Category Archives: Homeschooling

Book Review :: Story of the World

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

We are on our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we're cycling back to ancient times.

We are in our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we’re cycling back to ancient times.

Audience: Ages 6 and up
Reading Level: 4th grade and up due to lots of historical names

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume I: Ancient Times: From the earliest nomads to the last Roman emperor. Revised Edition. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA, 2006.

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World Activity Book I: Ancient Times. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA , 2006.

Story of the World

This is our fifth year using the Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum. That’s saying a lot for a homeschooling family. We have a lot of choices to choose from and need not stick with a curriculum unless we really like it.

As for my own teaching style, I use music CDs, workbooks, regular books, library videos, dinnertime discussions, general observations and board games to teach my kids about the world (and math, writing, reading, history, etc). I use Montessori materials for reading and math (up to age 7 or so). It’s rare that I use any sort of comprehensive curriculum – except for SOTW and as they get older, Beast Academy and Singapore for math. Although there are a number of activities you could require your children to do with SOTW (including tests), I follow the lead of my children and adapt the curriculum as needed.

Picture of all four books in the Story of the World series.

A glimpse at all four books in the Story of the World curriculum series.

I really like SOTW because it’s a chronologically-based history ‘program.’ The stories are told in order, beginning with the nomads and moving up through modern times. When my oldest was young, we started with the nomads and I didn’t worry about encompassing the big bang theory or placement of the dinosaurs (something we corrected when cycling back to ancient times).

I think the chronological order mimics Dr. Montessori’s Cosmic Education without requiring too much learning (or buying of resources) on my part. The Cosmic ‘Curriculum’ is presented in the 6-12 classroom, and since I did my training for ages 3-6, I love that SOTW has stories that are easy for me to read and that the guide has pre-printed maps and suggested activities. It’s less prep work for me. I also love that I can adapt it to my needs and feel less pressured to use the “correct” Montessori materials (i.e. prepared timeline).

First Year – Story of the World – Ancient Times – Ages 5 – 7
The first year we started with SOTW, my oldest was five and a half, but he LOVED listening to stories. He didn’t care for reading instruction, written math or having to retell a story. He wanted to listen to the stories and that was it. So, that’s what we did. With a globe nearby, I read the stories and supported them with the occasional picture or non-fiction book (many of which were recommended in the guide). We discovered the “craft” section of the guide and R chose a recommended activity each week. We also skipped some chapters and focused on a few select topics. At the end of the year, he knew a lot about ancient Egypt, ancient China and the Roman Empire. He was also very familiar with the non-fiction section of the library.

Although my oldest doesn't remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do - and it is one of our fondest memories!

Although my oldest doesn’t remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do and it is one of our fondest memories! These were drinks of water so they wouldn’t be parched in the Gobi Desert.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment - complete with stuffing in his back.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment – complete with stuffing in his back.

Second Year – Story of the World – Medieval Times – Ages 6 – 8
There are typically 42 chapters in each book, so we really didn’t get to the end of the first book until the end of the summer, which meant that we started the second book around October. These stories seemed much more interesting – knights and castles and barbarians (which he didn’t really like because they were scary). Since he was technically a first grader, we didn’t do any summaries or written work. I read the stories and he chose an activity from the guide. Since his younger brother was much more active that year, we didn’t even do a lot of literature reinforcements, just a chapter and an activity.

Picture of a homemade marshmallow and cereal castle

This castle is made from puffed cereal and melted marshmallows. Four years later, my children STILL remember it fondly.

In addition to choosing an activity or craft from each week, we made sure to visit the local Medieval Faire that year. Also, for R’s 7th birthday, he and his dad attended the show at Medieval Times in Orlando. While it’s not quite authentic, it’s close enough for a 7-year-old. All of these events helped to make the connections in his brain grow stronger and hopefully solidified some knowledge of medieval times.

Third Year – Story of the World – Early Modern Times – Ages 7 – 9
This was the year R attended a charter school, at least until Christmas break when we pulled him out to continue homeschooling. It was a change we all needed and has served us well in the ensuing years. Regardless, he said he wanted to keep reading the stories when he went to school, so once a week we read about history from the 1500s to the 1850s. His second grade teacher required a written summary each week, so he often chose to summarize the chapter that we read (upon my suggestion).

This was one of the hardest things my struggling writer had to do, but he made his way through it. Often, he would dictate his summary to me and then copy it in his own hand. His thoughts were much more advanced than his limited spelling and writing skills, and this was a good way to bridge that gap. It also gave him good practice with learning how to summarize (sort of). His assignments came with no “summarizing” instructions, but we talked about what was most important in the story and he took it from there.

After he returned to homeschooling, I taught him how to do summary maps using this book as a general guide. It provided the concepts of main and supporting ideas and gave my visual-spatial learner a way to organize his thoughts and write a summary – without having to write an entire paragraph.

