This past school year my oldest and I completed the 4 year Story of the World history cycle. My younger children joined in as they started homeschooling where ever we happened to be in the cycle. Last year I studied Modern History with my 4th grader, 2nd grader, and kindergartner. My toddler listened in as well.
Product: The Story of the World curriculum
Author: Susan Wise Bauer
Company: The Well Trained Mind
Recommended Age Range: Elementary
Time Required: about 30 to 90 minutes per week (depending on how many activities you do)
Difficulty: Written in an easy to understand way even for early elementary. Activity Book contains so many ideas that it would be overwhelming if one were to try to do all of them, so realize that this isn’t expected.
Cost: $40 to $75 per volume depending on whether you choose to purchase digital or physical copies and how much supplemental material you intend to include. (My personal preference is a physical book (~$13) and a digital copy of the activity guide ($27). I did not use the tests or audio versions.)
As someone who did not retain much of the history I learned in school, I found this series to be very approachable and made history easy to learn. The author wrote in a way that would be entertaining to children while still being historically accurate. I feel that my fourth grader and I now have a fairly solid foundation in all eras of history. I also think that this curriculum is a great value for the price, particularly for the main history text and the accompanying Activity Book. While I have no experience with other history curricula to compare it with, overall I am very satisfied with this Story of the World curricula.
How We Use It
I like to prepare for our 36 week school year over the summer using our homeschool crate system. To prep Story of the World, I print out a copy of all the mapwork and chapter summaries (or timeline labels for Volume 4) for each child. For this reason, I recommend purchasing the digital version of the curriculum from the Well Trained Mind website. I like to print two pages per sheet of the maps so that they fit better in a composition book.
I then cut out all the pieces for each of my children and divide them into the 36 weeks of social science folders in my crates. Since there are typically 42 chapters and only 36 weeks of school, I double up on chapters for the first 6 weeks. Week one contains Chapter 1 and 2 , Week two contains Chapters 3 and 4, etc. Week 7 is chapter 13, which leads to the book being complete on Week 36.
If I like them, I also sometimes print out the coloring page for a given chapter (also with the two pages per sheet print option). I include those in the folders as well.
Over the summer, I also get a composition book for each of my children. Then, as we complete the work for each chapter during the school year, I glue it into the composition book. I also have my older children write a sentence summarizing something interesting they learned in the chapter. For my younger children, I either write for them or put some dashed writing for them to practice tracing. For Volume 4, rather than just adding the material to the composition books sequentially, I label each page with a year and glue the timeline labels on the appropriate date.
On any given week, this is how our family typically does a Story of the World chapter. It may vary slightly from week to week.
- Monday: Typically, I like to start our week with our history reading. That gives us the whole rest of the week to be inspired by what we learn in case we want to plan any hands-on activities or additional reading to supplement the lesson. Usually I read-aloud the chapter while my kids eat lunch. Afterwards, I have them tell me one sentence of something interesting that they learned and I write it in a notebook for them to copy into their composition books later. This whole process takes about 30 minutes.
- Tuesday or Wednesday: One day a week, my kids get to take turns picking a movie. While they watch, they complete their coloring for the week. This always includes their history summary or timeline pictures and any additional history coloring pages I want them to do. Sometimes this includes lapbook material for language arts or science as well. My kids think this is a treat.
- Thursday: While the kids are sleeping, I set out their map work for the chapter and colored pencils on our kitchen counter. I also glue all the history coloring they did into their composition book. I write their copywork sentences that they choose onto a post-it note for each one to copy into their composition books. At some point between breakfast and lunch, we will do the mapwork as a group. I will then glue the maps into their books and they will copy in their sentences. This process takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Friday, Saturday, or Sunday: If there is some fun activity we want to do to supplement our learning, we will typically do this at the end of the week or on the weekend. This might include an art project, reading related picture books, or watching a documentary. This definitely does not happen for every chapter. Often times we will use these days to catch up on our map or copywork if we ended falling behind during the week.
To summarize, here are some pros and cons I’ve found over the past four years of using the Story of the World curricula.
- Very thorough
- Easy to understand
- Highlights entertaining, interesting, or amusing aspects of history
- Works well for a wide variety of ages
- Geography map work reinforces history lesson
- Activity Book is a treasure trove of information: Contains review questions, narration exercises, additional reading suggestions for various age groups, map work, coloring pages, and suggestions for hands-on activities to bring the learning to life.
- Audiobook is narrated by Jim Weiss who is a fantastic storyteller. We didn’t use this option often, but my kids enjoy so many Jim Weiss stories that when we did, they loved listening to the familiar voice.
- A book of tests can be purchased separately. We didn’t use these, but it is nice to have the option.
- The Activity Book is so amazing, it can make you feel like you are not doing enough. We only completed a small fraction of the activity books.
- There are some sections that my younger kids in particular thought were boring. I’m not sure another curriculum could have covered as much information and made it more entertaining, just be aware that not all kids will find all of history thrilling.
Other Factors to Consider
- This is neither a Pro nor a Con in my opinion, but the text is written with a slightly Christian emphasis, particularly in Volume 1: Ancient Times. However, it is so slight that we are allowed to use samples from this curriculum with our public charter school. Note that various world religions are discusses from a fair and informative standpoint.
- Also, be aware that this book does describe tragic events in history. The author is sensitive to the young audience, but just know that she does not gloss over events completely. For this reason, Volume 4 is recommended only for kids in fourth grade and older. (I chose to read it to all my kids, but there were definitely some topics like the Holocaust and nuclear bombings that seemed a little heavy for my younger kids.)
Overall, I am extremely pleased with our first attempt through a four year history cycle using The Story of the World. Next year I am planning to try out Pandia Press’s History Quest. However, I will happily return to The Story of the World curriculum if I am dissatisfied with it in any way.