The Story of the World Review: The Most Hands On History Curriculum
As I write this The Story of the World review, we have just wrapped up our homeschool year!
A summary of the entire review would be that if I pulled out this curriculum in the middle of the summer – all my kids would come running to the table!
It has been a huge hit for our homeschool and I am really excited to share in detail how our year went!
This review will cover what The Story of the World is, how the curriculum works, a sample lesson, what we love about the curriculum, what we don’t love, what my kids think about it, and some frequently asked questions – including some controversy about whether the curriculum is Christian or secular.
What is The Story of the World?
The Story of the World is a homeschooling world history curriculum from The Well Trained Mind that is geared toward the elementary-aged child.
It is known for teaching history in a storytelling format that engages and interests kids in topics that can otherwise be quite dry.
The curriculum consists of 4 books (they also come in audiobook format) that cover history from early civilization to modern times. Each book should take you roughly a year to complete.
The curriculum also offers a robust activity book and test booklet to go along with each volume.
The Story of the World Review: Exactly How the Curriculum Works
This history curriculum can be as simple, “open and go” or as complex and planned out as you want it to be.
There are a lot of options in the activity book to take the curriculum further, but you have to be the judge of what is the best fit for your homeschool.
You may choose to break up the lesson over several days, or do it all in one day. It just depends on what your schedule is and how long your kids can stay engaged.
We personally chose to devote Tuesdays to core work (reading, writing, math, Bible, and literature) and then we scheduled an hour+ to complete an entire chapter in one day.
I will walk you through a sample lesson and show you what my homeschool picked up and what we didn’t.
Sample Lesson of The Story of the World Volume 1
Chapter 28 of The Story of the World Volume 1 is about the Roman Empire.
1. Read the chapter to your kids while they work on the included coloring page for the lesson
Chapter 28 is 12 pages (a little longer than most of the chapters) and covers several topics. First, it talks about how the Romans had the same gods as the Greeks, just under different names. Then the chapter talks about how the Romans used stories of the gods to explain things around them.
The lesson tells the story of how the goddess, Proserpine, was stolen by the god Pluto and that the result was the changing seasons.
Next, the chapter covers the achievements of the Roman builders (Roman roads, aqueducts, etc.) and then switches to Roman gladiators in the arena. A story is told of an unwilling gladiator in the arena who chose not to kill because he knew it was wrong to kill for sport.
2. Review Questions and Discussion
As soon as I’m done reading the chapter, I launch right into the review questions and start discussing them with my girls.
Each section of the lesson has its own review questions in the activity book. So for this lesson, there is a section of questions for the Roman gods, Roman builders, Roman gladiators, and the gladiator schools.
3. Narration Exercises
There are also narration exercises for each section of the chapter. The narration exercises involve asking your child more open-ended questions.
We personally found these to be a little redundant after doing the review questions, so we skipped this part entirely.
4. Book List
There are excellent suggested book lists for each lesson. You can order those online from your local library to enrich the lesson.
We did The Story of the World during the pandemic though, so library access was difficult. Unfortunately, we did not take advantage of the book lists, but hopefully next year we will be able to with The Story of the World Volume 2.
5. Map Work
After the review questions, we would flip to the map sheet. For the lesson, the child is asked to find Sicily and color it yellow.
Then they talk about what Italy is shaped like and what it looks like Italy is doing to Sicily (kicking it).
This is a simpler map sheet exercise, others have been more complex.
There are usually three suggested activities to do after the lesson.
It is not intended that you do ALL the activities, but that you choose one that fits your homeschool schedule, budget, and energy level.
For the Roman lesson, the suggested activities are to:
Make a Roman Archway and Aqueduct out of sand dough
Make a Roman Road model out of a shoebox lid
Make a Roman Chariot with a large cardboard box
If I was organized and on top of it, I would probably pick the Roman road activity. It is an interesting and educational way of teaching the layers of how the roads were built.
If I was not organized, I would get the cardboard box, help my kids glue paper plates to it for wheels, and then let them decorate it to their hearts’ content.
Here are a few pictures of activities we have done with The Story of the World this year:
The last thing would be to administer the test for the chapter. The questions are multiple-choice and pretty straightforward – no “gotcha questions.”
We have done the tests a few times but decided to not continue with it. I felt it was a little bit of overkill on top of everything we had already done, and it took away from the spirit of fun I was trying to reach with elementary-level history.
History is not a core subject, so mastery of the material is not required. No need to spoil the fun with a test!
If you prefer tests though, but sure to purchase the seperate test booklet and answer key.
What We Love About The Story of the World
1. All the Fun of History and None of the Boring
The lessons are amazing at bringing history to life in a way that kids will remember.
Tons of engaging stories, and almost no boring dates or other dry material.
My kids have absolutely fallen in love with history this year!
2. Completely Customizable
As I said earlier, you can do as much or as little as you want. Some families only listen to the stories on CD in their car and call it good.
Other families go the distance of making a Parthenon out of gingerbread.
Just make it your own!
3. Stretches Well Across Ages
I did The Story of the World with a Pre-K, 1st grader, and 4th grader.
They all loved it and were very engaged – a rare find for any homeschool curriculum!
4. Super Fun Projects
As you can see in the above pictures, we did a lot of activities and we really had fun with it!
I definitely felt like I was hitting our homeschool day out of the ballpark when my kids got to work on such cool history projects.
And of course, they learned more by doing the activities.
5. Multiple Activity Choices for Each Lesson
Not everybody feels like doing an involved history project every week. Trust me, I know.
