History Curriculum 2: Story of the World
In my last post I examined Veritas Press History. Today, I want to take a look at Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer. It’s another popular choice with homeschoolers (though this series isn’t just for homeschoolers), and I’ve also seen it used in Christian schools. Story of the world is written by someone with a Christian worldview and is both well-written and chronologically structured. (See my previous posts on why these things are so important.)
This curriculum was popularized through the extremely helpful resource for classical homeschoolers (or Charlotte Mason homeschoolers–though the two styles are not equivalent!), The Well-Trained Mind, by the same author, Susan Wise Bauer, and her mother Jessie Wise. Their detailed explanation on how to structure history using a classical methodology and their extensive lists of resources contained in The Well-Trained Mind has made Story of the World an easy choice for parents/teachers wishing to use their well thought-out plan for a four-year history cycle.
I’ve recently gotten a lot of questions about The Well-Trained Mind from people who are considering homeschooling, so I may take the time to do a separate review of that book. Until then, if you’re considering possibly homeschooling or have questions about whether homeschooling could work for your family–buy the book! Don’t be overwhelmed by its size. Just start by reading chapters 1-4 and 35-38. Then skim chapters 5-12.
This four book program is designed for 1st through 4th grade with a four year overview of the history of civilization. The first book covers the ancient times (“earliest” nomads to last roman emperor). The second book covers the middle ages (fall of Rome to the rise of the renaissance). The third book covers early modern times (Elizabeth I of England to the ’49ers–a huge span of time in terms of events!). The fourth book covers the modern age (Victoria’s empire to the end of the USSR).
The books contain black and white drawings done specifically done for these books, rather than classical art (such as Veritas uses) or photographs, but the drawings are well done and not typically overly cartoonish. Each book has an optional (recommended) activity book that includes review questions, narration ideas, reading lists, map exercises, coloring pages (except book 4, but they offer the coloring pages separately for this volume), and activities to go along with each lesson. Both the activity book and the main story book are available digitally or in paperback, and the story book is also available in hardback. The story book is available for $9.99 for e-readers (kindle, ipad, android, and pdf), and the activity book is available for download (which I always recommend, because if you purchase the bound copy, then you have to make photocopies of hundreds of pages of coloring sheets and maps and activity parts and everything else; if you get the digital version, you can just print them off as needed). Peace Hill Press, the publisher, also offers the whole Story of the World series on CD (or audio download) read by Jim Weiss (just like any other book on CD would be read) and tests to accompany each book.
The style is fairly simple. Each chapter contains approximately one to four stories centered around a particular theme or country (such as “Knights and Samurais” or “The Crusades” or “The Islamic Empire”). She doesn’t give any specific format, like Week 1, Week 2, etc. She leaves it up to you to read as little or as much as you’d like each week. Some chapters can be easily grouped together and read in a week. The stories don’t take long to read at all. Also, in The Well-Trained Mind she states that she has no problem with spending longer periods of time on eras/people groups that peak the child’s interest and skimming over or skipping things that are less important or not interesting to the child. That’s the beauty, she says, of covering the whole cycle again in 5th-8th grade. I’m not sure that I agree with her underlying (at least in this instance) child-led philosophy, but I will say that while we kept going and dutifully (and excitedly) read all the chapters last year, we did continue to check out books from the library on the Egyptians long after we’d past those chapters because my son was fascinated with the pyramids and the pharaohs, etc. (Sometimes this happens just practically as well, as outside resources are more readily available for some more prominent cultures.) Visit the Peace Hill Press website for more information on this series and others by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.
- Storybook format, engaging for young children and helps them to comprehend the “flow” of civilization
- Stories are relatively short and very accessible for young children but are also very informative (not childish) and contain more than bare facts–I have not seen any other curriculum do this so well.
