Learning with Books, Movies, or Both?


I grew up in a house full of books and readers on an 85 acre farm in Ohio. Surrounded by old-order Amish, focused farmers, and a 5,000 acre swamp, our farm was a peaceful, lush, green bowl of quiet…perfect for reading. Of course, it was a farm, so we spent a ridiculous amount of time working, but when we weren’t working, we were reading. My father was adamantly again television, so we never had one in the house. But, we found our stories in words. My mom loved the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen while my father insisted we read Hemingway, Faulkner, and Mark Twain. In between, I found plenty of time for Louis L’Amour, Trixie Belden, and Nancy Drew. I really believe that books are a wonderful way to learn.

I still read all the time and so do my children (see picture of one of our bookshelves above). But, now I think there is also a place for videos and movies. There is something magical about snuggling up on the couch and diving into a visual world that brings alive the abstract and distant past. Our History Boxes are based on literature, but there we do think that videos provide context and are great as a preview or a review of learning.

For older kids, we like the AP History Study Guide. The videos are short but comprehensive. You can find them here: https://ap.gilderlehrman.org/

For all ages, we love the videos available at Have Fun with History. You can search by topic or time period and learn more about themes and ideas that are confusing or that you just want to know more about. You can find them here: http://www.havefunwithhistory.com/HistorySubjects/index.html

And, of course, there are movies. We love the American Girl Doll movies for showing time periods in history, the Liberty Kids movies are great for learning about colonialism, and The States teaches a bit about our country. Some of our favorite movies include:

Ruby Bridges – segregation in America

This is America Charlie Brown – a fun survey of history

American Legends – great for learning about famous stories in our past.

Johnny Tremain – about the American Revolution.

Night at the Museum – this trilogy introduces kids to historical figures.

If you have any additional suggestions, please send us a message and we will add the to the list!



American-History-in-a-Box for Adults

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 12.28.31 PMWe don’t actually have a box for adults, but we did compile a list of books that will tell some of the story of United States history. There are so many wonderful books out there (and historians who can write so well) that it was hard to choose. We picked our favorites, though. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, some give you lots of facts, and some just give you a feeling of what it must have been like to have lived through certain events. We have read all of them, and would appreciate any additional recommendations for books about our history that simply shouldn’t be missed.


1492: The Year the World Began, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

How our world changed in 1492.


1776, David McCullough

McCullough tells the story of our nation’s birth through the people, places, and ideas that helped form our country.

The Trees, Conrad Richter

The three books in this trilogy explore life as a settler in the Ohio Valley. The characters struggle to survive and thrive in often heartbreaking circumstances.

1800 – 1825

John Adams, David McCullough

This book looks at the time period and the men that shaped our country.

The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon-Reed

Gordon-Reed tells the story of Jefferson and the Hemingses from the point of view of the time period.

1826 – 1850

Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

This classic history of the Civil War is one of the best at vividly depicting the horror of this war and it’s impact on America.

Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin

A riveting look at Lincoln’s cabinet and his rise and term as president.

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Dramatic, sweeping, and engaging, this classic novel looks at life in the South during the Civil War.

1851 – 1875

The Known World, Edward P. Jones

Slavery and it’s complex variations are explored in this heartbreaking novel.


Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

This Civil War story is about a lonely and dangerous journey home for a Confederate soldier.

The Big Oyster, History on the Half Shell, Mark Kurlansky

Oysters and New York City were once deeply entwined. This book traces the rise and fall of that relationship while sharing great historical information.

1876 – 1900

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

A sweeping Western about people, places, and our Western history.

Devil in the White City, Erik Larson

The true story of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is intertwined with the story of a terrifying serial killer.

The Alienist, Caleb Carr

The search for a seriel killer allows for a close look at the Gilded Age in New York City.

1901 – 1925

Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

Tales of life in small town America.

The Color Purple, Toni Morrison

This haunting story doesn’t reference particular events in history but gives a social context for people caught in a relentlessly unfair system.

1926 – 1950

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown

A look at rowing, the Great Depression, and Hitler’s rise to power and the impact of the German Olympics in this gripping book set in the thirties.

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand

This is a story of an unlikely champion and the time period in which he lived. Learn about the thirties and forties and life during the Great Depression.

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

In 1943 Louis Zamperini’s flight went down during World War II. The story follows his incredible fight for survival when stranded at sea and then in a POW camp.

1951 – 1975

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

Two sides of living in the South in the sixties are explored through the eyes of a variety of women. 

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson

Themes of racism, World War II and internment are explored as readers follow a gripping trial in Washington.

