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In the quest to cover a little of everything from a particular time period AND present it at a level that a younger child can understand, most elementary history texts are, well, probably just a bit lacking in the exciting and shall we say “interesting” department. At least, I found it as such when I was much younger, although it led me to do a lot of self-reading to complete the picture in the areas that interested me. Susan Wise Bauer attempts to remedy this difficulty in presenting a chronological history to the younger set using a classical approach to history. The Story of the World is structured around a text and a curriculum guide/activity book that serve as a springboard for your futher history explorations. The readings in the text provide a background of the time period covered, augmented by the use of the guide, which contains review questions, suggestions for supplemental readings, appropriate literature selections, and also map activities, coloring pages, as well as an abundance of projects that span history, art, and science that are sure to excite the student.
The text itself serves as the starting point and backbone of each unit. Each chapter covers a particular time period, and is placed in chronological order. For example, in Volume One: Ancient Times, Chapter One begins with “The Earliest People” followed by chapters detailing periods of Egyptian, Sumarian, Jewish, Babylonian, Assyrian, Indian, Chinese, African, Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Persian, Native American, Roman, Christian, Celt, and Barbarian history. The book goes in strictly chronological order, so one time period of a civilization will be covered, and then a different civilization may be covered, returning to another era of the first civilization later, to encompass a significant historical event of that civilization. Each chapter is further split into smaller, more bite-sized amounts that lend themselves well to a younger attention span. The chapters are presented at a level they will understand, but at the same time, find fairly absorbing. History is presented in more of a story-type format that they will appreciate, and the author emphasizes that the book is not intended to give a complete overview of the time period, but rather to give the student a chronological order of major events and an appreciation and understanding of different cultures while presenting it in a way that will foster an enthusiasm and enjoyment of the subject matter. For example, while not every ruler of a civilization may be named, along with major accomplishments, an overview of the period highlighting important events and rulers, along with details of how the people in the civilizations lived comprise the short chapters. Mythical stories as well as historical fiction-type passages about young children from different cultures are woven into the narrative to stimulate further interest. These almost story-type chapters are meant to be read aloud to younger children, or those with reading difficulty, while good readers and older children can read or take turns reading the chapters aloud.
When a chapter has been completely read, you and the students then turn to the curriculum manual/actvitiy guide. At the beginning of each chapter in the guide, corresponding page references are given from four recommended supplements Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World, The Usborne Book of World History, and the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History. These selections further flesh out the history lessons, particularly for those periods or civilizations where less supplemental reading is available. When all the chapter reading has been accomplished, the next order of business are the reading comprehension-type review questions for each chapter section. Following the questions, the student is asked to summarize the chapter in a few sentences. The author again stresses that important facts be included in this narrative, but not necessarily every single one. A few sample narrations are also supplied for each section. The student’s narrative is then written, illustrated with his/her favorite part of the lesson. The narratives can be collected and put into a loose-leaf binder, to create the student’s own world history. After these activities have been completed, a list of readings chosen to supplement and complement the history lesson are supplied, as well as a following list of corresponding literature suggestions to further flesh out the lesson, with books telling stories from that era. Author, publisher, copyright date, and a sentence summary of each book are given for ease in locating the book.
Now for some real hands-on work! The activities commence with “Map Work,” where a map of the appropriate area is supplied, and the student identifies and marks pertinent areas, routes, and features. The geography section is normally followed by a coloring page, highlighting some aspect of the history lesson, or some other word activity. Finally, the chapter closes with a selection of projects to do to really “get into” the featured civilization or time period. These may be arts, crafts, writing, or science projects, or just fun supplemental activities. Most require only common household supplies and art supplies such as paints & paintbrushes, boxes, newspaper and waxed paper, self-drying clay, etc. Several projects are provided for each chapter, covering a wide range of activities. These could include anything from building your own hut to making your own cunieform tablets, mummifying a chicken, brick-making, baking an African or Greek feast, purple dye, an erupting volcano, an olympic wreath, a Native American sand painting, a Roman chariot, making paper, and LOTS more. When you’ve covered the chapter content as much as is desired, move on.
While the breadth of activities and readings may seem overwhelming or time-consuming, keep in mind that not every suggested book needs to be read, and not every single project needs to be completed. (But Mom, can’t we embalm the chicken today?) Spend as much time in an era as suits the students, pacing yourself to cover everything that is of interest. The structure of the curriculum makes it especially easy and enjoyable to use with several children in this age range, although I’m sure the older kids would love to get into it too!
Volume One was revised in 2006 and now features more illustrations, maps, several timelines and additional parent/teacher notes. The text is paperback, and the Curriculum Guide/Activity Book is a bound paperback. - Jess