The Story of the World Review

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With its interesting narrative-based texts, fun and engaging suite of activities, multisensory approach and the inclusion of solid, supplemental materials, The Story of the World is a highly adaptable and comprehensive curriculum that can help parents instill a love of history in their students.

What We Like

Lots of different formats means the program can be quite affordable
Very multisensory and filled with lots of activities
Very flexible and can fit just about any homeschool style
Easy to teach, guided lessons
Fun, narrative approach to teaching history means learning isn’t as boring
Available in audiobook format, as well, great for younger students and those with reading difficulties
Exposes students to many different cultures and civilizations throughout history
Optional suggested readings add a literature-based element that can be kind of fun
Fun and interesting hands-on history projects to try

But Be Careful

Hands-on projects can require parents to go shopping for materials
Taking full advantage of the program can mean buying several extra books

What is The Story of The World?

Created by Susan Wise Bauer, author of the Well-Trained Mind and founder of Well-Trained Mind Press, The Story of the World is a series of world history books aimed at homeschool students. 

Through its four volumes, the series takes students on a journey from the ancient world to modern times and, combined with its accompanying activity books and recommended extra readings, is designed to serve as a full history curriculum. 

The Story of the World is widely accessible, being available in print, digital and audiobook formats. 

What Grades Or Ages Is It Intended For?

The Story of the World is largely an elementary school level world history text designed for students in Grades 1-8.

There are four volumes to the program, progressing through different periods of history, each of which are broadly (although not strictly) recommended to be used with a different grade range. 

These are: 

Era CoveredApprox. Grades
Volume 1Ancient TimesGrades 1-4
Volume 2Middle AgesGrades 2-5
Volume 3Early Modern TimesGrades 3-6
Volume 4Modern AgeGrades 4-8

That said, The Story of the World is a homeschool history program and, because it is a history series written in a more casual, narrative format and because it can be read aloud, read independently or even listened to as an audiobook, we feel its titles can be used with students outside these intend age ranges. 

Parents of younger students can, for example, read a title aloud and focus more on the suggested hands-on activities. 

At the same time, older students can certainly pick up any of the titles and start reading, with parents adding more sophisticated writing assignments or activities to formalize their learning a bit more, should they choose.  

What Does a Story of the World Curriculum Include?

The Story of the World can be used as a complete history curriculum and there are a few components that go along with the books that can help parents do so. 

The Spine: The Story of the World History Books

The core or spine of a Story of the World history curriculum begins with the books themselves. 

Each volume in the series focuses on a particular period of history – Ancient Times, The Middle Ages, Early Modern Times (Elizabethan England through the Gold Rush) and The Modern Ages (1850 onwards). 

Rather than a dry presentation of facts, the books take a more casual, narrative approach, being written something like a story, which make them more entertaining and engaging to read and/or for parents to read aloud to their kids.

screenshot of the story of the world showing its narrative approach

Each book is around a few hundred pages long, broken into 42 smaller chapters, and printed in black and white.

Although they are written in a narrative style, the books are fact-filled and thoroughly educational, diving into history in a surprising amount of depth and sophisticiation. 

While not a picture book by any means, they do include a variety of illustrated sketches, maps, portraits and more spread throughout the books.

Being black and white illustrations, these aren’t the most artistic but can actually be quite fun for kids(some looking like they might fit into a popular fantasy novel) and we feel they do help students (and parents) get a better visual understanding of the material, which can be important in a history study aimed at younger students. 

screenshot of story of the world's illustrations

Interestingly, the books frequently include examples of stories, legends, poems and other first hand, period specific, materials.

screenshot showing story of the world's inclusion of legends, stories and poems

These aren’t just fun to read, but also add a little more flavor to the learning and can be used to help shed more light on the various people, societies and cultures involved in each specific period of history.

At the end of each book, there are a few appendices that include a variety of materials that can help with teaching, such as larger scale maps, chronologies and even a helpful pronunciation guide, something that can help parents if they choose to use the program as a read aloud. 

