Making Connections with a Book of Centuries

Did you know Gutenberg was developing the printing press in Germany while Columbus was growing up in Genoa? Could you tell me who came first, King David of Israel or Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang? Before I became a homeschooling mom, history was a confusing jumble of dates, names, and wars. As I’ve slowed down with my children to enjoy history, the threads of the past begin to weave themselves together before my eyes.

The sheer amount of time that has unraveled before your brief appearance here is overwhelming! How do you begin to introduce the incredible people of the past to your children without reducing the information to mere factoids? The first answer, of course, is stories. Stories – interesting, real stories – of historical people and events are the main way to whet one’s appetite for learning of all kinds!

As Danielle mentioned over in The Value of Stories in Home Education,

Stories are so powerful, in part, because they connect us to something bigger than ourselves—they outline for us a history of human nature in an incarnated form not found in textbooks. They show us not just events and things that happened, but they show what happens, how humans are, in all times and all places.

From picture books to chapter books, stories ignite a love for learning in us. Eventually, students will begin to make connections between the stories they read. These connections will happen spontaneously when the children are younger and there is no reason to force children to recognize how stories might be similar, or reflect one another, or intertwine. The children will form their own relations with what they are learning.

Around age 10, our heroine Charlotte Mason asked her students to begin keeping personal Books of a Centuries for the purpose of cataloging people and events from history in one book. A Book of Centuries is similar to a timeline book, with two-page spreads throughout the book. On one page, you’ll find a place to record events, names, and dates for one full century. The opposing page is blank, intended for drawings or “artifacts” from the same century. Students will record people of interest to them in their books. Some students will be interested in wars, others in inventions. It’s fine to let your student dictate most of what goes in his or her book. It’s so fun to witness the day when they to record an event or person from a story, and see the name of an event or person they previously read about in the same era. Voila! More connections are made. A Book of Centuries eventually provides a student with a true book of history, all made up of characters and stories that seemed important enough to write down.

It is incredibly easy to begin keeping your own Book of Centuries. I recommend each student have their own Book of Centuries, and Mom or Dad keep one as well. For 100-year old instructions, check out this article from A Parents’ Review, a publication edited by Charlotte Mason herself. A Book of Centuries can be as easy and cheap as a Composition Notebook and a Sharpie. Check out Charlotte Mason Help for a very nice tutorial on one of these! Juniper Pines  provides more helpful examples of notebooks-turned-books-of-centuries. For more practical ideas, I adore the examples you’ll find on Sage Parnassus.

If you have a home printer and would like to staple or spiral bind your own book check out these free downloads from Simply Charlotte Mason, Juniper Press, or Mater Amabilis. You can also find a few printed books of centuries. This one has a slightly different format but it is very inexpensive. Another inexpensive option is the one from Living Book Press. This fancy one from Riverbend looks very well made.

We here at Chasing Wonder has our own adorable version! The Notebook of Centuries was designed by Danielle, and is very neat and clean. It comes in a variety of pretty colors and is available to print on demand by Amazon. I appreciate that the timeline page is on the left for B.C., and on the right for A.D. It just makes it that much easier to remember where you are in the grand scheme of history, and remember to count “backwards” in the centuries before Christ. I made a quick (dorky) video showing you the inside of our book.

This year, we plan to have our age 10-13 year old homeschool co-op students keep a Book of Centuries. Together we will  add events and people specific to our group study of Georgia history, but will also encourage the students to add events and people they come across in their own studies – and share with the group during our meeting. I’m eagerly anticipating the creative ideas the kids will generate!

A Book of Centuries is a fantastic way to keep track of the historical ideas you and your children come across in your reading, keeping track of oodles of separate ideas together in one connected place.