8 Things I Learned from Teaching Story of the World

Today’s post has been written by guest blogger, Adriana Zoder, of Homeschool Ways.  She writes about a popular Classical curriculum which happens to work really well in a Charlotte Mason homeschool.  In fact, my big kids enjoyed The Story of the World several years ago and next year begins my second journey through the books with the little man.  Enjoy Adriana’s great tips for success!

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Great tips about using Story of the World successfully in your homeschool

A history curriculum for the classical child, The Story of the World was put together by Susan Wise Bauer, a college professor from Virginia. I was, like many of you, introduced to her work through her best-selling how-to homeschool book, The Well-Trained Mind.

This year, my oldest is in first grade, so we started with the first volume of Story of the World which covers the Ancients. We are now well into the year and I have learned a thing or two (or eight) about how to teach this curriculum so our history days go more smoothly.

Eight lessons I learned from teaching Story of the World

1. A child reluctant to color will color if I give him a new set of crayons/markers/coloring pencils. Also, while I read to my children, they should be already at the table in front of their map work and coloring sheets. It keeps their hands busy while they listen.

2. After I read the story/lesson to them, we go through the activity book answering comprehension questions. Narration exercises start with answering the questions. It is very important to go through the comprehension questions before we expect kids to come up with their own narration. The answers organize the facts logically and provide the necessary vocabulary.

8 Lessons Mom Learned Teaching Story of the World3. Crafts may have to be done first, to peak their interest. Then mom can go into reading the lessons while they color. If I say, “Let’s do history,” I may hear a groan. But if I say, “Why don’t we make gold bracelets like they had in Egypt?” and show off the bottle of metallic gold paint, I will be met with enthusiasm.

4. Suggested reading titles must be previewed by mom to check for violence, strong pagan content, and adult themes (like pictures of people kissing etc). I really enjoy the lists of suggested reading materials, but I found some of them inappropriate for my children. While pagan religions should be presented and studied up to a certain degree, every home educator should assess whether their children are ready for such content.

5. This may seem elementary, but there are moms out there who are not aware of the inter-library loan (ILL) programs at their local libraries. My library borrows ILL titles for me all the time for this curriculum. In fact, the librarians have decided to buy some of these titles for their own collection. As such, I have not had to buy any of the suggested titles.

8 Lessons Mom Learned Teaching Story of the World6. The Story of the World CD’s really are worth the money, especially if you travel to lessons outside the home on a weekly basis. We live one hour away from our violin teacher’s studio, for instance. That’s a lot of car schooling and you better believe I take advantage of that time when I have a captive audience on the back seat.

7. Set a weekly time to do history, but be flexible. Sometimes your craft supplies or books might not be all there. Even Susan Wise Bauer suggests doing history twice a week – it keeps the subject fresh in their minds and they have several touch points with the vocabulary and the names and places. So start on one day of the week by reading the text and doing the mapwork and the coloring sheet. Then, get supplies and books ordered. When they come in, review the lesson in three quick sentences and do the crafts and read some more books.

8. Last but not least, this is a curriculum which keeps you on your toes as far as organization. To minimize stress, you should preview the lessons about three weeks in advance to order books and craft supplies and to photocopy the worksheets for your students.

Tell me about your experiences with Story of the World!


Adriana ZoderOriginally from Romania, Adriana Zoder also lived in Sweden before settling in the USA and becoming an American citizen. A Gatlinburg resident since 2005, Adriana is a writer and homeschooling mom. She and her husband have two children. She maintains the award-winning blog www.HomeschoolWays.com. Her books, 101 Tips for Preschool at Home, 101 Tips for Kindergarten at Home, and Life in the Smoky Mountains, are available on Amazon.

Our Journey Westward readers can download a free ebook from Adriana! 21 Days to Jumpstart Your Homeschool will help you refuel by connecting to the One who called us to homeschooling in the first place!


Homeschooling a Horse Lover

My little horse lover is all grown up.  This year she will graduate our homeschool and head off to college where she will major in equine science.

Before her passion for horses blossomed, we knew her heart held a soft spot for animals in general – and all the jobs that come with those animals.  For as long as I can remember, all the dog and cat pets have naturally become “hers” as she cared for and loved on them as if they were humans.  If her daddy needed help working cattle, she was right there without question or complaint.  When newborn calves lost their mommas, she stepped right in to bottle feed and spoil them joyfully.

