Not just a Charlotte Mason timeline, learn exactly what a Book of Centuries is, how to make one, and how to use one. Includes free printable copy!
“A Book of Centuries is just a Charlotte Mason timeline book.”
I cringe when I hear those words. Like a grizzled fisherman casting his line into the water, my mind pulls up a dusty memory of a thick manila-covered book from Sonlight.
A dark line runs horizontally across the inside pages while evenly spaced vertical lines mark the years. My daughter wrinkles her nose as she lops off yet another timeline figure sticker from its sheet and slaps it on the correct page.
Another memory: As I run out the door of my 4th grade classroom, my childhood self glances at the sheets of heavy paper stuck along the top of the wall, large images of stately men with white wigs scattered stapled in seemingly random places. I have no idea who the drawings represent, and they are just another classroom decoration I ignore.
Neither of those timelines helps get a sense of how events relate to each other in a meaningful way.
And neither of those are a Charlotte Mason Book of Centuries.
What is a Book of Centuries
The Book of Centuries began as a way for children to record the history they learned at the British Museum. While it’s a way for students to keep track of time, it isn’t a “timeline”.
Way back in the early 1900s, a Mrs. Epps was involved with Charlotte Mason’s organization. She taught her students quite a bit of history by studying the exhibits at the British Museum.
Mrs. G. M. Bernau took that idea and ran with it, creating what we now call a Century Book, or Book of Centuries
“Up to that time we had put our dates and drawings in our exercise books with lines on each page, but in 1914 we started the present interleaved century book.”G. M. Bernau, “Century Books” PUS Diamond Jubilee Magazine, p 42
The Book of Centuries has one century per two-page spread, typically with a lined page facing a blank page. This stays the same throughout the time periods we record.
We don’t change it to 25 years per two-page spread in recent decades, and we don’t cover 500 years per page for far past centuries.
We have so much more of a record of recent events than we do of events that took place long ago that it will be tempting to do that. Resist the urge and stay strong.
What goes in the Century Book?
Every child’s ‘Book of Centuries’ should bear witness to ‘a liberal and generous diet of History’…The children should be free to enter on their pages events and drawings which have interested them in their wide general reading of History (that ‘inexhaustible storehouse of ideas’) and of Literature.The Book of Centuries and How to Keep One by G. M. Bernau
If we have facing pages of lined and blank paper, we can write events on the lined paper and draw objects on the facing blank side.
What exactly should we put in these books? We want our children to take ownership of them, so they should have the final say in what they enter and draw, but here are some ideas:
- history from all areas they have read about or seen, whether or not they studied it during lessons
- drawings of artifacts from museum field trips
- copied drawings from books
- household implements from the Bronze Age
- grave finds
Because they choose what they feel is important and draw it in themselves, kids are engaged with their Book of Centuries. Students are more engaged when they look back on those previous entries than if they only slapped stickers in that show what other people think are the important things to remember.
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What age is the Book of Centuries for?
From ten years old and onwards the P.U.S. children make these books, ‘putting in illustrations from all history studied during the term (Bible, British, and General History.’The Book of Centuries and How to Keep One by G. M. Bernau
If you’re freaking out that your 7-year-old still hasn’t started her Book of Centuries, relax.
You don’t need to worry about this in the early years of a child’s school days.
Kids don’t begin the Book of Centuries until they’re about 10 years old, and starting older is OK too.
If you want to start one with younger children, create a family version — one all members of the family contribute to in some way.
READ: DO WE HAVE TO START LESSONS AT 6 YEARS OLD?
How to Make the Book of Centuries
If you can find a book with opposite lined and blank pages, that’s the best; however, I haven’t been able to find one in all of my searches.
There are two other options, then: search through your school supply stash and choose a composition book you picked up at the last Back-to-School sale for 75c, or design one on your computer and print it out.
Option 1: Composition Book
A composition book is cheap, it’s already bound, and if you want to pretty it up your student can draw a custom cover on a heavy sheet of paper and glue it to the front. Just be sure there are at least 21 lines per page.
