Primary sources are documents, images, and artifacts that provide direct evidence about what happened in history. Textbook authors can distort the truth. The best way for students to gather knowledge, and to get unbiased information, is to go straight to the source: the primary source.
If you are teaching early American history in your homeschool this year, do not neglect primary sources. In this age where textbook authors make villains out of great leaders, writers, thinkers, and citizens, it is helpful to see these people for who they really were—not perfect but advancing civilization nevertheless.
At Silverdale Press, our unit studies rely heavily on primary sources, including some of those listed below. So if you want to use primary sources in your homeschool but don’t know how, our studies take away all of the prep work and guess work for parents.
Many homeschool families like to cover American history every year. If you are one of those families, in addition to our unit studies, check out this list of 30 primary sources on early American history. This list would be great to tuck away in your inbox for the future or to use right now if you are preparing for next school year! The list is in chronological order from colonial America to the Civil War.
30 Primary Sources for Teaching Early American History
1 Thomas Hariot’s A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. One of the first written eyewitness accounts of North America.
2 In 1585, John White made watercolor drawings of the Algonquin people. He made them to give the people back home in England an idea about what was in the New World:
3 University of Cincinnati’s Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of History and Archaeological Sites has digital restorations of Ohio Valley Mounds and a virtual reconstruction of pre-Columbian mounds:
4 The original narrative of the first white man to cross North America, Cabeza de Vaca:
5 The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database has information on 36,000 slaving voyages, in which millions of Africans were transported to the Americas from the 1500s to 1800s.
6 This Website has information on the settlement at Jamestown: www.virtualjamestown.org
7 Poems of Anne Bradstreet, wife of the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, provide insight into puritan marriage. Find some of them here:
8 Plimoth Plantation www.plimoth.org: This website is maintained by a living history museum south of Boston, Massachusetts. Its Website contains a number of primary sources, including Pilgrim letters.
9 See the New Netherland Institute www.newnetherlandinstitute.org for primary sources on the Dutch colonization in New York.
10 Examine portraits of colonial children via the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation: http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Summer05/children.cfm?showSite=mobile-regular
11 Project Gutenberg has the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest sources on one of our most famous founders. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20203/20203-h/20203-h.htm
12 Sermons of George Whitefield: www.crta.org/documents/Whitefield.html Visit this site for primary documents on the first Great Awakening. It includes speeches and sermons of the Rev. Whitefield.
13 The Massachusetts Historical Society has all of the letters John and Abigail Adams wrote to each other. It is a treasure trove of primary information about this historic couple. https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/letter/
14 Want to read what ignited revolutionary fervor? Check out Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/147
15 Valley Forge National Historical Park Museum Collections has primary sources on the American Revolution, George Washington, and the Continental Army: https://www.nps.gov/vafo/learn/historyculture/museum.htm
16 Edited by Sarah Josepha Hale, the Godey’s Lady’s Book was the women’s magazine of choice during the early Republic and through the 1890s. The Hathi Trust has a number of them. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000050287
17 The Center for Lowell History has great information on working girls in this early American mill town. https://www.uml.edu/library/
18 The Avalon Project at Yale University has digitized the Federalist Papers, a series of essays by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay that provided a rationale for ratifying the U.S. Constitution: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/fed.asp
19 The University of Virginia houses the Papers of George Washington: www.virginia.edu/gwpapers
20 Princeton University houses the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: www.jeffersonpapers.princeton.edu:
21 This government site provides documents on pioneer life in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/umhtml/umhome.html
22 If your student is interested in the law, the Library of Congress maintains this site: American Memory: Slaves and the Courts, 1740–1860 http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/sthtml/sthome.html
23 Don’t miss out on the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a slave who taught himself to read and escaped. Gutenberg has it: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23?msg=welcome_stranger#link2HCH0001
24 Check out Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings for insight on the cultural lives of slaves: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2306
25 The National Park Service maintains this Website for the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention. http://www.nps.gov/wori/index.htm:
26 If you want to learn about Westward expansion, look no further than the Overland Trail Diaries from the Oregon-California Trail Association: http://www.octa-journals.org/journals
27 See Harper’s Weekly Historical Cartoons for political cartoons from the 1800s www.harpweek.com/
28 The Lincoln-Douglas debates launched Abraham Lincoln into national prominence. Read them at the National Park Service Website: https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/debates.htm
29 Harpers Ferry National Historical Park http://www.nps.gov/hafe/index.htm is the official U.S. government website for the national park that contains the remains of the 1859 Harpers Ferry raid by John Brown.