Around third grade, she started trail riding with her papaw and it became very clear that a piece of her heart would forever belong to horses.


My little horse lover is all grown up and preparing for college level equine studies.  This post shares how I supported her passion through homeschooling over the years.

Her love for horses was more than a passing hobby, it was a passion.  She needed to read about horses, ride horses, groom horses and talk horses.

Because homeschooling affords us precious time, flexibility in our schedule and flexibility in curriculum choices, I was able to help Mahayla cultivate her passion.  And it’s grown into so much more than just a hobby.

Homeschooling a Horse Lover

The cool thing is – regularly scheduled curriculum never had to take a back seat…and neither did horses.  Following a Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling allowed us to get the three R’s (plus a lot) finished before lunch most days.  The hour or so after lunch would wrap up loose ends, leaving at least a few hours of “free time” before supper.

Time to Chase Passions

My go-getter used much of that free time to pursue her passion.  Warm afternoons would find her mucking out stalls, sweeping barns, grooming horses, training horses or riding horses.  I should mention, it’s truly been a blessing that my father-in-law, retired for most of these years, loves horses as much as my daughter.  In other words, the two of them have spent many blissful hours together and his mentoring has been invaluable.

Books to Grow Knowledge

Cold afternoons would find her devouring books about horses.  I truly believe she read every horse book available in two different library systems – and we’ve purchased what she couldn’t borrow.  In between horse books, she read about border collies, cattle, pigs, goats, chickens and more.  We’re talking a serious passion, remember.  (My boys call her nerdy, by the way.)

Interrupting the Regular Schedule

When the vet stopped by, we would postpone schoolwork so Mahayla could soak up valuable knowledge with the doctor.  When the horses were needed to herd cattle in the morning, we would get to our lessons in the afternoon so she could gain experience in ranching.  When Keeneland’s horse sale took place, we would call it a field trip day so she could see the value of the thoroughbred industry.  I don’t regret one moment of “interrupting” our school day for these opportunities.

Taking Advantage of Opportunities

We purposely looked for horse (or ag) related opportunities.  I’ll admit, that’s pretty easy living in Central KY, the horse capital of the world, where events are held at The Kentucky Horse Park and Keeneland quite often.  Besides those special events, though, we found others:

  • A horse club sponsored by 4-H allowed her to meet other kids who love horses.
  • Special classes offered for adults through our local extension office welcomed her heartily.
  • Visiting local horse rescue missions made great field trips.
  • Trips to local horse hospitals were uh-mazing.
  • We took a trip to a feed mill which produces special feed blends.
  • Several nearby towns (ours included) host horse festivals that our whole family attends.
  • We’ve enjoyed horse themed art exhibits.
  • We’ve taken horse farm tours.
  • Mahayla’s papaw worked at a horse training facility for a little while and he would take her once in a while to watch the trainers in action.

Focused High School Courses

Of course you can find all kinds of curriculum having to do with horses for the elementary and middle school years.  My sweet girl had already taught herself all of that and more.  (That’s the cool thing about a passion that drives you, right?)

When I realized by high school that this love of horses was really serious – her future career serious – we needed to come up with a four year plan that honored her goals.  That four year plan also had to meet the college-bound requirements.  Since the study of horses mostly falls into the field of science, that’s where we tailored her education.

After fulfilling the three college-bound science requirements (she started in 8th grade), there were two years left.  The first year (her junior year), we allowed her to design her own agriscience course.  All plans had to be approved by mom and dad!  Basically, she read books, wrote papers and completed “in the field” labs.  She learned SO much!

An Invaluable Apprenticeship

The second year (this year – her senior year), she’s been blessed to take part in what we’re calling a work study.  By God’s design, we have a new neighbor who owns a horse farm where she trains and boards horses.  And, it just so happened, she needed help that Mahayla was willing and able to give.  I cannot describe to you how perfect this situation has been!

In this work study, Mahayla has been mentored by a sweet lady who is giving her experience and advice in everything having to do with owning and running your own horse farm.  Nothing could be more perfect.

The End is Actually the Beginning

I just feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to give my horse lover an education worthy of her passions.  Homeschooling truly rocks.

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Picture Books That Demonstrate Narrative Writing

If there’s one subject that seems to befuddle homeschoolers more than any other, it’s writing.  I hear it during homeschool consultations and casually talking among homeschool friends, and I see questions about it all over the internet.

