Saturday, July 3, 2010

Add-A-Century Timeline Review

After reading this review, please see my UPDATE.

Since we are starting our first history rotation with Grasshopper, I was interested in doing a timeline with her. (Although there is some controversy over whether it is appropriate to do timeline work with a 5yo, I felt that it would be good for her interests and abilities.) I liked the suggestion in The Well-Trained Mind to make each century take up equal space so that children can see how much more we know of more recent centuries than of ancient time periods.

The thought of doing my own was rather daunting. I needed something that would last at least through the four-year rotation and would also store well. Because of Grasshopper's age, I wanted something that I could use pictures with. I am also a person of precision. If I was going to spend the money on a timeline, I wanted the visual representation of the time spans to be precise.

I found out about Add-A-Century Timeline, and it seemed to encompass all that I needed--equal space for each century, pictures, and the ability to place on a wall and/or store in a binder. I purchased the starter pack with the binder, which includes the following for $62.95:

40 pages 80# Card Stock with mylar edges
Category Labels for every pair of pages
Date Stickers from 4999 BC to 2025 AD
126 Colored Stickers
10 Flip-ups
Binder Tabs
2 Image Sheets
12" x 12" Binder

It wasn't long before I found I was rather disappointed in what I received. As I started to assemble the materials, I discovered that not only did I not have enough pages to get us through one whole history rotation, I did not even have enough to get me through the first year. Now, this was most certainly my own fault for not doing the math. Because I thought it would last four years, I should have checked. But I don't think that it is unreasonable to assume that it would get you through one year, so I wouldn't expect a person to check in that case. However, what Add-A-Century has done is to divide all the centuries by four and put that amount in a starter pack. But most (perhaps all) classical history rotations cover more time during the first year studying the ancients since there is so much less known about that time period. Consequently, I needed 50 more pages just for the first year, amounting to $50 more than I had already spent.

As I continued to assemble the materials, I found that the assembly instructions were very vague, leaving me to figure out how to do it largely on my own. As I did so, I found that they have actually calculated the dates wrong. Every page is divided into five-year spans. But one column is shorter to account for a four-year span. The reason for this is that there is no year 0. So years 1-5 (either AD or BC) are a four-year span. However, the date stickers put the four-year span at the end of the century instead of the beginning of the century. The only way I would have been able to correct it would be to make my own date stickers. This is a minimal annoyance, as only the first centuries AD and BC are incorrect, and most people will never notice. But I spent over $100, and I would think this type of mistake would not be happening for that amount of money.

I also quickly realized that the 2 image sheets did not cover the ancients time period at all. I knew that 2 image sheets would not be enough, and I figured I would have to supplement. But how hard would it be to include a picture of the pyramids, the parthenon, and the colloseum?

Finally, it took me many, many hours to assemble this timeline. I knew that if I tried to put it together as we went, it might not get done. So it became part of my summer prep work. I am very glad that I purchased the binder, because I think you would have a hard time finding that size of a binder for less money. And it is quite beautiful.

I am now ready, and I am still excited about using my Add-A-Century timeline. And I will probably bite the bullet and continue with it over the whole four-year rotation. In fact, since we will be doing more history in future rotations, we will probably continue to add to this one if it holds up. But I would not recommend it, as it is too much money for something that is imprecise, needs to be completely assembled, and requires supplementation.

Literature-Based Geography

This year, I purchased some books that contained lesson plans for doing literature-based social studies. While the lesson plans were wonderful, I found that I really did not have time to put these lessons together in a formal way. But because Grasshopper had such a fascination with our big wall map, as well as a love of books, it was so easy to let her choose a country and then find children's books about that country. We usually started with a history book for background. But we most enjoyed the biographies, historical fiction and folklore associated with the countries. We then made up trivia games as we sat at the table looking at the map. I thought I would share my book list here for those that might want to do something similar. I continue to add to it as I find additional books.

Literature-Based Geography Book List (Google Docs)

Latter-day Homeschooling