30 The Civil War was captured in Mathew Brady’s famous photographs. Photography was a new technology at this time. The Library of Congress has the images: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/
Want your Independence Day to have special meaning for your kids? Sure fireworks and parades are great, but don't you want it to be educational as well? Homeschool families are great at grasping every occasion, even holidays, as learning opportunities.
To get to the heart of the holiday, do not neglect the Declaration of Independence.
Did you know that there was no formal signing ceremony on July 4, 1776? According to historian David McCullough, "The signing began on August 2, and continued through the year as absent delegates returned to Philadelphia. No formal signing ceremony ever took place. The scene comes closer to portraying June 28, when Thomas Jefferson submitted his first draft of the Declaration. But then, too, there was no such dramatic gathering."
Nevertheless, Philadelphia in the year 1776 was was a time of high drama and higher ideals. Those drama and ideals were captured in the Declaration of Independence. That’s why the Fourth of July is the holiday we celebrate, “When in the Course of human events…”
The Declaration of Independence has been revered as the nation’s birth certificate. But do your students really know it? Many people think they know it but have never taken the time to study it, to absorb it, to ponder it. And most people are probably only familiar with the preamble.
The Declaration actually has five sections: introduction, preamble, grievances, denunciation, and conclusion.
Written by a committee of five men--Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman—the Declaration is a preeminent American political document.
To help your family mark the holiday, we at Silverdale Press have created a primary source document analysis guide for the Declaration of Independence. Our newsletter subscribers received this as a free download.
It is so important for our kids to learn history from primary sources. Our kids should not be taught to rely on someone else's interpretation of history, especially when they can examine documents and draw conclusions for themselves.
Our White House Holidays series of unit studies relies extensively on primary sources. As you plan your next homeschool year, check out our Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King, and Valentine’s Day unit studies. These unit studies are self-contained. Parents do not need any resources other than what is included. Our unit studies are engaging and rigorous, as well as easy for parents. Plus, they train your kids to use primary sources!
Find the Declaration of Independence here.
"What should I read? What should my kids read?" These two questions occupy the homeschool mom during the carefree summer months, as well as during the school year.
One way to be sure your children are reading the best books is to dig into the reading lists of the great men and women of history. Great men and women often read voraciously. Their books were high quality in both thought and prose. What flowed out of their pens, words, and actions was a reflection of what they “fed” themselves through books.
For great writer and influential abolitionist Frederick Douglass, learning to read did not come easily. Douglass was born into slavery. When he was a slave boy, his mistress taught him “the A, B, C,” he recalled in his autobiography. Under the threat of her husband, who did not want young Frederick to read, his mistress stopped her literary training. But this only increased Frederick's determination. “Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn to read.”
And young Frederick did teach himself. He tricked neighborhood boys into teaching him. He practiced reading newspapers when nobody was watching. And he learned how to write by secretly tracing the copywork of his master’s young son. “When left thus, I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written…Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.” Frederick diligently sought literary self-training because he knew that it was the key to his freedom. And it was.
Indeed, there is wisdom and freedom in the old methods of learning!
We all want our kids to be great writers, thinkers, leaders, and citizens. And imitating the reading habits of the great men and women of history will help us go far in achieving this goal.
So, what did Frederick Douglass read? Fortunately, the National Park Service has a list of the books he had in his personal library. We’ve gone through them and selected a list of books that would be perfect for homeschool families, for the summer and beyond. The works in Douglass’s library are fascinating and important, having shaped the course of Western civilization. (And the good news is that many of them are out of copyright and are available for free online!)
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
Northwood; Or Life North and South by Sarah J. Hale
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Odyssey by Homer
The Illiad by Homer
Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa by David Livingstone
The American Conflict by Horace Greeley
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Life and Voyages of Columbus by Washington Irving
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
A Journey through Texas by Frederick Law Olmsted
Mary Stuart: A Tragedy by Friedrich Schiller
Notes from the Plymouth Pulpit by Henry Ward Beecher
The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott
The Farm and the Fireside by John Blake
Works of Harriet Beecher Stowe by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Complete Works of Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Selected Poems by William Wordsworth
The Life of William Wilberforce by Robert Isaac Wilberforce
Heartsease by Charlotte M. Yonge
Practicing the habits of great leaders, writers, thinkers, and citizens is at the heart of our mission at Silverdale Press. That mission is reflected in our new 36-week language arts curriculum, Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers. Parents need not worry about doing writing instruction. We, along with the world’s greatest writers, do all the work for you. In each lesson, we profile a great writer, telling you all about his or her reading habits.