Using picture books is a great way to teach the narrative writing style to older students!

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People are often surprised when I tell them I don’t formally teach writing until middle school.  Really, I don’t.  And here’s my reasoning…

Why We Wait For Formal Writing Lessons

In elementary school, children are physically working hard just to form letters.  It takes a lot of effort to practice a few sentences of copywork.  With so much effort to write words on the paper, I find it simply too frustrating for them to also focus on creating stories as well.  And, really, when you think about the various stages of cognitive development, most children aren’t really ready to pull together their own stories before 5th or 6th grade.

Does this mean there is no writing in our elementary homeschool besides copywork?  Of course not.  We work specifically on sentence formation and even paragraph writing in 3rd-5th grades.  They also write as part of assignments during project-based learning or labbooking.

It’s just that I don’t teach formal writing until middle school – narratives, descriptive writing, persuasive essays and expository writing.  In other words, the writing where a whole lot of thinking and processing has to occur in order to pull together a well-thought out, organized, creative piece.

I Use Picture Books with Middle School Students

When it is time to teach writing styles, I LOVE to use picture books (which have been written by master authors) as examples.  Even better, I love to use books that my children have read many times over in their earlier years.  In this case, they already know the stories and can see them with fresh eyes as they look from the perspective of a particular writing style.

Today, I’d like to share some of my favorite picture books to use when teaching middle school (or even high school) students how to write narratives.  Some people will think, “You’re using picture books with middle school students??”  Yes.  Heck, I use picture books with people of all ages because so many of them are plain wonderful!  More importantly, though:

  • Picture books are a good length for teaching lessons in a reasonable amount of time.
  • They make writing a narrative seem doable (not overwhelming.)
  • Their use of illustrations help new writers understand that good writing should invoke illustrations in the mind of the reader.

Picture Books to Teach Narrative Writing

Take a peek at my favorite books for teaching narrative writing, then I’ll meet you at the bottom of the post to share how I use them in lessons.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant tells the story of a yearly family reunion.  The perspective makes you feel like you’re right there with the family enjoying food and festivities, and even sleeping uncomfortably amongst too many people.  The book helps your writer think about using words to evoke feeling.

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant gives a first person account of growing up in coal country where life was simple, yet sweet.  It will help your writer think of everyday things as powerful memories.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen takes the reader on a wonderful father-daughter walk late one evening in search of an owl.  This story can help your writer learn how to take a simple, even short event and turn it into a magical story.


The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills is written in first person and tells the sometimes sad, but heartwarming story of a young girl who found courage amidst tough situations.  Young authors will learn how to write honest memories and find the positive endings from those memories.

Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams is written in first person and recounts a fun camping and canoeing adventure.  It will help your writers learn to recount family vacations in a way that people actually want to read.

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco tells the story of a grandmother who bakes a cake to help her grandchild get over her fear of a thunderstorm.  It’s an excellent example of how to craft a happy memory.


Mailing May by Michael Tunnell tells the story of a parent’s ingenious plan to get their daughter to grandma’s house.  Your writers will learn how to build a narrative that doesn’t spill all the beans too early in the story.

Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard shares the tales of two sisters who spend Sunday afternoons with their great aunt.  It will encourage your writers to think about simple days as wonderful memories worth writing about.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki recounts a touching memoir of overcoming the confines of a Japanese-American internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  This book is especially good at showing writers how to convey emotion without being overly explicit.


Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco shares a tale about friendship, family and a misunderstanding.  It’s a good book to teach how weaving a tale of the actual events makes a story much more interesting than just citing the events in order.

The Babe & I by David Adler tells a story from the depression era from the perspective of a little boy who’s father has lost his job.  The main event of meeting Babe Ruth is actually only part of a much bigger story of perseverance.  I love using this book to teach the importance of building background for your audience.

Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney makes a simple summer childhood memory come to life.  It’s often hard for young writers to write more than a paragraph or two about simple memories.  I use this book and its use of descriptive language to help remedy that problem.


Goin’ Someplace Special by Jerry Pinckney is a precious story of a little girl’s bravery during the time when segregation was normal in America.  You can almost feel her fear and then her triumph as you read along.  It’s a great example for teaching students to share feelings.

Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains by Deborah Hopkinson takes a regular narrative about pioneer life and turns it into a tall tale.  I not only use this book to teach tall tales, but the use of humor, too.

Picnic at Mudsock Meadow by Patricia Polacco recounts the happenings of a Halloween picnic and the bravery of one little boy who faces the ghost of Titus Dimworthy.  (You may have noticed that I’ve included more than one book by Patricia Polacco on this list.  Generally, all her picture books are amazing.)  This book builds great characters, which is the mini-lesson I usually teach.

How to Use Picture Books to Teach Narratives

There are several ways to use picture books to teach narratives, but essentially all of them follow the same general principles:

  • Read one picture book with your student(s).
  • Discuss the particular element(s) of writing you want to highlight.
  • Reread a few sections that demonstrate the element(s) well.
  • Discuss how young writers might use the element(s) in their own writing.
  • Do a bit of oral storytelling together using the element(s) so creative juices begin to flow.
  • Begin writing a narrative with a particular focus on the element(s).  Remember that writing a good narrative, including revisions and editing, will take several days.

In the end, you have a narrative that has at least grown in the use of the elements you focused on during your mini-lesson.  Next time, you can focus on a new elements and slowly, but surely, build a writer’s toolbox that will last a lifetime!

I’ll be writing posts soon on picture books that demonstrate other forms of writing, too.  Stick around!  In the meantime, do you have any stellar picture books you’ve found for use in teaching narratives?


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Chronological American History in High School

What do you do with a high school student who has been through two cycles of American history and thinks a third cycle would just be boring and unfruitful?  Well, I spice it up and make sure he dives deep!

I get his frustration.  I really do.  Over the years, we have followed a four-year history cycle – meaning by high school he has already completed two years of early American history and two years of modern American history.  Because we typically learned via unit studies in the earlier years with lots of informational literature & historical fiction and several fabulous history field trips, he has already learned A LOT of American history.

Teaching history in high school doesn't have to be dull!  This post shares how to use a spine text alongside projects to make a great interest-based course.

Dive Deep

Rather than do a third cycle rinse and repeat, when high school rolls around we do a third cycle deep dive.  That means I expect my children to already know the basics of each era/period/event of history, so their assignments take on new purposes.

  • We spend more time analyzing events – their causes and impacts.
  • We spend more time comparing events.
  • We spend more time researching particular people and their shaping of events.
  • We spend more time girding up our Christian worldview as it pertains to history.
  • We spend more time reading opinionated articles and literature – then debating around the supper table.

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Chronological American History

While I could purchase a formal history textbook and be done with it, that’s just not our style.  However, I still very much need something to keep us on track chronologically and to make sure I don’t miss any historical high points.  I found the perfect book to give us the freedom we crave and the stability we need!

The Children’s Encyclopedia of American History by DK Publishing begins with early American explorers and ends with events as late as 2014.  Eighteen chapters (320 pages!) cover all the eras of American history with great detail, lots of images & maps, and timelines.  It’s chronological American history at its finest!

DK's Children's Encyclopedia of American History is a great addition to any upper level homeschool history course.

Using a Spine Book to Facilitate Learning

This book has become our American history spine.  It keeps us on track, yet gives us plenty of room to linger on an era or take rabbit trails.  The text can also inspire wonderful assignments.  Let me explain with several examples…

Examples from chapters we’ve already done:

After reading the chapter Exploration and Conquest, I asked Caleb to recreate the map of major explorations from the book.  Then, I asked him to research and write a paper on the explorer who seemed most interesting.  After that, I asked him to research the effects exploration (and eventually settlement) had on people who were native to America.  We discussed and debated a bit around the supper table.

After reading the chapter about the Revolutionary War and the formation of a new nation, we took a break to go through David Barton’s American Heritage DVD lessons and these study questions.  The DVD lessons took us about a month.  That was time “off” of textbook studies, but still time very well spent.  His final project was to write a speech about  the discrepencies in modern history books.

Examples of things churning in my mind for later chapters:

While reading the chapter about WWII, he will likely become interested in the evil behind Hitler and the concentration camps.  (I know this from his extreme interest during our last cycle.)  I’ll likely ask him to study more via the internet and library books, focusing particularly on Hitler and his actions through a Christian worldview.   He will be expected to facilitate discussions about his findings and create a Power Point presentation.

