Thanksgiving really is my favorite holiday. I love the cooking, the eating, and the focus on family. There isn’t much pressure and you don’t have to spend a ton of money. The main point is to give thanks and to embrace family. Who wouldn’t love that?

We also celebrate the story of Squanto, the American Indian who helped the pilgrims with their first harvest in 1620. The settlers were struggling and many died before Squanto and his tribe, the Wampanoags, helped the Europeans learn to fish, hunt, and grow their own food. In 1621, to celebrate their harvest, the Pilgrims invited the tribe for a three day feast. While many president’s, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln recognized specific days for Thanksgiving, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday in November as the official holiday that we celebrate today.

The Thanksgiving meal can vary across regions but often includes a turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. As one of the biggest holidays for travel, it is estimated that in the U.S. around 44 million people will travel by car or air to celebrate the day with family and friends.

We find it is a great time to reflect on the challenges faced by the Pilgrims, the lives of the Native Americans, and the positive and negative results of those interactions. For kids, we recommend these books:

  • The Story of the Pilgrims, Katherine Ross
  • The Very First Americans, Karen Ashrose
  • Squanto’s Journey, Joseph Brubac

For adults we recommend:

  • Book of Thanksgiving, Jessica Faust
  • The First Thanksgiving Feast, Joan Anderson
  • 162: A New Look at Thanksgiving, Catherine O’Neill Grace

For activities, we love to do a Thanksgiving tree and have everyone write what they are thankful for on leaves to add to the tree (usually a cut out on the wall).

Many families go around the table before the meal and everyone shares their thanks. It is also a fun time to read about the pilgrims, about Native Americans, and about life in early America. IMG_5041



Afterschooling is actually a word. Coined by homeschool parents, it is generally used by those who send their children to traditional schools. Most parents afterschool whether they use the term or not. They read with their children, teach them to cook, go on science expeditions, visit museums, talk about politics…the list goes on and on.

Generally, afterschooling teaches new skills and concepts or delves deeper into ideas learned in school. It rarely takes the form of worksheets, lectures, and videos and instead focuses on skills, experiences, and literature. Homeschool parents already know about the value of teaching by doing, seeing, testing, and reading. Many traditional parents who want to realize some of the outcomes from the homeschool movement while still sending their children to traditional schools practice afterschooling.

The typical way to develop an afterschool plan is to figure out something that you or your child are interested in and want to learn more about. Then, you do. There isn’t that much planning or organizing and there definitely isn’t much testing.

We try to emulate this method with our American-History-in-a-Box program. We provide rich and interesting books, fun and interactive games, and an activity book that, while standards-based, encourages children to think independently and actively engage with their topics. We do include coloring pages and word searches, especially for younger children, but we also include project ideas and critical thinking exercises. For a child who balks at paper and pen? Skip the activities in the book. Read about the Standards and then talk about the concepts, find more books, visit museums, debate. Hopefully, our boxes provide the first step, the motivation, the inspiration to learn and discover.

I grew up an a farm (true afterschooling) and learned by doing. I love the idea of being cognizant that kids are always learning and that we can guide that process (or let them guide us). If we think something is important, like learning history, we can share that with kids and help them connect that subject with life as it is and will be.


Personalized History for your Family

Expansion packs are ready and I’ve already started sending them out! While our American-History-in-a-Box sets follow the U.S. Standards and help children learn the major concepts required in U.S. schools, our expansion packs go more in depth in a personalized way to capture the interest and excitement of our kids.

Write to us and we’ll create a personalized expansion pack. We can create a Native American pack focusing on tribes from your home state, a Women in History pack focusing on specific interests or specific people that are important to you, or a pack that focuses on any minority group in the United States. With so many inspiring, important, relevant, and personal events and people in our history, we can’t include them all into one course for all children. With these expansion packs, we focus on the same timeline but use specific people, events, and ideas that connect to your interests or connections.

You will get 5 – 7 books mailed directly to you (some may be gently used if your state or topic is more obscure and the books are currently out of print) and an emailed activity pack with 20 – 30 pages of activities and one larger activity designed to get your child active, moving, and making connections.