Activity Books

In addition to the core books, there are ready-made Story of the World activity books for each volume that can help formalize the learning for those intending to use the books as a main curriculum.

Available in digital format (PDF) as well as in print form, and printed in black and white, these activity books are designed to accompany the Story of the World Books and contain structured lesson plans for each chapter that provide parents with a variety of useful learning activities including review questions, suggested reading, map work and an assortment of activities and mini-projects.

At the back of the activity books are several resources parents can use to help with learning, such as review cards (history oriented flashcards), larger maps for doing map work, coloring pages and even short answer/multiple choice quiz pages in case parents want to add assessments into their teaching. 

Overall, the activity books can be a great way to provide more structured learning to the Story of the World Books. 

Each lesson in the book contains a good variety of activities, from essential encyclopedia readings and review questions to living books, map work and craft projects, and we feel it can ultimately suit most homeschool styles.

The inclusion of hands-on learning activities is quite interesting, as well. 

Rather than relying on written and oral work, students learning with Story of the World can try out a number of arts and crafts-style projects based around the topic they are learning. 

For example, students might paint their own Ming dynasty replica bowl, make a living model of the Nile river with some grass seeds, a pan, rocks and some water, or even create their own mummified chicken.

picture of a story of the world activity book craft project

Not only are these activities fun and not particularly hard for parents to set up, they also add a multisensory element to learning that can make learning history more engaging and meaningful to students, particularly with more tactile learners. 

There are quite a few activities in each lesson, which can seem a bit overwhelming to parents at times, but they are more or less optional, and having so many options does mean that parents have a lot of flexibility in picking and choosing which activities best fit their schedule and preferences. 

On the downside, some of these mini projects and activities can get pretty involved. 

While many are fairly simple, some of the more interesting projects can take up a fair amount of time in terms of prep work, organization and execution on the part of both parents and students. 

In addition, and something that really is really just a minor quibble, there are 42 lessons in each book, which doesn’t always fit as neatly into a standard 36 week school schedule and so may require a little schedule jostling on the part of parents.

Encyclopedias 

As with similar homeschool history programs, such as History Quest, Story of the World leans on visual encyclopedias, such as The Usborne Book of World History or The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, as important supplements to the main text. 

Each Activity Book lesson cross-references select readings from these reference books that allow students to dive into their history topics a little further, providing them with more specific information and dates.

For those unfamiliar with these encyclopedias, they are also highly visual and wonderful to read, using full color illustrations and pictures to make learning a lot more appealing and engaging for students and stand in direct contrast to more text-heavy, formal encyclopedias and textbooks.

picture of story of the world's optional encyclopedias

Story of the World does give parents some choice as to which encyclopedia to use, with each lesson in the activity book detailing where students can find the relevant readings in each book.

This means that parents can select the encyclopedia they prefer to use (or whichever is cheaper or easier to find), an added bit of flexibility that we always appreciate. 

On the downside, this of course means that parents do have to make an additional purchase aside from the core texts and activity books. 

Additionally, with so many historical topics and places covered in Story of the World, on occasion parents can find that their encyclopedia of choice does not have a relevant reading for a certain lesson (while other options may), which can be a little frustrating.

Additional History Readings

Lessons in Story of the World also include an assortment of recommended readings for each lesson that touch on the topic in question.

These suggested reading lists can be pretty eclectic, ranging from additional reference guides (such as Prehistoric World: Usborne World History), to visual fact books to entertaining fact books and more.  

picture of the story of the world's additional readings

Interestingly, the Story of the World also includes a literature-based element, which can be appealing to those following a Charlotte Mason-style teaching approach, recommending a variety of topically-relevant fictional books that can be very engaging and thought-provoking and can help students explore history in a more casual and less stressful manner. 

picture of some of story of the world's suggested fiction

The Story of the World’s lesson guides helpfully provide a short (1-2 sentence) brief for each book, so parents can more easily figure out ahead of time which title they would prefer to use in a lesson (if any). 

