Today’s post has been written by guest blogger, Adriana Zoder. She’s sharing her experiences with a popular Classical education curriculum that happens to work really well in a Charlotte Mason homeschool, too. In fact, it’s one of my favorite curriculum choices of all time for history.
With chapters written as living literature, the chronological overview of history is perfect for elementary students. By adding more than a handful of activities and living books from the activity guides, the curriculum can be perfect for middle schoolers, too.
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In my own homeschool, I’ve used The Story of the World curriculum from ancient times through modern-day history with all three of my children. It has provided us with a wonderful understanding of important events and people that have shaped world history. I think you’ll like reading about Adriana’s experiences!
Story of the World History Curriculum
A history curriculum for the classical child, The Story of the World was put together by Susan Wise Bauer, a college professor from Virginia. Like many of you, I was 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 few things 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.
Each of The Story of the World Activity Guides includes historical coloring pages that go with each chapter. They can be used to keep hands busy as you read aloud from the textbook full of historical stories. Blank maps are included for each chapter, too. Children can follow simple directions to create colorful maps to make sense of the geography for each lesson.
2. It’s very important to go through the comprehension questions before expecting kids to come up with their own narration.
Each story includes a list of questions for proof of comprehension. The narration of each story is encouraged, too. We don’t do both on the same day. After I read a story/lesson to my children, we will either go through the activity guide and answer the provided comprehension questions or I ask them to narrate the story. When narration is hard, I will often use the comprehension questions to prompt the narration. The answers organize the facts logically and provide the necessary vocabulary, in turn, helping to strengthen narration skills.
3. Crafts may have to be done first, to pique their interest.
In the activity guide, you will find a few suggested crafts for each lesson. None of the crafts (or anything else in the activity guide) are necessary, but they can add opportunities for experiential learning and keep hands busy. If I simply say, “Let’s do history,” I may hear a groan. But if I say, “Why don’t we make gold bracelets as they had in Egypt?” and show off the bottle of metallic gold paint, I will be met with enthusiasm. Once crafting is underway, I can read a lesson while they work.
4. I am thankful for the inter-library loan (ILL) programs at my local library.
There are several non-fiction and historical fiction books suggested as go-along literature for each lesson in the activity guide. While we couldn’t possibly read them all, I do try to add a few to each lesson. My library borrows ILL book titles for me all the time for this curriculum. Thankfully, the librarians have decided to buy some of these titles for their own collection, too!
5. Suggested reading titles must be previewed by mom to check for violence, strong pagan content, and adult themes.
I really enjoy the lists of suggested reading materials found in the activity guide, but I have found some of them inappropriate for my children. While pagan religions should be presented and studied by Christians to a certain degree, every home educator should assess whether their children are ready for such content, particularly if using the curriculum with younger elementary students. A simple scan through suggested books is usually enough.
6. Story of the World audiobooks really are worth the money, especially if you travel to lessons outside the home on a weekly basis.
I take advantage of long car rides (when I have a captive audience in the back seat) and allow Jim Weiss to read the day’s history story to us. Not only am I killing two birds with one stone, but Jim’s voice has a way of making the already living literature lessons seem even more like stories.
7. Set a weekly time to do history, but be flexible.
The author suggests doing history a couple of times each week. This keeps the subject fresh in your children’s minds and so they have several touch points with the vocabulary, names, and places. Our two days of history are gentle, yet productive. I generally read the text along with mapwork and a coloring sheet one day of the week. The second day of learning generally includes comprehensions questions or narration, a craft, and a go-along book or two.
The flexibility comes in when ILL loan books are late or we choose to start the week with a craft. I don’t worry too much about sticking to a perfect weekly plan because the ebb and flow keeps the curriculum from becoming too routine.
8. This curriculum keeps you on your toes as far as organization.
You can simply read (or listen to) the lessons and be done. However, there is great benefit to using the activity guide for comprehension discussions, mapwork, meaningful crafts, and extra literature. Each of these really drives home the content of the lessons and will go far to help kids remember what they learn.
It might seem a little overwhelming at first to pull together the extra things. To minimize stress, you should review the lessons a few weeks in advance. Then order any books you might need from the library, grab pertinent craft supplies from the story, and photocopy maps and coloring sheets for your students.
If you’d rather not make copies of the student worksheets, you can purchase extra student pages for each volume. You will still need one copy of the activity guide in order to have the comprehension questions, booklists, and activity ideas.
Originally 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 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.
Using Story of the World with Older Students
Cindy here again. With my first two children, I used Story of the World as suggested in 1st-4th grades. With my third child, I actually decided to wait until 3rd grade to begin and I wish I had waited with the other two.
The curriculum covers world history – and a lot of it. While younger students can certainly learn from the stories and crafts, I believe the content sticks much better with an older child. By 3rd or 4th grade, children are better able to really understand how to connect the dots between historical events around the world. It’s also easier for them to understand timelines, make sense of mapwork, and generally remember more of the history.
Additionally, the comprehension questions become more meaningful, the narrations more solid, and the extra books truly add a deeper layer of learning. While we did leave out more of the crafting when I used the curriculum with my older child, it wasn’t usually imperative to understanding the material.
If you decide to wait even later, I believe the series is very much worthy to be used during the middle school years (5th-8th). If you have a concern about needing a little more, there are enough book suggestions to keep history going all week long. You can also purchase test and answer key books if test-taking is important to you.
If you have thoughts about using Story of the World, I would love to hear about them in the comments!
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