Sunday, November 1, 2015

How We Teach Homeschool History

As long-time readers know, finding a history curriculum for our home education program has been one of the most difficult, intimidating, mind-twisting problems that has yet beset my addled brain.

Thankfully we are now at a good place with history, and I'm really excited to let you all know where we are and how we ended up there!

Let's get started.

Choosing a curriculum for any subject is challenging, but I think that history poses a special challenge. There are just so many choices! Additionally, there are many, many different styles of teaching homeschool history: literature-based, textbook, unit-study, Classical, Charlotte Mason, four-year rotation, six-year rotation, linear, non-linear geographical, and more.

(I'm getting nervous just thinking about it.)

For the past two years, we used Galloping the Globe, a geography-based country unit study program geared for K-8. We have had a great time with it - see my review here. This past year, we moved to its sister program, Cantering the Country, which focuses on individual states in the U.S. It likewise has been great (I will post a review later this year).

I knew that we also needed something a bit more linear (i.e. studying history in a chronological fashion) - but I was stumped.

On the one hand, I love literature-based studies and unit studies and all of that fun stuff. On the other hand, home education while raising a family is a crazy-busy, exhausting life, and the last thing I wanted was another huge chunk of to-do items on my already overcrowded list. Thus, textbooks were also extremely appealing.

The literature-based studies that I found most appealing were those outlined in Susan Bauer's "The Well-Trained Mind." But there's one big problem with "The Well-Trained Mind," namely that reading it for more than five minutes at a time usually causes my brain to explode in a mess of overwhelmed despair. It's just too much awesomeness per square inch for my mind to handle. Each time I tried to wade through it, I would retire from the scene, thoroughly worsted and more determined than ever to ditch it and use textbooks.

Thankfully, a church friend (whose eminent sensibility far exceeds my capacity for common sense) took me in hand and showed me how to use Story of the World (the curriculum authored by Bauer and described in "The Well-Trained Mind") in an easy and fun way. We've used it for the first half of this year, and it's been a grand success.

What is Story of the World?
(And how do I use it?)

Story of the World is a four-year history program, working through a chronological rotation from the Ancients through modern times. American history is incorporated into this, rather than being taught separately.
  • Year 1 = Ancients to 400 A.D.
  • Year 2 = 400 to 1600 A.D.
  • Year 3 = 1600 to 1850 A.D.
  • Year 4 = 1850 to Present
It is expected that a child will start with Year 1 in first grade, and cycle through the curriculum three times during their 1st-12th grade education. (Really, you can start in any year for any grade.) Subsequent children can jump in with the rest of the family as they begin school.

(If you choose to use this curriculum for high school, additional supplemental materials will be necessary. See "The Well-Trained Mind" for more details. Many families use this curriculum only for their 1st through 8th grade students, and then choose a separate curriculum for their high schoolers.)

We chose to start with Year 3, which is where we would be had we used this curriculum from first grade.

For any year that you choose, you will need a textbook and a student activity book. (Purchase at Peace Hill Press.)

That's it, really!

(Though a good library card helps.)

The SOTW textbook provides the read-aloud text, divided up into chapters (one chapter per week) with usually two sections per chapter.

The SOTW activity guide provides sample narrations, review questions and answers, map work directions, supplemental reading lists, activity ideas (crafts, recipes, games), and the student pages for copying or printing (maps, coloring sheets, activity pages).

* I recommend purchasing the PDF of the student pages as well (the student pages are part of the activity book), so that you can print from the student pages rather than having to mangle your book (and lose your temper) trying to copy them.

Story of the World does contain more material than is needed for a 36-week year. For example, in the Year 3 book, there are 42 chapters - six more weeks of material than are needed. Families have a couple of options: skipping chapters that you find less interesting, doubling up chapters (two per week), reading through extra chapters without doing the accompanying work, or taking longer than one year per book.

How We Use Story of the World

Here's a sample week of Story of the World history the way we use it:
  • Monday - Read one textbook section, answer review questions orally.
  • Tuesday - Read one textbook section, answer review questions orally, and narrate.
    • (Narration is when a child "tells back" the story that has been read aloud. Usually this requires prompting! Right now I write down the third-grader's narration for him to copy.)
  • Wednesday - Map work. (Takes ten minutes, max.)
  • Thursday - Coloring page.
  • Friday - Activity.
Map work (maps and instructions), coloring pages, and activities are all included in the student activity guide.

This schedule varies greatly by week. Though there are generally two sections to read per week, occasionally there are up to three or only one. When there is more than one activity that we wish to do, I'll double up the map work and coloring page onto one day so that we free up a day for the extra activity.