- Includes history of the whole world, not just Western civilization
- Coloring pages and maps help to keep the young child’s attention, to aid understanding, and to easily incorporate geography
- Activities (everything from paper models to building things to recipes for historic cultural meals) and book recommendations for every lesson (at least some of which can usually be found at the library)
- Allows for a repeat of the four-year history cycle three times in 1st-12th grades
- Extremely easy to teach and very minimal prep-time (only printing off your choice of activity sheets to go with the lesson)
- A fluent reader could work somewhat independently
- Fairly inexpensive (especially if you go digital)
- Available digitally for e-readers (kindle, ipad, android, pdfs), which avoids taking up valuable bookshelf space and makes it easy to take on-the-go
- Though the author is Christian, she purposefully does not comment on her worldview in the curriculum–if that is possible. In other words, this curriculum does come with Christian presuppositions about the causation of history. No author can write from a neutral perspective because what one believes changes the “facts.” (See this post for more on that.) But she does not write about God’s sovereignty (or about God) at all in these books. She does include the story of Jesus’ birth and some stories about the Jewish people (she avoids the term Israelites), but she includes these right along with stories of other religions and cultures without comment.
- In the review questions, she does not include any questions about the values presented.
- Includes stories from all cultures and religions without any comments on the negativity of those alternate worldviews
- Charlotte Mason style with narration, rather than memorization emphasis
- Weak presentation of Genesis–no creation “theory” presented
- Begins with nomads, as if they’d been there for who knows how long
- Timeline reflects an old earth (see this post about a young earth view of creation and the facts of history)
- Not strictly chronological–she groups things slightly out of order to get a sense of countries over a span of time rather than jumping back and forth between different parts of the world
- Very little church history
- The author does recommend memorizing a list of dates, but both her list in the back of the ancient book and the lists she recommends from secular history encyclopedias contain errant (old-earth) dates. Additionally, her lists (and the secular lists, of course) do not include/integrate church history into the memorization.
- Does not continue past 4th grade, and really wouldn’t be sufficient for older elementary students
- Christianity not clearly defined by the gospel; she uses a broad definition of “Christian” to include Roman Catholics, for example, and includes stories of kings being “converted” to Christianity (when in truth likely they merely thought that Christianity was a good political move)
- Folk tales, myths, and legends presented right alongside factual history–She usually does introduce them with something like, “The people used to tell stories like this,” but I have found the need to emphasize to my children that this is not true.
- The fourth book increases significantly in difficulty and depth, so, for instance, if you have a 9-year-old using book four and you want your 6-year-old to do this along with them, it’s not as easy for this one particular volume.
For our family, I have chosen to use Story of the World in conjunction with another program that has a decidedly Christian worldview. (I’ll be doing a review of what that is in the next post.) After using Story of the World for first grade, I had decided to switch so that they would get more church history. But my kids begged and pleaded to continue Story of the World. I saw how much they had learned about history and how much they had grown to love history through this program, and after a few weeks of trying the other program I had decided on, I saw that Story of the World was much more age appropriate for young children.
Though I certainly don’t let my kids choose what we do (our homeschool is most definitely teacher-led, since I have knowledge and they don’t and since I am regenerate and they aren’t!), I do take into account what is helping them learn. My goal is to use the best things for my kids, but it’s not about gritting our teeth and doing something that is not benefitting them (for whatever reason) either. I think I have finally struck a good balance for our family for early grammar school that is rich with church history, classical, and that we all love to do every day. (I’ll talk about our complete history program and all that we use in a later post.)
I would not use Story of the World alone for our history, but it’s a wonderful resource along with something that includes church history and something that includes accurate memory work. Through this program, children get an engaging “big picture” of the story of the entire world on their level (but not dumbed down!).
Applicability to Non-Homeschool Families
This program would make a great read-aloud or independent read for children ages 4-10. It would be as easy as “story time,” since these books are presented as narratives. Though it doesn’t include the church history and the prominent Christian worldview that is so lacking from most history textbooks, it will provide at least an engaging story of the history of the world in a chronological format, which would be extremely beneficial for any child. It will provide them with perspective and a sense of what happened when. It also is written by a Christian, so the facts contained in the books will be based on Christian presuppositions, even if they aren’t stated outright. One school teacher told me that her students ask to take these books home on breaks to read them! What a great format to get children excited about the story of the world!
About Becky Aniol
Becky holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and music, a master's degree in Christian education, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Christian education. She taught classical upper school grammar, literature, and history and lower school composition and grammar for two years, elementary school music for one year, and Kindermusik classes for four years before the birth of her children. She now loves staying home with her four children, Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline and homeschooling them classically.