Summer is a great time for your kids to read freely. But what should they read? While it is tempting to allow kids to read whatever they want, British home education advocate Charlotte Mason advised that children should avoid “twaddle."
“They must grow up on the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.” -Charlotte Mason
Here are a few tips to for putting together a summer reading list that’s not filled with twaddle and that your kids will enjoy:
First, great leaders, writers, thinkers, and citizens have also been great readers. In putting together a reading list, it’s a good idea to imitate what the greats have read (more on this below). Second, children should also be allowed to read non-twaddle that interests them. So, let them have some input within certain parameters. Third, a variety of genres will broaden students’ minds. Include non-fiction in particular, as this genre is less likely to be filled with twaddle. There’s always something to be gleaned from reading about real people and events.
In Jacqueline Kennedy’s oral history, she talked about her husband’s reading habits—from his boyhood to his manhood. Before he was president, he was a great reader. We’ve devised a reading list template based on John F. Kennedy’s reading habits. JFK also won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Profiles in Courage.
“But he was just always reading, practically while driving a car…I think he was always looking for something in books—he was looking for something about history, or something for a quote, or what…” -Jacqueline Kennedy
The following reading guide is based on JFK’s reading habits. We provide the guidelines; you and your children get to pick the books.
In our new homeschool writing curriculum, Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers, we have students make a reading list (just like the one above) to use as free reading throughout the year. Plus, in our “Profiles in Rhetoric” section of each lesson, students will learn more about the reading and writing habits of the greats: Dorothy Sayers, Patrick Henry, Winston Churchill, and more!
Keep doing the great work of filling your child’s mind with good words!
Are you raising up a young novelist, poet, biographer, painter, dancer, actor, musician, thinker, programmer, scientist or tinkerer? All of our children have creative capacity, and all fields of knowledge require creativity. But are we helping our children’s creativity to flourish in our homes and in our homeschools? Certainly, this should be a goal.
Here are some great tips to help spark creativity in your child.
Allow for Boredom
“Mom, I’m bored!” How often do parents hear this? The good news is that you don’t have to fight boredom. Boredom promotes creativity. The typical child being raised in America today has a schedule packed with school, activities, sports, and lessons. There’s hardly a minute in the day for dreaming and thinking. If there is no down time, the mind cannot wander. The mind cannot wonder. If every minute is filled, there is no margin for creative sparks to ignite. Boredom forces kids to get creative. Boredom is fertile ground.
Carefully Select "Screen Time” Activities
How many big ideas were hatched when mindlessly scrolling through social media? Or playing a video game? Or watching Netflix? Maybe some, but probably not many. Screen time may be a salve for the boredom problem. But, much of the time, it does not promote creativity. This is not to say that all forms of technology are bad for creativity. Your young child may want to write a play, and he may feel this play is more real if it is typed on a Chromebook. If so, that’s great. The point is that parents should carefully discern which screen-related activities will engage children in creative thinking and creative expression. Encourage the activities that do, minimize those that do not.
Listen to Music
Did you know that Walt Whitman wrote “Leaves of Grass” while he listened to opera? Music can open children’s minds to creative thinking. Many studies have linked music to academic success. And many high achievers and creatives have testified that music, especially musical training, can also help with collaboration, listening skills, problem solving, and connecting ideas.
There’s a saying that inspiration is for amateurs. Creatives show up and get to work. The point here is that lightening won’t just strike your kids with creative inspiration. Children have to be creative on purpose. To be creative on purpose, you have to schedule time for it. You have to set goals. Set a number of words to write every day. Schedule an hour where you’ll draw or sketch or tinker or work on handicrafts. Creativity happens when you are dedicated to it and make time for it.
Keep your eyes and ears open for your children’s passions. When they ask you to help make creative expression possible, say yes. (So long as it’s within reason). If your daughter wants to decorate cupcakes or experiment with baking recipes, say yes. If your son wants you to take him on a photography expedition, say yes. If your child needs help printing and binding a piece they’ve written, say yes. Also, make sure that you are helping them to follow their own passions. If you want your kids to be original, let them pursue their own creative outlets.
Need some help in the creativity department? Our new writing curriculum, Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers, helps you cultivate the habits of some of the world's most creative leaders, writers, thinkers, and citizens.
For many homeschool families, the end of the academic year is approaching. In the spirit of remembering and reflection, here are some great end of the year writing prompts for children. This would be a good exercise for your last day or last week of school.
These prompts ask your students to reflect on what they learned about the habits of great leaders, writers, thinkers, and citizens—the heart of our mission here at Silverdale Press. Save their written responses for posterity or include them in your student’s portfolio.
Have fun, and keep writing!