I really appreciate that the creators of The Story of the World worked to offer different options for the mood and schedule that week.
As an example, for early Greek civilization there was an option to make a Greek vase from clay and then paint it. Or you could color a greek vase on an activity sheet with your own design.
Always nice to have options when things come up.
6. Review Questions
For me, the review questions were the best part of the lessons. I went around the table and gave each of my girls a chance to answer questions.
They really enjoyed recalling the information and then talking more about the lessons. Lots of opportunities for rich discussion and extra learning – a huge goal and benefit of homeschooling!
7. Social Studies Add-In
This is not listed as a social studies curriculum – it’s history – but there is a lot of social studies!
Tons of discussion of culture, societies, civilization, hierarchy, geography, and even map work. Always nice to get 2 for 1!
What We Don’t Love About The Story of the World
1. Number of Lessons
The average school year is around 35 weeks long. The Story of the World Book 1 has 42 lessons.
That is too many lessons for doing one lesson per week, but also not enough lessons to do two lessons per week.
Call me nit-picky, but I don’t like that. I don’t want to cram too much into a week in the name of just finishing the book. But I also like closing out the year on time.
I opted to put my OCD on the shelf with this curriculum, and plan to just finish the rest of the lessons this fall with the new school year.
2. Overly Elaborate Activities
There were some weeks where I could not imagine doing any of the listed projects. They would be just way too time, energy, and/or money.
Those weeks I would just tell the kids there wasn’t an activity, and they would still enjoy the story, coloring pages, review discussion, and map work.
3. Some Dark Lessons
Book 1 of The Story of the World is all about early civilization and has lots of stories from early cultures. Sometimes they were fascinating, but sometimes they were a bit dark.
For example, there were several chapters on Greek mythology. One of the stories talked about how the Agean Sea got its name. It involved the tale of a king jumping off a cliff into the sea when he mistakenly thought his son had been killed.
Maybe I shelter my kids too much, but I just don’t want to talk to my kids about suicide in elementary school. I selectively edited the story as I was reading it and my kids didn’t seem to miss a beat.
This kind of thing only happened a couple of times, but I still wanted to mention it. To be fair, the large majority of history can be disturbing (slavery, plagues, wars, etc.). It’s absolutely a balance to teach history accurately in a way that is neither rose colored or nightmare inducing.
If your kids are sensitive, I would take a few minutes to read through the lesson and decide how you want to present it to your kids.
What My Kids Think about The Story of the World
Across the board, my three girls looked forward to their history lesson every week.
They all loved the stories, activity sheets, discussions, and projects. I never heard any sighs, moans, or complaining that something was “boring.”
My 1st grader in particular would routinely ask during the week if it was “history day” or not. History was her favorite and she couldn’t understand why we didn’t do it every day!
My little pre-k student said The Story of the World was “good” and that she wanted to do it again next year because “it’s fun.”
My 4th grader said history was her 2nd favorite subject this year (science being her favorite), and that she wanted to do The Story of the World Volume 2 next year.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Story of the World
What Grade Level is The Story the World?
The Story of the World is definitely geared towards the elementary level child.
A middle school or high school level student would probably be interested in reading the chapters as a supplement, but it is not enough to use as their primary history curriculum at that age.
Is The Story of the World Christian or Secular?
Weirdly enough, I would say it is both.
The Story of the World Volume 1 talks about the earliest people groups (nomads, cave dwellers, etc.), but does not mention anything having to do with The Big Bang Theory, evolution, or anything else that a Christian would disagree with.
But it is also doesn’t give God any credit for creating the world.
The curriculum discusses early Jewish civilization and tells some of the famous stories of Abraham and Joseph. Some would say that is proof that The Story of the World is “Christian revisionist history.”
The only problem with that is that the Jewish stories are told right alongside stories from all other cultures of the time – China, India, African, Native Americans, and peoples of the Fertile Crescent. Later, there are lessons and stories about Greek and Roman gods.
At no time is any culture or people group seen as better than another. The book just highlights their achievements, geography, and includes an engaging, memorable story.
I did read a review from this Christian homeschool mom who was horrified to see that the curriculum included things like idol worship and violence. While I respect her right to use any history curriculum she wants for her kids, I would counter that she should not let her kids read the Bible either if these books bother her.
I would also say that The Story of the World curriculum gives great opportunities to parents to discuss their faith with their children.
I asked my kids what God would think of the story, or how the story matches or does not match up with scripture. It was a chance to equip my children for the world, not shield them from it.
What Do I Need to Buy to Teach The Story of the World?
At a minimum, I would buy Volume 1 and the activity book.
If you have multiple children, you are allowed to photocopy the activity sheets in the back of the activity book. If that sounds torturous to you, you can buy activity sheet packets on The Well Trained Mind website.
Don’t forget that you can can also purchase the books on CD so you can listen to them at home or in the car.
Does The Story of the World cover US History?
Most American families spend 1-2 years in the elementary years covering US History. Sadly, The Story of the World is…well, world history.
Part of it does cover major US history events, but it does not provide the comprehensive teaching that most parents are going to be looking for.
If you are in the market for some storytelling-style US history curriculum, check out these recommendations.
Recap The Story of the World Review
Well, that is my full The Story of the World review and I hope it has answered any and all questions!
As you can tell, we have loved this hands on history curriculum, and we have already bought next year’s books!
I know my kids will be expecting some amazing hands-on history projects and riveting stories, and I don’t want to let them down.
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