Ah, history. The story of mankind and his struggles, joys and quirks. I love history.
From the time we began homeschooling, we have only used one curriculum for history (as you get farther along in this series, you’ll understand why this is so remarkable). The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer is hands down the best elementary history curriculum I have seen.
Divided into four volumes, The Story of the World moves from ancients to modern times in a clear, easy to follow manner. Each book is written to elementary students, the first book aimed at first through fourth graders, the second at second through fifth graders, and so on. The additional activities get more challenging as the series progresses, including outlining and writing assignments in the final volume.
The books read like a story rather than a text book. Students are encouraged to engage with the material, imagining themselves in a Roman villa or as a medieval knight. An activity book is available for each volume, offering review questions, activities, coloring pages, games and suggested reading selections for each chapter. Consumable activity pages are available (although you can make photocopies out of the activity book if you’d like) as are tests for each chapter. You can even get the book on audio! Everything is reasonably priced and all but the activity pages are reusable.
I’ve used Story of the World with my own kids through seventh grade, assigning extra reading and writing activities for the older kids as needed, and I’ve taught three of the volumes in a co-op setting. Each time we’ve had a successful and fun time engaging with history. The author has a separate series, History of the World, designed for high school, but I haven’t used it.
How We Do It
This year, I’m teaching volume 1, Ancient Times, in a co-op setting for my younger kids and volume 4, Modern Times, with my older kids. Because of this, we have a 90 minute class once per week, and assigned homework throughout the week. This is working, but I think next year we’ll go back to our old schedule:
For first through fourth graders: I generally teach history twice per week, spending 90 minutes per session. We begin by reading half a chapter or more from the book and orally discussing the review questions. We’ll do our map work (included in the activity guide) and a project from the chapter, or additional reading. Then I’ll have my kids write or dictate to me a narration of the chapter. Additional books on the time period are available for free reading time.
For fifth through eighth graders: My older students read the chapters alone, then complete the test that goes with each chapter. We treat these as comprehension worksheets, rather than tests. The fourth volume includes outlining and writing assignments with each chapter, which they also complete. Once per week we sit down together and discuss the chapter, as well as their current literature selection, which corresponds to the time period we’re discussing. I also assign book reports and projects with the literature, but we’ll talk more about that in the language arts section. Because we are doing the modern history book this year, there are fewer projects but more documentaries. They will often watch a documentary or movie based in the time period as their additional work.
What if I’m starting in the middle or have more than one student?
Just go with it. Begin with volume one and progress through the series, allowing each student to take in as much as they are able. Our progression has looked like this:
Year One: volume one with a first grader
Year Two: volume two with a second grader and kindergartner
Year Three: volume three with a third grader, first grader and kindergartner (didn’t finish it)
Year Four: finished volume three and did a semester-long in depth study of American history (I felt volume four was too mature for my first grader) with a fourth, third and first grader
Year Five: volume one again, with a fifth, third and second grader
Year Six: volume two again, with a sixth, fourth, and third grader
Year Seven: volume three, with a seventh, fifth, fourth and kindergartner
Year Eight: volume four with the sixth and fifth graders, volume one with the first and kindergartner
As you can see, they haven’t followed a precise pattern, but they’re getting chronological, steady history teaching. I have opted to skip modern history with my younger students, but they would probably enjoy it. My current first grader is completely enthralled with World War I.
What else can I use?
If you don’t like Story of the World, there are certainly other choices available. You could build your own program, selecting major civilizations or events from the four time periods and using resources available at your library. For example, for ancient times you might choose the Mesopotamians, ancient Egypt, China and India, early Americans (north and south), Alexander the Great, the Greeks and the Romans and spend about a month on each topic, reading, discussing, narrating, making crafts and watching videos. This requires more prep work on your part, but could probably be done for little or no cost.
You could also center a history curriculum around great people. Suppose you are doing Late Renaissance/Early Modern as your time period (third grade, or year three). You could select Mary, Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell, Rembrandt, Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, Benjamin Franklin, Qianlong, Catherine the Great, George Washington, Betsy Ross, Marie Antionette, Mozart, Captain James Cook, Tecumseh, Napoleon and Simon Bolivar. Spend 1-2 weeks on each person, reading a biography and discussing it. Add each person to a timeline, trace their lives on a map or globe and have your child give an oral report. Easy to implement, and probably free at your library.
Keep an eye out for events near you as well. Library programs and museum exhibits can be a great addition to your home study.
You’re insane. I don’t want to do it myself! Just tell me what curriculum to buy!
Mystery of History is another chronological, four volume history program, this one from a Christian point of view.
Guesthollow.com has free Ancient history and American history programs. We used the American history curriculum, as well as her chemistry program, a few years ago and loved it. Plus, free!
I’ve also heard great things about History Odyssey, although I haven’t used it myself.