On the downside, as with the program’s use of encyclopedias, those who wish to incorporate this literature-based approach to teaching can, at the end of the day, find themselves purchasing and needing to store quite a few extra books. 

Test Books

While some of the activity books include short quizzes at the end of the book, Story of the World also offers dedicated and optional test books that parents can purchase.

These test books are specific to each volume of the series and are filled with testing material for each chapter, providing parents with a helpful formal assessment option if they so desire one. 

The test books include a good variety of question types, including multiple choice, true or false and short/long answer questions. 

With the later volumes (aimed as they are at older students) there are also essay questions, which makes the books fairly complete overall, at least in terms of question formats. 

How it Works

Using Story of the World to teach history is pretty straightforward. 

Each book touches on a key age in world history and is divided into 42 chapters. 

Each chapter is further divided into several smaller sections, allowing the chapters to touch on different key historical moments of a particular time and place in a more organized manner, and making the weekly readings a little more manageable for all. 

For example, a chapter on the Ottoman empire might be divided into several sections, such as: 

  • The Ottoman Turks Attack, which provides a little bit of history about the pre-empire Ottoman culture and people
  • The Capture of Constantinople 
  • Suleiman the Lawgiver

Depending on the student’s age and abilities, parents can either read each section aloud to the student or the student can read them on their own. 

Interestingly, for parents who prefer it (or who don’t really feel up to reading everything out loud), the books are also available in audiobook format and so they can be listened to.

This can also be a great option for students who have difficulties in reading, allowing them to work more independently. 

After each chapter or even section has been read, students and parents can move on to the lessons in the volume’s accompanying activity book. 

In all volumes, the lessons and their activities follow a broadly similar format/order:

  • Suggested encyclopedia readings 
  • Review questions
  • Narration exercise (later, writing exercise)
  • Additional History Readings
  • Corresponding Literature
  • Map Work
  • Coloring
  • Activities/Projects

It is important to note that parents are free to pick and choose as many of the lesson activities and exercises as time, teaching preference and student interest will allow, making The Story of the World a highly configurable and flexible program overall.

Some parents may choose to do all or most of these, which will provide an extremely comprehensive examination of a chapter reading but will certainly take a good deal of time, while others may choose only those that suit their homeschool style, a bit of curricular flexibility that is always welcome. 

Suggested Encyclopedia Readings

As mentioned in the previous section, The Story of the World’s books offer a casual and engaging narrative approach to history that can be supplemented by readings from various visual encyclopedias, such as The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World. 

Each lesson, therefore, begins with suggested reference pages for these encyclopedias, allowing students (or parents) to read about the topic at hand in a little more depth, as well as explore some of the more visually stunning pictures and illustrations that these encyclopedias contain.

Review questions

Following these readings, parents can engage in a back and forth dialogue of sorts, using questions provided by the activity book to review concepts touched on in that week’s chapter and to make sure that students understand and remember its key concepts. 

These questions are provided in the activity book, along with their answers, and they can be a great way to refresh the learning, especially if lessons are being broken up over several days. 

Narration Exercise

As an additional way of making sure that students remember and, probably more importantly, understand what they’ve read or heard, Story of the World includes a narration exercise where students restate the essential information contained in a section in two to five sentences.

Parents then write down the child’s narration and then keep it as part of a journal of their learning.

The lesson guides helpfully provide parents with a couple examples of possible responses, helping them know what key information to look for without having to go back and review the relevant chapter themselves.

picture of the story of the world narration exercise in the activity book

Interestingly, in later volumes this narration exercise is offered as a written exercise, suiting students’ developing abilities. 

Rather than restate key information orally, in these written exercises, students instead write brief outlines of the chapter. 

As with the narration exercises, parents are given sample responses to compare these to, which can be quite helpful. 

Additional History Readings and Corresponding Literature

As mentioned previously, The Story of the World provides a reading list with nonfiction and fiction books that parents can introduce to dive into topics more deeply, exploring them from a different perspective and adding a more pressure-free, literature-based element to their history study.

In general, each lesson provides parents with a few options they can choose from. 