We also do 30 minutes of "history reading time" on most days - everyone grabs a library book and reads until the timer goes off. (Is this a challenge with a 3yo around? Why, yes. Yes it is.)

How's it working for us?

Story of the World has been a resounding success for us. I love that it is well-organized without burying me in details and "extras." I love that it is simple, easy to use, and does not require the purchase of a million-and-one supplies and curriculum supplements to make it work.

Also, SOTW history doesn't take a lot of time in our day. Anywhere from fifteen minutes to however long we want. I tailor it day by day according to how much time we have!

Additionally, I love that almost all of the extra supplies for the projects (should I chose to do them; they're not mandatory) are things found in one's home, not requiring days of running around town looking for insanely difficult-to-find items. Rarely do I have to buy extra items. (And when I do.... we usually just skip the project. Simple enough.)

Year 3 of SOTW has been wonderful. It's especially well-suited for boys, with lots of adventure, seafaring, pirates, wars, kings, and adventure literature like Robinson Crusoe, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Sign of the Beaver.

(I'm still dreading Year 1, as I simply cannot make myself interested in ancient history. If Bauer succeeds in making ancient history interesting - as opposed to finding myself in a near-death state from total boredom - she will indeed be a mastermind.)

But wait! What happened to Galloping the Globe?

I'm glad you asked!

Story of the World and Galloping the Globe/Cantering the Country actually make a great macro-micro combination for history. Story of the World covers the "big stuff" of history - kings and queens, wars and armies, the movements of nations and eras. For example, in Year 3 we have learned about:
  • The execution of Charles I, Cromwell, and the Restoration of the throne to Charles II
  • The Jamestown Colonists, the New France Colonists, the New Amsterdam colonists (and various sequelae thereof)
  • The Black Plague and the Great Fire of London

Galloping the Globe (GTG) and Cantering the Country (CTC) cover the smaller details of history - the things that are important (and fascinating), but which might not make it into the big-time history books simply due to lack of space. For example, in our Cantering the Country state studies this year, here are some of the topics we have studied (these studies also include some science topics):

  • CALIFORNIA - Death Valley, desert animals, Hollywood, San Francisco, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Ishi, Mt. Whitney, goats, redwood trees, John Muir, Yosemite, the Gold Rush and the forty-niners
  • ALABAMA - George Washington Carver, Jesse Owen, cotton farming and textile production, the boll weevil, slavery, Jim Crow laws, plantation life, Rosa Parks

This combination works beautifully in providing both the large scope of history and the small details. For now, we're sticking with this duo, and we love it.

You're doing TWO history curricula at once? Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

But don't be too impressed. (Or wait, maybe I should just let you be impressed.)

While we do the full program for Story of the World, we don't do a full program (activities, crafts, maps, etc.) for Galloping the Globe/Cantering the Country. We mainly use it as a source of read-alouds, with the occasional map, lap-book, or recipe thrown in. This provides us an excellent source of good-quality read-alouds while learning about states and countries, and we save the more intense work (maps and projects) for Story of the World.

Additionally, we use a more relaxed pace for GTG/CTC studies. For our schedule, I am doing one SOTW history book per year. With GTG/CTC, we work at a "however long it takes" pace. We check all of the books out from the library on the subjects under a particular country or state, and when we finish them, we move on to another country/state. This is taking anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on the amount of material available. (1)


One great side-effect of our history program is that I myself am finally getting a decent history education. I no longer have to wonder who Cromwell was, or what "Restoration England" meant. I've learned about things I'd never heard of before - like the Thirty Years' War - and I've learned about great figures of history who were never mentioned in my history classes (Peter the Great, etc.).

My history education (in an institution that shall remain nameless) was less than stellar. Very little of any value was taught. It was dumbed down, politically correct, and wasted a lot of time on irrelevancies. I am thrilled finally to be getting an education in history through the education of my children, and I'm so excited that they too are learning so much good, solid history. (2)

So that's what we're doing for history this year! While we will doubtless make changes in the future, this is working beautifully for us for now.

Thanks to all the curriculum authors (Loree Petit and Susan Wise Bauer, in this case) who make these wonderful resources available to home educating families!


(1) A friend of mine who also uses the combination of SOTW and GTG/CTC has developed a ten-year rotation using each resource separately: 6 years of SOTW, 2 years of GTG, and 2 years of CTC. See more about her plan here.

(2) Despite this, I did have a couple of exceptionally excellent teachers. Mrs. Marshall and Mr. Tuttle, I'm talking to you!


  1. I love that you found something that works for you! Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones.

    1. Hey, there! I know what you are probably doing, and it involves cuddling something small and squishy! If so, congrats! I've been praying for you and the newest! :)


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