Question: How can I begin either a Book of Centuries or a Timeline for my young kids?
“Telling history through things is what museums are for. And because the British Museum has for over 250 years been collecting things from all round the globe, it is not a bad place to start if you want to use objects to tell a history of the world.” 1
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum
In 1906, Frances Epps, an acquaintance of Mason’s from her days at Bishop Otter College, wrote a series of articles about the British Museum for the Parents’ Review. She took her readers on a virtual walk through the neighborhood of the British Museum, past its gardens and front doors and through its many rooms. She described the artifacts contained there, bringing back to life the days of old from which the objects came. In her articles, she advised her readers to begin for themselves a museum notebook.
“Before starting on the study of the different departments, will you prepare your museum note-book? When you hear that you are going to examine specimens of brother man’s work, from all over the world, from all time - six thousand years ago (and more) till the present - you will feel you want a note-book in which to enter what you see and learn, so that it may all remain distinct and clear in your memory. This is the plan of our museum note-book.” 3
General History. The British Museum for Children, by Frances Epps, chapter 8. Keep a Book of Centuries, putting in illustrations from all the history studied during the term. 4
Mason’s students read and narrated from The British Museum for Young People. Sometimes they viewed the objects at the British Museum; other times they looked at photographs of the objects and sketched a rendering of them—as well as others from their many history books each term—into their Book of Centuries. Miss Mason employed these ‘time tools’, as Laurie Bestvater in The Living Page calls them, to help the children establish a ‘graphic panorama’ of history in their mind. They would begin to see where certain objects, people and events belonged in history and to form a personal relationship with the people who lived then through an understanding of their objects of daily life, their weaponry, their art and such. These efforts helped to bridge that considerable river of time and allow the child to ‘see’ themselves alongside Alexander the Great, Pericles or the great Pharaohs, to imagine life in those faraway days, and to identify with and understand these distant citizens as persons, and not merely names and dates. It helped the child cultivate their own sense of belonging to the stream of history, as they considered objects both similar and dissimilar to their own lives.
“What years and years” you will say, as you head your pages: some, a great many, may always remain empty; but, little by little, as you study the collections, traveling round the world from Egypt to Japan; from Assyria to Mexico, and passing through the centuries from prehistoric times to the present, you will add to your store and make the old times live again.” 6 [emphasis mine]
For example, a sketch of prehistoric pottery excavated from the site of the Lake Dwellers of Switzerland suggests a lesson from the chapter on Prehistoric Times in The British Museum for Young People.
Below you can see my own renderings of the pottery in my own Book of Centuries and the corresponding paragraph from the book.
Our family has been enjoying the radio series, A History of the World in 100 Objects produced by the BBC Radio 4 and available online for streaming. The series is hosted by British Museum director, Neil MacGregor, and he has authored the corresponding book of the same name. MacGregor has selected 100 objects from the British Museum that together tell a story of the sweep of time and convey something significant about each particular epoch.
Another son, interested in weaponry, is using DK’s History of the World in 1,000 Objects to add drawings in his Book of Centuries, drawings that tell a bit of the story of warfare through the ages.
By no means, are these the only tools at our disposal to awaken a love for the story of mankind. Mason made good use of literature, poetry, folksongs, art, architecture, geography, historical fiction, biography and citizenship to reach such ends.
What are you and your family doing to roll out a graphic panorama of history?
- Read The Living Page by Laurie Bestvater. It is an invaluable resource.
- Read Miss Bernau’s article, “The Book of Centuries” at http://amblesideonline.org/PR/PR34p720BookofCenturies.shtml.
- Buy a Book of Centuries already made:
- Or, make your own. Some sites (like SimplyCharlotteMason.com) have downloadable forms, or follow the directions in Bernau’s article.
- Start one for yourself or start a family book.
- Schedule a reminder at the end of each day, “Is there anything to add to our Book of Centuries?”
Ex) you read a poem by John Milton so you add his name to the 17th Century page.
Ex) your family is reading Little House on the Prairie; you look up a photo and sketch a cooking ‘spider’ onto your page for the 19th Century.
- Keep it readily available, in sight; a Book of Centuries is a life-long reading companion.
2 Parents’ National Educational Union. An organization of parents interested in matters of education; they advanced Mason’s approach and her vision of a ‘liberal education for all.’
3 Epps, Frances. “The British Museum for Children.” Parents’ Review Vol. 17, 1906. Charlotte Mason Digital Collection. Redeemer University College.
4 PNEU Programmes No. 90 for Form II, III & IV. www.amblesideonline.org
5 Epps, Frances. The British Museum for Young People. London: A.&C. Black, Ltd, 1932: 2.
6 Epps. Parents’ Review: 270.
7 Bernau, G.M. “The Book of Centuries.” Parents’ Review Vol. 34, 1923: 720-724.
8 Anderson, Eve. Book of Centuries. Charlotte Mason Digital Collection. Redeemer University College.
9 PNEU Exam Questions for Form II. www.amblesideonline.org