Helpfully, the activity guides label each of these books with codes identifying which are intended as read alouds (RA) and which are intended as independent reading selections (IR), which can help parents better tailor lessons to their students’ age and abilities. 

Map Work and Coloring

Being a world history curriculum, the use of maps can be quite important in providing students with important geographic context to history.

The activity books provide students with an assortment of maps, as well as step-by-step instructions that will have them find, label and outline key the areas and events that they are learning about. 

picture of the story of the world mapwork

In addition to map work, the activities also include coloring pages at the back that are linked to the chapter’s teachings in some way and can be a fun activity or break for students. 

Projects

Finally, each lesson in The Story of the World includes a variety of hands-on mini-projects that parents (or students, or both) can choose from. 

Some projects may involve math or science in some way, adding a bit of an interesting multidisciplinary aspect to the curriculum (such as by trying to measure the distance from the Earth to different planetary bodies). 

Others may involve arts and crafts, with students using common household materials to replicate various interesting items or concepts from history, such as making doubloons out of gold/aluminum foil, making cave art or even mummifying a chicken. 

Still others might be games, using cards, dice and even checkerboard pieces with modified rules to explore some event in history. 

Finally, some activities may be of the get-up-and-go sort, where students physically build something to replicate historical experiences, such as making an ancient mineshaft in their backyard, constructing their own replica greek instrument or even making their own Babylonian garden.  

Overall, there is quite a bit of variety when it comes to these projects, providing a selection of fun activities for parents to choose from to best suit their student’s needs and interests, which is kind of nice.

And because they tend to use common household items, there are no kits or other course-specific materials to buy. 

On the downside, while these projects tend to use common household goods, they can sometimes require a few more items that parents may not readily have at home (gold foil, gardening supplies and seeds, glue guns, etc), which means that parents may need to go shopping for supplies from time to time. 

The Story of the World Approach to History

Narrative approach

Much as its name would imply, unlike a traditional history textbook, Story of the World uses a storytelling approach to teach kids about important events, people and places in history.

Rather than presenting history as a dry series of dates and facts to remember, each volume of Story of the World is written as an engaging and more informal narrative, which ultimately can bring history to life, making its study more meaningful and interesting to kids (as well as their parents). 

An example of how it can sound when read aloud can be found in the video sample below. 

Yet, despite its narrative approach, The Story of the World books does explore history in a fair degree of depth, covering not only important moments around the world, but also the different figures, contributions and social structures of a variety of different societies throughout history.

As a result, especially when combined with its suggested encyclopedia, fiction and non-fiction readings, we believe The Story of the World can offer students a well-rounded and comprehensive history curriculum. 

Cross Cultural

Although the program leans more towards a Western perspective on world history, Story of the World is rather inclusive when it comes to teaching about other influential societies and cultures in history.

Alongside the histories of Europe, the Middle East and the US, students will also learn about key events in the histories of the Ottomans, Japan, China, India, the Mongol Empire, Russia and more. 

screenshot showing the story of the world being respectful to other religions

The books treat these cultures and their beliefs with a good deal of respect, providing a good deal of insight into their contributions and formative moments, and, with the inclusion of a selection of their important poetry, literature, stories and more, can give students a stronger understanding of these cultures than many other history curricula. 

Multisensory and hands-on

In addition to reading about, writing about and discussing history, The Story of the World also includes a variety of hands-on activities relating to different topics in history.

Whether they are listening to a story, building models, creating artwork, recreating historical artifacts, filling in maps or coloring in a portrait, there are a lot of activities that can help learners of all types better engage with and enjoy history. 

Is The Story of the World Secular or Christian?

The question that many parents have about The Story of the World is whether it is a secular or faith-based program.

The answer is actually somewhat complex. 

On the one hand, the curriculum is faith-friendly and discusses important Biblical moments (Abraham, the Twelve Tribes, the Exodus) as history, which some secular homeschools may not appreciate. 

On the other hand, the curriculum does explore other faiths and cultures from around the world evenhandedly and in a fair amount of detail, for example exploring Bhudda and Buddism, Islam and its rise or exploring the history of Judaism and so on. 

