I am beginning my reviews of children’s history curricula with Veritas Press History. If you’ve missed the posts leading up to this, I explain here why it’s so important that Christian children learn to love history, here why history must be taught from a Christian perspective, and here what kind of a history curricula fosters a child’s love for history. (Note: This series is applicable to much more than homeschooling families, as I explain here.)
I chose to begin with Veritas because it was the first classical, chronological history program to which I was exposed. (I was hired to teach it at a school.) It is a popular choice for both classical Christian schools and homeschooling families. This review will confine itself to Veritas’ grammar stage (elementary school) program. I hope to review Veritas’ Omnibus (for 7th-12th grade) at the end of this series, since it has a separate set of pros and cons.
I’d like to add an aside here before I begin. I know a lot of homeschooling families who choose to do history using a book list of “living books” rather than a curriculum. I would recommend using a curriculum for the following reasons. First, there aren’t a lot of history “living books” written (or written well) on a elementary level. (If you want to read your kids Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, great! But I doubt many will do that. And then…that’s only Rome.) Second, the books that are written usually don’t contain a Christian worldview (see this post on why I believe this is vitally important). Third, if you don’t live near a large library that has well-stocked children’s history and historical fiction sections (or you aren’t willing to spend a lot of money on individual books), gathering all those books can be an arduous and frustrating process. If you can’t find all of them, then it means you are leaving gaps in your child’s knowledge. Therefore, our family does use a lot of “living books” (historical fiction and history non-fiction written for children, often with pictures of the places and people we are studying) to supplement our history study, but I recommend a stand-alone “core” which includes a chronological study of history from a Christian worldview. Veritas is the first of various Christian cores that I will review.
This program is designed for 2nd through 6th grade with a five year overview of the history of Western Civilization. The first volume (designed for 2nd grade) covers The Old Testament and Ancient Egypt. The second volume is New Testament, Greece & Rome. Volume three covers the Middle Ages, Renaissance & Reformation. Volume four is Explorers to 1815. The final volume is 1815 to the Present.
For each of these time periods, Veritas offers a Teacher’s Manual (which includes reproducible worksheets, tests, activity pages, and some additional information), Timeline Cards, and a CD of the songs they’ve written to go along with the cards. The Timeline Cards include a piece of art and an event or person (and sometimes a date) on the front and pertinent facts and a list of further resources (such as encyclopedias, “living” books, and other history books) on the back. The style is fairly simple, with the child memorizing the card events in order (using the song…or not), learning the short list of facts on the back of the card, and then filling in a worksheet (answers in complete sentences) about the facts. The black and white Teacher’s Manual will often have additional information and activities. The child is tested over the card facts at the end of the week (or whenever you choose to administer the test).
Veritas also sells many of their recommended resources and all the historical fiction books that they recommend. Most resources can also be purchased other places, such as Amazon, though a few are difficult to find elsewhere or are written exclusively for/by Veritas. Veritas has also recently lowered the prices on their non-exclusive books to compete with Amazon and other internet sellers (a smart move, as their books used to be much higher priced). They’ve also just come out with a few exclusive history books, Pages of History, which is two volumes of historical fiction I didn’t care for (I will try to review that separately because my explanation will take more than one sentence.) and Bede’s Histories for K and 1st, which I haven’t seen yet. You can read more about this program at the Veritas Press website.
- Decidedly Christian worldview
- Time tested (One of the earliest classical Christian history programs and is used in a lot of Christian schools)
- Leads directly up to the Omnibus program, if you’re planning to use that (This is an obvious one since they’re by the same company, but many other programs will transition in 9th grade rather than 7th grade as Veritas does.)
- Starts in 2nd grade (which is a pro if you’re overwhelmed the first couple years and just want to wait on history; you won’t be behind)
- Includes a lot of church history
- Online live classes and online self-paced classes available (I haven’t tried these because I’m comfortable teaching history and I really enjoy teaching it, but Veritas offers free two-week trials from time to time if you want to check it out.)
- Fairly easy to teach (Lessons in the Teacher’s Manual are not scripted, but they do provide a sample week structure at the the beginning of the manual.)
- Scripted lesson plans available (sold separately)
- Requires complete sentences–good writing practice/reinforcement
- Primarily memory-based (This is a strength if you’re simply looking for “memory pegs,” according to the classical model, for your child’s elementary/grammar school history.)
- Heavily chronological (which is good if you’re looking for a chronological history; we’ll look at some histories in future posts that are intended to be basically chronological but, in fact, aren’t)
- Strong incorporation of Old Testament and New Testament events and people in the first two volumes (though it wouldn’t be considered a Bible program)
- Strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God
- Focuses on Egypt, Greece & Rome only for ancient times, “ignoring” what’s going on in the rest of the world
- Worksheet/test oriented (This isn’t necessarily a con, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.)