We also have Standard Expansion packs on major topics including:

  • Native American History
  • African American History
  • American Women in History

We loved putting these packs together but, as always, the hardest part was picking the people, events, books, and activities for the pack. If we had our way, there would be 100 books covering a multitude of people and events. It is so hard to pick and choose when there are so many influential and inspiring people out there. But, young children looking for an introduction to the beauty of history shouldn’t be overwhelmed. This is a drop of sand and an entry that will hopefully encourage children to dig deeper and further into history as they grow and learn. If they are inspired now, they will want to learn about more and more. That’s our goal.

Email us at to let us know how we can personalize an expansion pack for you.

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Expansion Packs!

american indianWe are so excited about our new Expansion Packs! With your purchase, you will get a stack of books (sent directly) and an emailed activity packet with some fun activities as well as interactive activities designed to get your kid thinking, moving, and analyzing history. So far we have packs on:

Native American History

African American History

Women in History

History through Biography

We can also personalize packs so they fit your child’s particular interests or needs. For instance, if you are from Arizona, we can add books about Southwest Indian groups to your expansion pack. If your child loves music, we can look at how historical events affected the music at the time. Perhaps your child loves biographies? We can create a pack that looks at the personal connection between influential people in our history and their perspective of major events. Each pack allows your child to delve deeper into the required concepts from different points of view.

Your child will connect with our history in a deeper and more meaningful way. Purchase a traditional American-History-in-a-Box and then add as many expansion packs as you like. If you have already purchased a box, just select the expansion pack you would like. We will continue to adhere to the Standards of Learning and place the concepts in the larger timeline of our history.

Send an email to for more information.

Bring History Alive at Home

We have compiled a list of activities to do at home as you talk about some of the major concepts in American History. You don’t need fancy classes or dense textbooks to share history, you just need context, discussion, and connection. Here are some of our suggestions:

Summer Activity #1: Discovery of America Read about Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America. Then, plan your own exploration. You can explore your neighborhood, park, or another area close to you. First, plan out your trip and pack the essentials (sunscreen, snacks, pen, paper, water, etc.) Then, create a map while you explore. Try to make three new discoveries and add them to the map (cool climbing trees, new playgrounds, awesome ice cream shops). After you finish your map, share it with a friend so they can retrace your steps.…

Summer Activity #2: Colonialism Read about colonialism and what life was like for children in the new world. Then, try to live like a colonial family for a day. Don’t use any electricity. Make your meals from scratch (you can use appliances simply because they are safer), see if you can make some clothes using a needle and thread, clean the whole house (remember, no electricity) and then read by candlelight before going to bed. Of course, you won’t be able to use any technology and you will have to walk instead of using a car. Fold a piece of paper in half. On one side, list the things you did that a colonial child might have done. On the other side, list things you did that are possible because of modern conveniences. Discuss the differences, by candlelight, of course!…/sit…/Childhood/Daily%20Life.htm

Summer Activity #3: Revolution Read about the American Revolution and then learn about why the tax system upset the colonists. You need a parent and hopefully some siblings to do this activity. Each child should have a cup full of candy. Your mom or dad will be the tax collector working for the king. Every time you do something fun, your parent will collect a tax (three or four pieces of candy each time) and put them on a plate in a central location. If you run out of your payment, you have to go to jail (you can design the jail if you like, but make sure it isn’t fun or nice!) Play this game all day and then discuss how it feels to have high taxes that don’t feel fair. Parents: if you can invite a bunch of kids over, this is a great way to play the game:…/

Summer Activity #5: American Indians. You could spend a full year learning about the first Americans because there were many tribes living in different geographical, cultural, and physical locations. They had different methods of gathering food and building shelters as well as different cultures and traditions. For this activity, pick an area or tribe that you want to learn more about, try to read some books, and do research online. Try to learn about daily life for this group of people. Then, get outside! Most native Americans made baskets for transporting and holding food, water, and other items. Can you figure out a way to make a basket using just what you find outside (sticks, mud, grass, leaves, etc.)? Do your best and then see if you can actually use it to transport anything! Finally, think about how it would be if you had to make all of your own bags and baskets! Connect to today: can you find a way to make your own bags or baskets to avoid using environmentally unfriendly items?