As a result, we would probably consider the Story of the World more of a neutral curriculum rather than a purely secular or strongly faith-based one. 

How Easy is The Story of the World to Teach

Overall, we feel that The Story of the World is fairly easy to teach.

Although it is not the most heavily scripted curriculum we’ve ever seen, for example it doesn’t always provide an exact script for parents to follow, its activities do provide parents with more than enough guidance and explanation to be able to carry out lessons easily and effectively, even if they have never taught history before or are simply new to homeschooling.

Similarly, because it does offer a wide, flexible assortment of activities to choose from, parents can omit those that seem too challenging, time intensive or just aren’t a good fit. 

In fact, because it does have so many optional activities in each lesson, most parents will probably have to through its activity books and create something of a plan of action, deciding which activities best suit their homeschool style, schedule and, of course, student interest.

While parents can certainly use The Story of the World as an open and go curriculum, each lesson in history would probably be quite intensive and even repetitive at times. 

Finally, as with other spine curricula, as The Story of the World can include the use of encyclopedias and other history books, it can mean a little more prep and organization is required to keep everything orderly during lessons. 

Although parents who want to keep things lightweight can certainly do so by only making use of the spine books and their various activities (and omitting any extra books), they may lose out a little when it comes to depth of learning.

Pros and Cons 

Pros

Can be Very Affordable

The Story of the World’s main texts (the history and activity books) are available in a variety of different formats to suit different budgets and preferences. 

Combined with the flexibility of its suggested activities and the choice provided in terms of suggested readings and additional materials, the program can be surprisingly affordable for most families. 

The core texts can, for example, be purchased as relatively inexpensive softcover books, while parents can take their time to shop around used copies of the different encyclopedias and suggested books.

Very flexible, open curriculum

With the exception of the core books, there really isn’t a whole lot that is required with The Story of the World. 

Parents can select the activities that best fit their homeschooling style and philosophy, choose which books (if any) to use alongside it and even add in their own supplements if they so choose. 

Books Are Available in Audiobook Format

In addition to being available as digital and print books, The Story of the World is also available as an audiobook (in MP3 and CD formats), so that parents and students can listen to its history lessons, if they prefer. 

Multisensory

The Story of the World includes reading, writing, discussions and hands-on activities, making it a very multisensory history program that can suit a wide range of learning styles and preferences. 

Engaging Approach to History

Rather than just being a textbook filled with dry facts, The Story of the World teaches history through a story-like narrative that is far more interesting to read and that brings history to life, creating a far more engaging and meaningful learning experience for students

Covers a broad range of cultures

Unlike some other world history curricula that tend to focus more on various Western nations, The Story of The World also explores the histories of a variety of important cultures and peoples from history in some depth, providing students with a broader understanding of human history.

Cons

Activities may require extra supplies

Although there are no kits to purchase, in order to take full advantage of its hands-on activities, parents may need to pick up quite a few supplies that they may not have at home, such as gold foil, seeds, modeling clay and more. 

Parents may end up buying quite a few books

While perhaps not strictly necessary, parents interested in making full use of The Story of The World as a history curriculum would be best served by including at least some of its suggested readings. 

As a result parents may need to purchase or otherwise find encyclopedias and other books that can increase the overall cost of the program and the need to keep things organized. 

Who is The Story of the World Ideal For?

Parents and students who dislike traditional history teaching

With its narrative but in-depth approach, use of visual encyclopedias, interesting books and hands-on learning, The Story of the World can be an interesting choice of history program for students and parents who hate an endless parade of dull facts and dates. 

Fans of literature-based teaching 

Homeschools who enjoy incorporating literature and reading into their learning will enjoy The Story of the World’s use of high-interest and engaging history-oriented books, whether that’s the history texts themselves or the various reference guides and fiction/non-fiction titles the lesson guides recommend. 

Tactile learners and fans of multisensory learning

The Story of the World involves a great deal of multisensory and hands-on history learning, including reading, writing, map work, coloring, arts and crafts and more. 