Fourth Year – Story of the World – Modern Times – Ages 8 – 10
For the fourth year of history, I continued to require that he make story maps for one of the stories in each chapter, though we did try to begin outlining, as Bauer recommends. He just wasn’t ready, especially since he didn’t particularly care for the summary maps either. I did read many of these aloud to him, but as his 4.5-year-old brother was becoming interested in the stories (and these are pretty violent retellings), I had him read many of the chapters to himself. He was an accomplished reader at that point and had already been reading lots of kids’ books on WWII, civil rights and current events.

Looking back on these past four years, I realized that I used this curriculum to create a love of history (and hopefully pattern recognition), to establish the concept of geography and a sense of being part of a bigger whole, and to gently introduce writing and note-taking skills (with transferable results).  I have been very happy with the ability to adapt the SOTW curriculum. I have been able to add or remove activities and stay on certain topics longer, if I choose to do so, and if my children show an interest.

It’s important to note that the author does place a Christian-slant on history by including chapters on Abraham and God, and the birth of Jesus, but she also introduces many other major religions and includes their origin stories, specifically Islam and Hinduism. If you are not Christian, you could skip such chapters as there is not a Christian theme throughout the rest of the chapters.

This year, we have returned to ‘Ancient Times’ and my six-year-old has joined us in our ‘Story of the World’ activities. I will be detailing our return to this time period in a follow-up post. Since it is my ten-year-old’s second time through this curriculum, we have increased the activities and added elements that deepen our learning and understanding.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road - complete with chocolate chip "snacks" that you could buy at a local store.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road – complete with chocolate chip “snacks” that you could buy at a local store. I can’t wait to re-enact the journey of the Silk Road.




Book Report :: A Visual-Spatial Experience

My children are my greatest teachers.

I could go on (and on and on) about how much I have grown mentally, spiritually, and physically just by being their mother. But, I have also grown as a teacher because I am able to observe them closely and watch how they learn. Because it’s different than the way I learn.

He prefers a cluttered desk - whereas I can't stand it!

He prefers a cluttered desk – whereas I can’t stand it!

My older son has given me permission to share his work on this blog and I hope that it will help other visual-spatial learners.

A little background to his relationship with writing – he hated to write as a young boy. Asking him to write anything was tantamount to watching a volcano erupt. Lots of rumbling and growling before a full-blown explosion occurred out of sheer frustration. He was frustrated that it didn’t look perfect. He was frustrated that it hurt his hand (he pushed really hard on his pencil). He was frustrated that he didn’t know how to spell anything and that would block his thoughts.

So, this was one thing I let go. I didn’t push it and I hoped that by the time he hit middle school many of these issues would be resolved. Plus, we’ve always written thank you notes and homemade birthday cards, so it wasn’t as if I never asked him to write anything. But in the last year, something clicked for him.

He discovered the value of writing fluently and his resistance has lessened. Maybe the muscles in his hand are further developed, or perhaps he isn’t struggling with spelling as much (to which I attribute his extraordinary love of reading). I’m not sure why the time is right, but it is. He has unconsciously decided to communicate more in the written form.

His first draft - which he went back through with a red marker and marked his needed corrections.

His first draft – which he went back through and marked potential corrections.

In fact, the idea of a book report was his idea – spurred on by some outside events. Since 2003, I have been part of a book club of friends. Each month, we rotate houses to host the group. This month was my turn to host – and to choose the book. I chose The Lightening Thief . My kids and I have been studying ancient history in our Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum and we’re taking a deeper look at the Greek myths in the coming weeks . Plus, a juvenile book is always a good choice for our busy, mom-filled book club.

Well, my son was ecstatic. He read the book before I did and he mentioned that he wanted to give a report at the book club. I told him he could write a book report, to which he responded, “Huh? What’s a book report?” So, I proceeded to tell him and he accepted the challenge.

Visual-Spatial book report. First step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color - yellow was for the setting and time; blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

Visual-Spatial book report. The first step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color – yellow was for the setting and time; whereas blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

The project was a bit overwhelming, so I suggested that he make a word map of what happened in the story. He’s very used to this concept since this how we talk about each chapter of SOTW. He found this to be fun and relatively easy. I prompted him when he got stuck.

When it came to writing the actual report, you could see the terror come into his eyes, so I found a way to break down the map: colors. We went online and found this easy “how to write a book report” web site and broke down the report into three main categories. He chose the colors and I circled the setting and character ideas using a yellow marker.

Then, he chose blue and decided what was significant to the beginning of the story. Next, came green for the middle part and finally, a red marker for the end of the story. Some of the ideas didn’t quite fit into one category so they got two colors.

Some simple writing reminders - capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

Some simple writing reminders – capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

After a bit of grumbling, he got down to writing and came to show me his work. He was so proud of himself (and I was too), so I praised his hard work. Then, he went over it (on his own) and followed the above editing rules. That way, I wasn’t marking up his work – he was. And, for him that makes all the difference. He went over his draft and capitalized the start of every sentence, proper noun and circled his suspected misspellings. Then, we fixed it together.