1976 – present

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Robert Olen Butler

Stories of the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

5 Years of AfterSchoolPlans.com!

A little over five years ago, I started this website and began fumbling my way through building a business based on education, history, and the mobile family. At the time, I had a new baby and three other small children. My life felt like it consisted of cooking boring food, training little people to use the bathroom, and answering a million questions every day. I also played with dolls and matchbox cars a lot.

I had my children later in life, so I had already had a career. I started off working in higher education, ultimately working as the Director of Hoyas Unlimited at Georgetown University (the athletic alumni association). From there, I earned a degree in elementary education and began teaching. My final job, teaching U.S. History to middle schoolers, was my favorite job ever.

When my husband joined the Foreign Service and we moved to Tbilisi, Georgia, I plunged into parenting and exploring our posts. There, I taught a U.S. History course to high school students in my dining room. We talked about the our history, our world, and connections between what we were learning and what my students had seen in their expat adventures. We ate brownies, read books, and had wonderful conversations. I realized how much I missed teaching. Then, my family moved to Ecuador where then to Ukraine. I loved being at home with my kids but I missed teaching and creating and thinking about the world outside.

I had continued to stay involved with students by writing learning plans, lists of books, games, and websites to challenge, inspire, and motivate them. I created a website to provide the plans on a wider basis and then also started to create U.S. History programs to provide a resource for expat students in international schools that didn’t provide American history courses.

Finally, I had found my place. I loved writing curriculum, reading books, finding resources, and pulling together packets of materials to inspire and motivate students. I loved trying out my lessons on my kids and getting feedback from friends. For the last five years I have continued to add to my offerings and to expand my website.

I also love working with other entrepreneurs, sharing ideas and brainstorming about best practices. I’ve met some amazing people and dear friends through my business. I have been able to stay at home with my children and do something I love. One day, I hope to return to teaching and I’ll be able to show that I was involved with my subject every day. I feel lucky to have a job I love and that I can do no matter where I live.

There have been challenges, for sure. I have been made aware of many glaring weaknesses in my approach and my efforts. I’m not a great businesswoman, my marketing and advertising is pretty basic, I spend my time creating instead of selling. But, I’m working on my weaknesses, celebrating my strengths, and growing every day.

Thank you for your support. Thank you for your business. Thank you for reading.


Education Allowance for FS families

The Supplementary Instruction Allowance, Tell Me More!

What is it?

The Supplementary Instruction Allowance provides up to $4,100 annually, per child to help foreign service and military families cover gaps in their child’s education while living overseas. Full details are in the DSSR 276.9, but here’s a quick summary of what’s covered:

  • U.S. History, Literature and Civics courses: Applicable when the child’s school at post does not offer academic subjects generally offered by public schools in the U.S., such as U.S. history, civics, American Literature, computers, English grammar, AP or IB Courses.
  • Foreign Language Learning: Applicable when the child’s school at post offers its curriculum in a foreign language which the child does not know well enough for progress in the curriculum.
  • Remedial Tutoring: Applicable when the child’s school at post requires additional instruction to enable the child to (1) enter a grade, remain in the same grade, or complete a grade in the school; or (2) successfully complete an academic course in order to progress to the next level in the sequence of courses. Also, when the child’s school at post documents that a child returning to post following authorized/ordered departure/evacuation requires additional instruction to successfully complete the current school year.
  • Gifted and Talented Programs: Applicable when the child’s school at post does not offer a Gifted and Talented (GT), or equivalent, program. Funds can be used for a GT academics-only. A letter from the school or results from a standardized GT test must be provided.

Who Qualifies?

Foreign Service Families posted overseas with DoS, USAID, and other agencies that qualify under the DSSR. Military Families posted overseas with children attending non-DoD schools qualify through the Non-DoD Schools Program (NDSP). Double-check with your Embassy FMO, USAID EXO or DoD NDSP liaison to ensure eligibility and pre-approval of expenditures.

Need More Info?

We’ve written this article as a baseline of information to use when approaching the proper stewards of the allowances. Check out this great FAQ page from DoS or talk with your FMO, EXO or NDSP liaison at post. You can also contact the Office of Allowances or NDSP Administration directly. They are all wonderful resources for figuring out how the allowances apply to your unique situation!


Leah Evans is an EFM on her fifth post abroad in Mexico City, Mexico. She is certified in elementary education and in middle school science and social studies. She offers American-History-in-a-Box courses for expat families at www.afterschoolplans.com.

Christianna Pangalos is an EFM with a background in International Development. She has nearly eight years of experience in Education and has taught early readers in low-resourced schools and middle and high school students in History and English. She created Twiga Tutors and you can find out more at www.twigatutors.com. She currently lives in Africa.