- Writing heavy (which can be a con if you begin this younger than the recommended age or if you have a child that struggles with handwriting–not that we don’t need to challenge our children or give them practice, but you don’t want the writing component to take hours or to be miserable for all concerned)
- Early chronology not consistent with a young earth (especially Ancient Egypt; see this post where I talk about that issue; if you’re curious about how this program specifically differs, I’d be happy to discuss that in the comments)
- Only covers the time periods once in elementary
- Music on the CD’s (You used to be able to listen to a sample online. Since they updated the look of their website, the links no longer work, but if I’m remembering correctly, which I think I am, I didn’t even consider the CD’s because I was uncomfortable with the music.)
- Starts in 2nd grade (which is a con if you want to start with history right away in K or 1st or if you want to cover all the time periods more than once in elementary; it is possible to begin this earlier, but it would be fairly difficult for a 5-6 year old)
- Fairly pricey for all the components; for example, the OT & Ancient Egypt Teacher’s Manual, Cards & CD come together as a kit for $49, the Priority 1 Resources are $114.86, and the Literature Kit is $37.31 (Prices vary per grade level; Literature Kit books could possibly be checked out from the library, but Priority 1 Resources are best purchased to get the benefit of the curriculum.)
- Primarily memory-based (This may be a con if you’re looking to engage your child in the “story” of history, though that can be somewhat accomplished through the resources on the cards.)
- Reformed-leaning (This does not affect as much of the elementary history curriculum as it does other Veritas programs, and this may not be a con for many, but it’s something to keep an eye out for if you want to teach your children from a Dispensationalist or non-Calvinistic presupposition.)
Our family has chosen to not use Veritas History fully. In other words, it’s not our core. We use the Veritas Cards (somewhat rearranged in the ancient times and combined with a few other things–more on that in a later post) as part of our daily timeline memory song (more on that later also). I wanted the classical approach with the memory pegs but felt that we could accomplish that through the cards alone while using a different core.
For our family, I decided that Veritas was lacking a few things. I wanted a core that 1) fit with a young earth timeline of the Old Testament and Ancient Times (as I stated above, Veritas is heavily chronological; I could’ve made it work by either teaching the lessons out of order–which would’ve been a bit of a pain–or by teaching them in order but, then, not chronologically–which would’ve kinda defeated the purpose of a strictly chronological program with the memory pegs idea), 2) included historical accounts in some kind of read-aloud format, 3) started earlier than 2nd grade, 4) would repeat the history “cycle” (roughly: ancient, medieval, renaissance, modern) more than once before jr. high/high school, and 5) included at least some history of the ancient world outside of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. I would like my children to get at least a little taste of what was going on in the rest of the world in the past to help them better understand those countries/cultures today.
That being said, I’d still consider Veritas one of the top two or three history programs for teaching children a chronological Christian history of the world. It is well done, and (with a few tweaks in the early sequence/dating for “young-earthers” like me) any child would receive a strong foundation in history from Veritas.
By the way, I mentioned memory pegs several times throughout this post. If you’re confused by that, take a few minutes to read Dorothy Sayers’ essay The Lost Tools of Learning. It’s well worth the short amount of time it will take you! Sayers says of history, “The grammar of History should consist, I think, of dates, events, anecdotes, and personalities. A set of dates to which one can peg all later historical knowledge is of enormous help later on in establishing the perspective of history.”
Applicability to Non-Homeschool Families
I’d encourage non-homeschool families to invest in the history cards and incorporate a timeline song into some kind of family learning time. (I’ll be giving information on how the cards can be adapted for a young-earth chronology. Also, if they’re a stretch for your budget, you can either buy just one set at a time, check craigslist, or, if you have it, buy at Mardel Christian Store with a coupon.) The cards will give your children (and you!) both the chronological memory pegs that will help them put history into perspective and also a basic knowledge base of church history, both people and events. The information and resources on the back of the cards can also be a springboard into some other memory work (perhaps you learn the Nicene Creed together) and a “library guide” into some helpful historical fiction and non-fiction that your kids can check out to get them excited about history.
Finally, I’d like to give you this link to an article defending classical Christian education written by Marlin Detweiler, the founder of Veritas Press and author (along with his wife) of the Veritas Press grammar school history series, which is just one of many helpful articles by Veritas. This was published in their Epistula newsletter, and, if you choose to do nothing else with this series of reviews, I would recommend that you sign up for the free e-newsletters and free catalogs (which include articles) from the companies I’m reviewing. They will challenge you to think biblically about education.