Summer Activity #6: Immigration. Can you find anyone in your family history who immigrated to the United States from another country? Summer is a great time to talk to relatives! Make a list of relatives that might know about your family history. Call them and ask them about those that came before you. See if you can make a family tree and include the dates your relatives were born, the dates they died, and where they came from. Share the final document with anyone who helped you on the project.

If possible, pick one family member who was an immigrant and do some research. You can talk to relatives, research reasons for immigration during that time period, and read books about immigration from that country. Why did your relative immigrate? How did it change their life? Would you have done the same thing?

Then, learn about what it is like for people to immigrate today. Ask your friends and parents to put you in touch with an immigrant and ask them why they came, what they think of the U.S., and any other questions you can think of. How might the experience of today connect with the experience your relatives might have had?


Summer Activity #7: The Civil War. There are so many great resources out there for learning about the Civil War. Read a few books. Watch a movie or two. Then, put it into action by making hard tack. Try to eat it for lunch (or only eat hard tack all day). Can you imagine getting buy on this meal for days on end? While cold? Sick? Fighting a war?…/article/bake-civil-war-hardtack/

Summer Activity #8: Industrialization Learn about industrialization in America here ( and then see if you can find a chore or job to “industrialize” in your home. Can you make tacos for dinner and create an assembly line with your family members to make them? Can you mechanize the way you make your bed? Can you invent a machine to sort the laundry?

Summer Activity #9 World War I: Read a book about World War I and then participate in an online graphic activity about trench warfare here:    Discuss the challenges of trench warfare for the average soldier with a family member.

Summer Activity #10 The Roaring Twenties: The roaring twenties were a time to celebrate for many Americans. Read about this time period and then learn how to dance the Charleston ( If you can, host a “Roaring Twenties” party and encourage people to dress up as flappers while you dance the night (or afternoon) away!

Summer Activity #11 The Great Depression: After Black Friday, the Great Depression challenged the USA like never before. With one out of every four Americans unemployed, families struggled to feed, house, and clothe their families. Read about this time period (…/ushistory/greatdepression/) and then write up a plan for what your family would do if everyone lost their jobs and couldn’t get another one for a year.

Summer Activity #12 World War II There is so much to learn about World War II but here we will focus on the home front. What was life like for those in the U.S. during the war? Look at these posters ( and then create one of your own.

Summer Activity #13 Civil Rights Our country is still working on civil rights, but we all should know about Martin Luther King, Jr., and his speech, “I have a Dream.” Watch the speech and then tell someone what it means to you.

Summer Activity #14 (Final) The Cold War Communism and Capitalism. What do those mean? Look up the terms and then look for references to these terms in a newspaper or on online news sources. See if you can learn a little bit about the relationship between Russia and the United States today by reading the news. Compare with how it was during the Cold War (more information here:…/what-was-the-cold-w…/) Compare and contrast with a parent or friend.

Learning about States and Capitals

We are back at our favorite site for learning about the States and Capitals! Washington DC is tourist central and a quick stroll along the National Mall will bring you face to face with important and moving memorials as well as a variety of license plates on cars parked along the borders.

We print off a map with each state listed (see below) and mark each state off that we find with a highlighter. The goal, of course, is to highlight the entire map. You can play this game during road trips, of course, but we like to do it while visiting historical sites. It’s great to see that people from all over our country congregate around the sites important to our history and our country.

As a bonus, we like to imagine what the people are like who come to visit our nation’s capital. We look at a minivan and imagine a family from Oregon visiting and marveling not just at the sites, but at the heavy heat and humidity pressing down on us in August. We wonder if the pickup truck from Ohio brought a farmer curious to visit the American history museum and look at the old farm equipment. It is stereotyping, of course, but a good way to learn about the different states. We carry our state and capital flashcards ( that we buy on Amazon to learn a little about each state and to help us think about the people who live there. We talk about these points when thinking about each state:

  1. What is the geography like in each state?
  2. How does the geography affect the way people live (entertainment options, livelihoods, transportation options, etc.)
  3. What are some of the notable historical events from the state?
  4. Who are some famous people from this state?
  5. What are some tourist sites in the state and what would we visit first given the chance?

There are many ways to weave conversations about the geography of our country into our learning. Being a tourist and visiting touristy spots are wonderful jumping off points for these discussions.