While reading the chapter about the Cold War, I’ll likely ask him to complete the Cold War Notepack (a notebooking curriculum which entails research) from In the Hands of a Child.

Neither of these future events may happen.  Honestly, we’ll see how each new chapter unfolds and go from there.

DK's Children's Encyclopedia of American History is a great addition to any upper level homeschool history course.

I hope you can see that the spine, as amazing as it is, acts as a springboard for diving deeper.  Our lessons aren’t necessarily planned far ahead of time because they grow organically from the lessons, my son’s interests, and other fabulous materials I already have on hand (like the notepack.)

We will take two years to go through the entirety of American History using the encyclopedia as our spine.  I’ll make sure that each chapter is followed with at least one good-sized project – research-based, notepack, etc.  And, of course, great historical fiction and/or living biographies are part of any good homeschool course!


Thorough Learning is the Goal

Teaching a high school course in this “organic” way may scare the wits out of you.  How can Cindy NOT have a full plan in place and just let a high school course “happen”??!!   Look at it this way…the course is planned.  We will move from chapter to chapter in the encyclopedia until we get to the end.  If that’s the only thing we do, well, there’s a lot of learning that will have taken place.

However, because I’m making sure at least one (usually more) project is completed having to do with that chapter, I know lots more learning is happening.  I can let my son’s interests dictate the direction of the project(s) because I know nothing major will have been left out since every page of the spine was read.  It’s project-based learning with a great safety net!

Tell me…

How do you teach high school history?

Have you ever used project-based learning in your homeschool?





Emergent Readers: Transitioning to Independent Reading Time

We’re striving for more independent reading time with my 2nd grader. As an emergent reader, he still reads aloud daily to me so I can teach, cheer him on and keep tabs on his progress.  But, he’s finally doing well enough that it’s time for him to find his own pleasure in books.

Here's a plan for helping emergent readers transition into independent readers using high-interest books.

Transitioning to Independent Reading

At this stage in reading, things can get tricky – especially with boys.  New readers can be hesitant to believe in themselves enough to want to read alone.  There’s also that nagging stigma (even amongst homeschoolers) that it isn’t cool for boys to read.  And, there’s the long standing problem of finding books that hold the attention of busy boys.

But boys or girls, the plan for transitioning my kiddos into independent reading time has always been the same.  And it’s really simple…put a small bookshelf in their room, fill it with high interest books of all sorts and set a timer daily.

Here's a plan for helping emergent readers transition into independent readers using high-interest books.

Only one of my children has chosen books over other sparkly things in life.  So, a required independent reading time is a must for everyone else.  And for my 2nd grader, because I’ve purposely filled his bookshelf with high-interest books, he’s quickly settling in to the new habit of independent reading – and enjoying it!

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What Are High-Interest Books?

I choose books on topics in which my little man is interested.  Or, books on topics that I know will spark his interest even if he doesn’t already know it.

Here's a plan for helping emergent readers transition into independent readers using high-interest books.

Let me explain.  Eli is intrigued by science experiments.  He never necessarily asked to read books about science experiments, but I placed Utterly Amazing Science by DK Publishing on his shelf and he has been enthralled.  Because this book talks about (deep) science in small chunks with the use of pop-ups and flaps and lots of color, it holds his attention and makes him want to read things over and over again.

That strategy has worked time and time again.  So that means I find all kinds of books that are heavy on illustrations and small chunks of text (but pack a big educational punch) to add to his bookshelf.  Some of Eli’s current favorites in this genre include: A City Through Time, Lift-the-Flap Picture Atlas, The Usborne Book of World History and A Year on a Pirate Ship.

Here's a plan for helping emergent readers transition into independent readers using high-interest books.

Not all the books on his shelf are highly illustrated, informational books.  I also include readers that are below his reading level and picture books we have read together a million times.  Why choose readers that are slightly below his current reading level?  They give him confidence that he can read alone – and read well.  While the picture books we’ve read a million times give him familiarity of the text and storyline so that he can have comprehension success.

The point is to give him a variety of book choices that cover several genres and topics. 

I change out the books on his shelf frequently so he’s constantly finding fresh material to read.  And, by all means, if he wants to bring his own book choice to independent reading time, I absolutely allow that.  (It’s kind of the end goal, really.)

Tell me how YOU encourage independent reading time with emergent readers?