As a parent to four active children, I know about noise. One of my solutions to the mind-numbing chaos is to divide and conquer. I read aloud to two or three of them from a good book, while my husband, Rick, tutors the other one or two.
The series I’m about to recommend are history books told as stories. This is not a paid advertisement, I’m writing this blog post because I really like the books. They tell fantastic stories.
And, who doesn’t love a good story?
This week, my twins and I were transported back in time. “I wonder if we could have had tea right from the harbor?” said Karen, following a story about the Boston Tea Party. “Would it have been too salty? I would have liked to have used a scoop.”
Geared to elementary students, The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child series, written by Susan Wise Bauer, describes historical events in parallel as they happen around the world. Bauer’s creative story-telling engages the kids and keeps the stories interesting.
She uses bird’s eye view perspective to describe building nations and her descriptions of minute details are often memorable because they are funny. These are not history texts with colourful splash boxes, written by bored committees. Instead, they are gems written by a former homeschooled student, turned University lecturer, writer, historian and homeschooling parent.
The twins and I have read the first two volumes. We are currently reading the third volume. We have not been able to put it down. They’re written for elementary levels, but still I find them captivating.
In just a few days, we have read about the introduction of the steam engine and we imagined what it would have been like for children who worked for up to twelve hours a day in factories in England. Then, we arrived in the port city of Guangzhou with a Chinese emperor who insisted on having visitors kowtow. A few days later the kids were excited to receive an eBay delivery from Guangzhou containing gaskets for the engine on our generator.
That night, at bedtime, the guillotine came to life as we learned about the French revolution. Here’s the passage the inspired Karen to draw us a picture of a man with short hair.
“On January 21st, 1793, Louis XVI was taken out of his cell, ‘Don’t seek revenge for my death!’ he called to his son as he left. He was marched to the town square at the centre of Paris, where the guillotine, a sharp blade that dropped down onto the necks of its victims, waited. The executioner had cut his hair short so that the blade would slice cleanly.”The Story of the World, Volume 3, chapter 25.
We are presently in Martinique, a department of France. This only serves to reinforce the story for Karen. The guillotine was imported to Martinique in the mid-1800’s and was last put to use in public here in 1965.
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home recommends teaching world history chronologically over four years. Following the model, the theory suggests repeating the four-year cycle in middle school and higher grades, with increasingly complex material. Bauer’s four-volume series suits this method for elementary students. As it happens, The Well-Trained Mind is written by Bauer and her mother, Jessie Wise. Bauer has written many other books, including history books for older students.
I want my kids to be exposed to major events and figures of history. Hopefully, stories about Julius Caesar, Mansa Musa, Lenin, Catherine The Great, and the Forbidden City will spark their imaginations, and provoke a desire and curiosity to learn more.
In Grades 1 and 2, the twins learned about Confucius, the pyramids and Aristotle. We imagined ourselves in the library of Alexandria. We learned about Buddha, Abraham, and Mohammed.
I appreciate early exposure to different religions. But, in this regard, the books can be rather uncomfortable. I’m not the only person who notices a Christian bias. I developed an eye twitch, as I read about Muslims and their ‘innately warring ways’. Instead of skimming over this material, I told my children about the wonderful Muslim family that I stayed with in Jordan. And, I teach my children the important lesson that “just because something appears in a book, doesn’t necessarily make it true.”
For the most part, the stories are absolute page turners. Paul (age 12) raced ahead to complete the series independently. He has an amazing ability to recall details.
Karen and Henry are making connections. They all recognize patterns of behavior and power struggles. “I bet there’ll be another war,” says Karen as she rolls her eyes and settles into a drawing. Karen enjoyed hearing about Catherine the Great who courted the Russian military and eventually usurped her husband, Peter III to become Empress.
The stories of colonization help make sense of our experience in the Caribbean. We see why some countries speak English, French, Creole, Dutch or Spanish. Of course, our first-hand experiences with different foods, customs and historical sites like plantations or a United States civil war site also provide a window into the past.
The Story of the World books are available in audible books, Kindle and hardcopy.