Dyslexic students, those with reading difficulties and those who learn best through audio

With its main text available as an audiobook, and many of its activities either hands-on or able to be translated into oral format, The Story of the World can be a great history curriculum for those with reading difficulties, as well as those who enjoy learning by listening and doing. 

Parents who want to incorporate lots of fun and interesting activities into their history lessons

The Story of the World can be a great curriculum for parents who want to create a more interactive and entertaining history learning environment, as it incorporates a variety of different and interesting activities in each lesson. 

Parents who want to explore different cultures and societies across time

The Story of the World can offer students a broader understanding of history and human civilization as it spends a considerable amount of time exploring civilizations and cultures from around the world, discussing their important figures, histories and societies in some depth. 

Who is it Not Ideal For?

Strictly secular or faith-based homeschools

While it does discuss a variety of different beliefs in an even-handed and fair manner, and although not explicitly faith-based, The Story of the World does include various religious events as part of its history and, as a result, may not be ideal for those who wish to use a 100% secular curriculum.

At the same time, those who want to study history through a particular religious or cultural lens may not find The Story of the World to be ideal as it does spend time exploring a variety of different beliefs, religions and cultures. 

Students who like their history learning to be straight to the point

Some students appreciate a narrative-based and activity rich curriculum, while others prefer to be presented with straight facts and dates in a more to-the-point way and may become a little frustrated with The Story of the World’s approach. 

Parents who want a more traditional history program

Similarly, some parents may prefer a more traditional curriculum where students are encouraged to memorize key facts and chronologies. 

They, too, may not find The Story of the World to be the best option for their needs. 

Price

Note: All prices current as of writing. All prices in USD. 

The core of The Story of the World is made up of its history books (available in softcover,  hardcover, PDF and CD/MP3 audiobook format) and its activity books (softcove, PDF).

In addition, parents interested in incorporating formal assessments can also purchase a testbook (softcover, PDF).

The different formats these books are available in, as well as the increasing length of its different volumes, means that the overall price of the curriculum can vary depending on which period is being studied, and how. 

We found the following ranges to help parents get a better understanding of the program’s price.

The Story of the World History Books

Paperback: $17.95- $19.95

Hardcover: $24.95- $26.95

PDF: $9.99 – $10.95 

MP3: from $15.98

CD From $39.95

The Story of the World Activity Books

Paperback: $36.95-39.95

PDF: $27.95-29.95

The Story of the World Test Books

Paperback: $12.95- $14.95

Aside from these books, The Story of the World also makes use of various encyclopedias and suggest books that can be purchased new or used on various websites, such as Amazon. 

As always, it is worth checking out the latest prices and special offers that might be available for The Story of the World.

OR

Check out The Story of the World on Amazon

Is it worth the price?

Overall, we believe that The Story of the World can be a very valuable resource for homeschooling families.

With its narrative-based format, the books introduce world history in a way that both parents and students will find engaging and enjoyable, and its relatively in-depth coverage of different figures, cultures and societies from around the world can give students a more solid and broad understanding of history than many other homeschool history programs out there. 

The Story of the World’s activity books also include a lot of fun and engaging activities and exercises that parents can choose from to help students connect to history. 

It is also a very flexible program, with parents able to select from its activities to fit their individual homeschooling style, schedule and student needs.

Finally, the program is very multisensory , with a variety of audio, visual and tactile components and activities that allow it to serve students of all learning styles. 

Bottom Line

With its interesting narrative-based texts, fun and engaging suite of activities, multisensory approach and the inclusion of solid, supplemental materials, The Story of the World is a highly adaptable and comprehensive curriculum that can help parents instill a love of history in their students. 

Photo of Jennifer Keenes, a writer for the smarter learning guide

Jennifer

Jennifer Keenes is a writer and a new mom living in Florida. She studied education and, prior to becoming a freelance writer, worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary and middle school level. She is a big fan of the beach, working out and homeschooling her two daughters.