Now the downside — (you knew there had to be a downside) All the pages are lined, and it can be annoying to draw on lined paper.
Option 2: On the Computer
Printing uses the cost of ink, which can be expensive depending on your printer type, and means you have to bind it.
Choices abound for binding, from grabbing a lonely and unused 3-ring binder (blow off that layer of dust first!) to having it spiral bound at your local Office Max.
If you’re feeling perky, here’s a handwork idea: Have your kids bind the printed pages into a book as a summer project! (We can dream, right?)
A picture’s worth a thousand words, so before I explain it and lose you, here’s an image from the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection:
If you use a composition book, start from the end and work your way backward.
Leave a few pages at the very back of the book, about 10, for maps of countries or perhaps cuttings of recent discoveries. Anything you glue in should be on very thin paper or else your book will become too thick to close before you know it.
Then on the pages before these write “21st Century A.D.” or “21st Century C.E.” (your choice) at the top of either the right or left side page. Then work backward in the book — 20th Century C.E., 19th Century C.E., etc.
Random factoid: C.E. = Common Era, B.C.E. = Before Common Era and they are used in place of the Christian terms A.D. (anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) and B.C. (Before Christ)
Want a done-for-you Book of Centuries? Grab your copy here!
As I go further back in time I tend to forget if 1377 is in the 13th century or 14th, so I like to also write the years the century covers, like so:
20th Century C.E. (1901-2000)
Go until the 1st Century C.E., then continue from “1st Century B.C.E.” until “54th Century B.C.E.”
“Year Zero,”, or “0 Century,” doesn’t exist, so make sure you skip it.
Yeah, I didn’t the first time and had to look it up. Because we’re always learning, right?
If you were lucky enough to find a book with lined and blank facing pages, then write the centuries on the lined pages. If you create this in a word-processing document or a composition book, then keep it consistent (and simple!) and write the years on the same side of the page (left or right) for all the centuries. In other words, if you’re going to print it out keep the lined pages on the same side all through the book.
Use the first few pages for the prehistoric times, like Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Early Iron Ages. These are best kept apart from the rest of the book since different regions passed through these periods at different times.
Now for the more tedious part:
For the C.Es, write a small figure 5 at the end of the first line, followed on down by 10, 15, 20, etc on the next lines. After 50, draw a heavier line across the page. For a nice visual, you can draw it in a bright color like red.
Then continue with 55, 60, and so on until you get to 95.
In the B.C.E.s you’ll do the opposite — the numbers will be at the beginning of the lines and start at 100, then 95, 90, etc and ending at 5.
Each of the lines will cover 5 years. When you write in an event, visually divide the lines into 5 segments or use light pencil marks.
Remember – if you don’t want to spend the time making one, the Resource Library has a free printable Book of Centuries.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Don’t get hung up on perfection. If you make a mistake, correct it and move on.
Take a look at the writing on the right side of the 15th century A.D. image. The person who did it started the numbers one line too high and then had to write darker and scribble out a bit to put the correct dates on the lines.
That’s okay. We don’t expect perfection. Remember, done is better than perfect.
A few more hints from Mrs. Bernau:
- Don’t overcrowd any page with drawings and entries. Leave room for something you may want to add later.
- Always draw in pencil first, very lightly, so you can easily erase the pencil marks showing.
- Write clearly and neatly
- Never be tempted to take two pages for a century that seems to interest you more, as it quite does away with the object of the book of the centuries.
- Heading the pages is rather a wearisome business, but if you do a few each week, it will not seem so long. (I love her Victorian language! Translated that means don’t try to do it all in one sitting.)
- Write events in the year they happened
- Put famous people near the date they were famous
Have a set day to put entries in it, maybe twice a month, but don’t discourage kids from adding to it if they want to do it more often, especially after a museum visit!
It’s so easy to become rule-bound, but there are no rules.
And now you’re ready to create your own!
Let your kids take ownership of it, so their own book doesn’t become an unused, dusty memory.
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