Every week in our newsletter, we feature a family-friendly current event to help your kids cultivate the habits of great citizens. We call this Hot Chocolate and Current Events because we believe that chocolate—in any form—can help facilitate enthusiasm for learning!
This week, we’re headed to Europe to discuss the European Union’s highest court and bees. What do the two have to do with each other?
Neonicotinoids are chemicals used in agriculture. In an attempt to protect crops, these chemicals also kill insects. The European Union is a political and economic organization of 28 member states.
First, read this report from the BBC.
Second, find Luxembourg on a map (it’s where the ECJ is headquartered).
Next, answer the following discussion questions.
Are you a year-round homeschooler? Or do you take the summer months “off” of homeschool? In either case, summer can be a great time for unit studies!
Summer unit studies have many benefits:
Need some ideas for topics? Here are three that would be perfect for summer:
Science is just one of those subjects that seems to slide during the school year. With all the math worksheets and sentence diagramming, science often gets put on the back burner. And while you may have set great nature study goals, maybe the cold temperatures kept you inside.
In summer, if bedtimes are relaxed, why not do a unit on the night sky? Do you have a flower or vegetable garden? Plants make great unit studies. When the weather is warm, unit study topics abound in nature, so sprinkle in some learning with your outdoor time.
Are you headed anywhere this summer? Your travel destination would make a great unit study.
Are you going to visit a new state? Complete a unit study on that state: its history, geography, music, food, and literature. Are you going to visit a new country? Before you go, study everything from its culture to its currency. Are you going to a national park? National parks make great unit studies that can easily incorporate science and nature.
Holidays and American Revolutionary Figures
Summer is a great time to do unit studies on holidays and the American founding. America’s biggest patriotic holiday, the Fourth of July, falls right in the middle of summer. Memorial Day kicks off the summer, and Labor Day marks its end.
So, why not do a study on one of the summer holidays? Study the history of the holiday—its origins and how our cultural celebrations have changed over time. To get ready for the Fourth of July, do a study on a revolutionary figure, such as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, or Betsy Ross.
Summer should be a time for rest and rejuvenation for homeschool parents and students alike. The secret about unit studies is that they often don’t feel like work. If you are following your children’s interests, they will be delight-filled for everyone in your family.
Want your kids to know what’s in the news, but don’t know where to start? We are here to help! Our Hot Chocolate and Current Events section of our weekly newsletter is designed to help you discuss important issues of the day with your kids. The articles we choose are family-friendly. Your kids’ knowledge will expand in all areas—from vocabulary to economics to geography.
At Silverdale Press, we love elections (our flagship product was our Presidential Election Unit Study). But this week, we’re learning about a really remarkable election that elevated to office the world’s oldest elected leader. Want to learn more? Keep reading!
First, read this article from BBC News with your kids. You can also watch the related video.
Next, locate Malaysia on a map. See its country profile.
Use the following questions to discuss the article:
Around this time each year, Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss shoots to the top of best seller lists. Books do indeed make great graduation gifts. However, as William Strunk advised in his classic Elements of Style, “Avoid cliches like the plague." In writing as in gift buying, it’s a good idea to give something that your grad will love but might not expect.
In the spirit of our mission—to teach the ways of great leaders, writers, thinkers, and citizens—we recommend these great works of non-fiction for the grad on your gift list. These books are sure to guide, encourage, inspire, and instruct—because learning is for life, not just for school. Plus, there’s a little something for everyone, from your budding writer to your future lawyer to your aspiring business leader.
1) The American Spirit by David McCullough
2) Truman by David McCullough
3) Scalia Dissents by Kevin A. Ring
4) The Pleasures of Reading in the Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs
5) The Last Lion by William Manchester
6) Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
7) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
8) 7 Men by Eric Metaxas
9) How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
10) Ida Tarbell by Kathleen Brady
11) Good to Great by Jim Collins
12) 7 Women by Eric Metaxas
13) 8 Women of Faith by Michael A.G. Harkin
14) Home Economics by Wendell Berry
15) His Excellency by Joseph Ellis
16) Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
17) First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph Ellis
18) The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
19) Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
20) L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer
21) Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
22) Rachel Carson: The Writer at Work by Paul Brooks
23) Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham
24) Rising to the Challenge by Carly Fiorina
25) The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe
26) You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt
27) Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
28) Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield
29) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
30) Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Clayborne Carson
31) Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas
These books are certainly worthy of a spot on your grad's reading stack. Also, we feature many of these authors and subjects in our new homeschool writing curriculum for high school students. Even if you don’t have a graduation gift to buy, these books make great summer reading for homeschool families--parents and students alike!
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