Part I of this two-part review focused on the religious content of SOTW, the amount of which seems to be too much or too little depending on your bent. This second part addresses how we used the books and activity guides. My boys were 5 and 9 when we began the first volume, and we finished the fourth(okay, almost) when they were 8 and 12. We moved through a book a school year, with a bit of reading into the summers to complete the job .
Overall, the boys and I enjoyed the series and learned a vast amount of history during our four years of surveying world history. We read the books aloud, a chapter or two at a time, supplementing with Usborne and Kingfisher history encyclopedias, relevent videos, and more additional readings that probably necessary. In other words, Story of the World was a starting place for our studies. Alone, it would be insufficient and unbalanced. With other resources (and the activity guide has fine lists of books for each chapter, most available through our larger metropolitan library network), a rich, multi-age course is easily built.
Even beyond the book lists, the activity books served us well. Each chapter contains maps with instructions for use, recommended additional readings, page numbers for corresponding readings in Usborne and Kingfisher history encyclopedias, simple comprehension questions, coloring pages (for the first three volumes), and several projects per chapter. My boys aren’t fans of projects and coloring pictures (We still have the crayons I bought when my older turned one.), but the maps, book lists, and questions were useful in every volume. My younger still requests copies of maps from various historical periods, outlining battles and boundaries with the aid of one of our historical atlases.
As I mentioned, we didn’t explore many of the projects. An occasional math or science extension made its way into our schedule, but hands-on, make something works aren’t a preferred plan of study at our house (by anyone), so I can’t comment much on this component of the guides. The comprehension questions are quite basic, requiring nothing more than regurgitation of facts. My kids loved them, competing to answer them. I expanded discussion to include more critical thinking and linking of historical facts to make the connections in history more of the focus than names and dates. This addition proved valuable, as I now have two children who see that history repeats and can pull our recurring themes, even relating current events to ancient times. The books alone do not offer this depth. I see this as a weak point of the activity guides, although I do understand that they’re written for the so-called grammar stage of learning in classical education parlance, and questions of critical thought aren’t considered the task for that age. (When your five-year-old reaches the section on Alexander the Great and notes that the pattern of expansion and collapse of civilizations, the whole stage business kinda falls apart. You’re mileage may vary.)
The first volume, designed for grades 1 through 4, is written in a rather simplistic and, “Gee, whiz!” tone that sometimes amused my kids, then 5 and 9. As other reviewers have noted, that first book contains far too many exclamation points to qualify as fine writing, but it does succeed in telling a story that, for the most part, compels the reader and listeners to ask questions and seek out more information. It certainly served its purpose for my boys, who came to love history. I found it challenging to follow the jumps in location and time that Wise-Bauer makes in all the books, but my boys found it less daunting. By the time one reaches the fourth volume, the writing is stronger and far more detailed. Since her purpose is to provide four years of sequential history lessons, this progression makes sense, but it leaves the child with a far more comprehensive view of (selected events of) modern history and a cursory view of the ancients.
Following the classical education model, this cycle would repeat with another four years of chronological history from grades 5 though 8 (logical stage) and a final pass in grades 9 through 12 (rhetorical stage). As I’ve mentioned, these stages don’t work for my boys (and likely don’t hold for most gifted learners), but knowing the intent and purpose of the books increased my patience with the uneven depth of the volumes. Additionally, while I liked a survey of history, I don’t have any plans to repeat that survey three times. As I’ve blogged previously, we’re moving on to other histories this year: science for my younger and music for my older. We all need a break from war, something of which our human history contains too much.