speech in our morningtime this year.

1776 and other books by David McCullough 

My husband and I were so entranced by the audiobook of 1776 that we brought it with us to the hospital when I went into labor a couple children ago!  If that’s not a high recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Early American History: Learning with Movies

There are some wonderful supplements to your studies to be found on screen as well!  Here are a few of our family’s favorites.  Especially with the documentaries, be aware of your own family’s needs and sensitivities before showing to young students.

Liberty’s Kids is a favorite with our children!

Lewis and Clark: the Journey of the Corps of Discovery (a Ken Burns documentary.  You can find it streaming for free as part of American Lives , or purchase the DVD on its own).

Independence

You can see this in Philadelphia at the Independence National Historic Park, one of our favorite family adventures.

Valley Forge: a Winter Encampment

This is the video they show at the Valley Forge National Park, another one of our favorite family fieldtrips so far!

Drive-Thru History

This is another favorite series our children enjoy.  You can get a brief taste by streaming a 3-part series on some of America’s founders here, and you can see the entire series on the Drive Thru History website.

John Adams

Williamsburg: the Story of a Patriot

You can see this film if you visit Colonial Williamsburg (which you should definitely do if at all possible), or you can watch it in the comfort of your own living room.

Early American History: for extra fun!

Memory Work

I like to coordinate our morningtime memory work with whatever time period we’re studying.  You can get a peek into our current plans here.

Geography

History also guides our geography focus.  Learning to draw a basic map of the United States freehand?  Is that even possible?  With the Draw the USA book by Kristin Draeger, it certainly is!  We practice drawing these “blob maps” about once a week.

Puzzles are also a helpful way to tactilely reinforce the geography of a region.  GeoPuzzles are some of our absolute favorites!  They’re high quality construction, and each puzzle piece is actually the outline of the country or state.  We own several  GeoPuzzles, and I hope to get the US and Canada one soon!

Another fantastic USA puzzle is this lovely wooden map by Melissa and Doug.  Ours has survived 5 small children so far…and with the destructive powers my children show, that should tell you something!

Art

Paper dolls and Coloring Books are a perfect accompaniment to read aloud time!

Chalk Pastel American History

We love the art instruction from chalkpastel.com, and they have an entire collection of American history video art lessons over which I’m drooling!

You can see an example of the type of instruction they provide on their YouTube channel:

Fieldtrips

Besides books, fieldtrips are my favorite part of history studies.  While I haven’t yet been able to take the kids to Egypt to explore the pyramids, or Ancient Greece to discover the wonders of the Acropolis, I can easily expose them to many historic sites when we’re studying Early American history!

While there are, of course, the famous sites like Williamsburg, Yorktown, Valley Forge, Roanoke, and St. Augustine, don’t neglect the hidden local sites nearby.  There may be frontier-style farms with hands-on tours available, tiny local battlegrounds with fabulous reenactments, Native American living history sites and memorials, or museums and heritage centers for your very own town.  Be sure to check out my guest post as part of the Not Back to School Blog Party giving ideas for studying history “off the page.

Where will you start in your Early American History studies?

Whether you have an elementary student or middle schooler… or whether you just want to learn a bit more of American history yourself… I hope this round up of resources gets you excited to explore through good books, movies, art, and fieldtrips.  Let me know your favorite resources for studying this era of history; I’d love to add it to our plans for the school year!

Grab your FREE textbook-free history planning pages here.


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Amy Sloan and her husband, John, are second-generation homeschoolers by grace alone to 5 children ages 4, 7, 8, 11, and 13. Their educational philosophy is one of humility and doxology, and follows primarily a classical approach. Amy loves coffee, perseveres through half-marathons and weight-training, and starts getting nervous if the stack of to-be-read library books beside her bed is less than 2 feet tall. Get her started on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, or Hamilton the Musical and it might be hard to get her to stop. Mostly, though, she gets really excited about the Gospel. The Sloan family adventures in North Carolina.

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