I wrote down the correct spelling for the words he didn’t know.

Over the course of three days, he made a story map, wrote a first draft, edited his work and rewrote the final version of his book report. Last month, I introduced the concept of a first draft when he wrote a thank you note to a city official (as part of his city project). I’ve also set the expectation that your first draft is for creative ideas, and then you go back and fix the grammar, spelling and sentence structure. My favorite explanation for this process can be found here.

But, the best part of this whole project? He instigated it. Would he be as proud if I had demanded it? Probably not. Of course, he’s at this point because we have incorporated tiny real-world writings into our weekly routine. He’s also a voracious reader who doesn’t equate reading with writing. And, we all know that in order to be a great writer, you have to be a prolific reader.

Book report on The Lightning Thief

Final book report on The Lightning Thief


Project-Based Learning :: Water Cycle

In an ongoing effort to document our project-based learning, I wanted to talk about how my family first got started with self-directed projects.

A water cycle experiment that was in one of the books he found.

A water cycle experiment that was in one of the books he found.

When I first read the book, Project-Based Homeschooling, my oldest son was kindergarten-age and I just couldn’t see how he would be able to learn to read, write or do math solely with a project-based curriculum. At that point, he was a struggling reader and while we had always read books that he had chosen, he was showing no inclination to replicate anything based on this research. Therefore, I dismissed it and went on with our “Montessori at home” curriculum. And, thank goodness for that because my eldest child turned out to be a visual-spatial learner and without a Montessori way of learning, he would have struggled even more so. Today, at almost ten-years-old, he is a fabulous reader, but more importantly, he loves to read. But, I digress.

After we pulled him back out of public school (nice place, but way too much homework for 2nd grade), I abandoned all formal learning for the Spring and told him we would just work on projects. His choice of topic, his choice of final project. My strong-willed child loved the idea.

He initially chose to learn more about how we get our water from the faucet. He was quite fascinated by this Magic School Bus book. Since I was being as open-ended as possible, I tried not to direct him in any way. But, as we both learned, my newly-minted eight-year-old needed direction.

To find out about how we get water, we have to understand how the Earth gets water.

To find out about how we get water, we have to understand how the Earth gets water.

So, after an initial library search where he got to choose the books, I asked a few questions. I asked if there was anything in particular that he wanted to know about our city’s water. He did. He wanted to know how the water got into our house. So, we talked about where we could find that information. Since it wasn’t available online, we had to figure out who to speak with at our city.

Thankfully, we live in nice-sized rural city and the office staff are quite friendly. We went a few times to visit city hall and spoke with the workers to find out more information. He did a lot of the speaking, but I made sure to follow up on his ideas. I made the calls and the appointments and prompted him with the next step.

Eventually, he expanded his city water project to include the water cycle and concluded with a visit to our local wastewater treatment plant. All because he was curious. My child, who hated to write, was writing and taking notes.

Neatly writing out his final summary. He dictated to me and I wrote it so he could copy the correct spelling.

Neatly writing out his final summary. He dictated to me and I wrote it so he could copy the correct spelling.

That’s not to say that his final project – a poster – was completely self-chosen or that he would wake up every morning begging to get started. Nor does it mean that presently my kids only learn with projects – they don’t. I assign some work too. However, as we completed the project together, I learned that for a young child (under age 13?) they are going to need a lot more help with a formal project, which was not so clear in the book. While I made sure to follow his lead, I also did some “behind the scenes” research and ensured that a book on water would be one of the selected bedtime reading books. Or, we made a point to drive by the water tower on our way home. I needed to show him how to find out information. I had to be the example, but in a back-door sort of way so as to not co-opt his project. It wasn’t always easy.

Water tower. Initially, I forced us all to stay by the road and sketch. One of my many learning mistakes as my child was not keen on sketching anything by the side of the road.

Water tower. Initially, I forced us all to stay on the grass and sketch. It was one of my many learning mistakes. My child was not keen on sketching anything by the side of the road.

I did offer lots of examples for final projects – a drawing, a sculpture, a book, a poster. Since this was our first project, I needed him to understand that he was working toward a goal of creating something. He really wanted to do a poster and I made sure to follow his progress and encourage him when it became too overwhelming – or boring.

I also made sure that he finished it. There’s a lot of debate about whether a self-chosen project should be abandoned by the child, but I think that if you get halfway into a project, you need to help them to complete it – at least in some “final” way. The end product can change, but there needs to be some way to show what they’ve learned. I see that as my job as a teacher-facilitator. Nudge them – not too hard – and help them to stay on track. Quite frankly, I have a number of half-finished projects that I would love to have someone help me finish.


Ironically, I have no picture of his completed poster.