Thursday, February 3, 2011

SOTW Wrap Up and Review

This week we finished Story of the World 4. I posted our condensed plan to cover the entire fourth book in only 21 weeks in an old post. As in other years, Thatcher has loved this volume! I chose not to go too in depth with many of the more sensitive topics and am very thankful to share that the condensed schedule worked well for us. It will also allow us to spend the remainder of the year on Texas History.

Now that we have completed all four volumes I feel I am somewhat qualified to do a review of the series as a whole! I have few complaints and many praises about SOTW. It, like all curricula, has strengths and weaknesses, but I feel the strong points far outweigh the weak. I am also aware that one aspect of the curriculum that may be a weakness for us can be a great strength for others, depending on the teacher's goals and the types of learners she has. I felt the stories were well-written for the age they were intended. Condensing and summarizing thousands of years of world history for elementary children was a HUGE and bold undertaking for Susan Wise-Bauer, and I think she did a remarkable job. Certainly, no curriculum is perfect and we tweaked along the way. We skipped some things that were not holding Thatcher's attention (although that was rare) and we camped out on areas that were especially exciting for him.

We rarely used the Activity Guide other than as a staring point for my yearly book lists (You can see them at these links - SOTW 1 , SOTW 2, SOTW 4) . Thatcher is not a crafty/activity kid and certainly not a fan of coloring so a huge part of the AG was never used. I don't anticipate using
the most of the activities with Haddon and Beckett either; I much prefer these wonderful SOTW lapbooks available for free! Hopefully she will continue making and sharing them for all four volumes. (The first 15 chapters of lapbooks from Volume 2 are already available on her blog as of this posting as well.) I also am not a huge fan of the way SOTW teaches geography as I do not think it is helpful for young children to learn by only focusing on a tiny bit of a map at a time. I am so thankful I purchased this set of Geopuzzles from Timberdoodle and will continue to use them with Haddon and Beckett rather than using the maps from SOTW as our introduction to geography. I will also research other options to teach basic map skills apart from SOTW. Any recommendations? :)

Further, I am not crazy about the review questions included in the AG, because, in my opinion, if you are having your child(ren) regularly narrate then the review questions are overkill. The exception would be that if/when, through narration, the teacher discovers the student just didn't get the concepts presented, then the review questions can be helpful to guide them to a better understanding of what was read. Lastly, I will most likely not have my boys complete history copywork like I tried to have Thatcher do; you can see my attempt at the link for my SOTW 1 book list above . It was just too much and when I have my young boys doing copywork I would prefer them to be copying bits of Scripture, literature or poetry. We spend a great deal of time on history as it is and I would rather focus our copywork efforts on other areas that often don't get as big a share of the educational pie.

What I appreciate about SOTW is that my child loves history after this first rotation! That speaks volumes to me. He now has "pegs" on which to hang all future learning. He remembers the basics about each period of history so that when we being again next year he will have a solid foundation on which to begin building.

Another thing I have come to appreciate just this year is that SOTW can be more than just a history series. It can be an wonderful introductory (or supplementary) writing course if planned and executed well (and, I believe, according to the author's intent). I wanted to share a few things I've learned about SOTW and how I will use it a bit differently with the younger two boys in regard to this to maximize the writing aspect of the program, which I have come to view as a huge strength of the SOTW series.

If you are Classically educating your children you will undoubtedly have read about narration (especially if you have read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer, the same author as SOTW) as an important tool in the process of teaching your children. Narration is also a vital skill if you are educating according to Charlotte Mason's principles. The way they define and use narrations vary somewhat though. If you haven't yet read my post comparing the two styles, you will want to pop over and read this first before proceeding. In TWTM, Wise-Bauer says of narrating, "You'll be using this technique (narrating) extensively in the study of history,"~Revised and Updated version, p. 109.

When Thatcher was in first grade we started strong with narrations and lots of good intentions. The problem was that Thatcher was not ready for WTM style narrations (choosing the most important details) and I wasn't prepared enough to know how to support him in what proved to be a very challenging skill. I kept trying to get his narrations close to the samples in the Activity Guide and we both ended up frustrated. I also attempted to get him writing his own narrations way too soon considering he is a boy, young for his grade AND an Aspie (who almost by definition struggle with writing) which just further intensified the frustration for both of us. For the most part I dropped narrations and just had him read and listen to the audio book and do some supplemental readings for each chapter. This I regret.

The problem was that when things got tough and narrations just got tedious, I dropped them completely instead of changing and adapting to make them fit us. When we didn't fit the plan I dropped the plan. I threw out the baby with the bathwater. I forgot that a curriculum is just a tool, not a noose! ;) That's because I am too much of a by the book kinda gal. Sigh. What I know now is that developmentally he wasn't ready for narrations as defined by SWB's Well-Trained Mind but he was most certainly ready for narrations ala Charlotte Mason.

This is a classic case of, "If I knew then what I know now..." With my youngers I will do it differently. We will be more diligent to stick with oral CM style narrations for a much longer time. I will only have them begin copying their narrations down after I am CONFIDENT they are beyond ready for this skill. I will only have them write their own narrations independently after we have done it together for several months and he is pushing me out of the room! ;) We will move to more WTM style narrations when they are older and better able to discern main idea vs. supporting detail(s) concepts. We will practice this skill much outside of just history as well.

Another problem was that I didn't have "the big picture" in regard to where these narrations were taking us. I think all moms starting the SOTW series should start by first listening to Susan Wise-Bauer's three lectures titled A Plan for Teaching Writing from Peace Hill Press. Listen to all three MP3's even if your child is just starting out. It will give you that big picture I was missing. It will help you persevere in those tough times (like I failed to do) because you will better understand WHY you are doing WHAT you are doing.

Each year in SOTW 1-3 your child is expected to narrate each chapter along the way taking a greater responsibility for his/her narrations as the years and the child's maturity progress. But in SOTW 4 there is a switch that I was unaware of until I bought it this past summer. SOTW 4 moves from narrating to outlining. At first the students are given incomplete outlines to fill in after reading each chapter. In this way they are slowly introduced to this very valuable skill but ever so gently. In the last 10 chapters of the book they are given completed outlines and are expected to write a paragraph from the outline.

Wow! This was such a great transition for us. We, with lots of hard work and perseverance (that was lacking in those younger years), made the transition successfully and Thatch can write a well developed paragraph with minimal help now. The transition would have been much more smooth had I continued with oral narrations in the younger years but just taken our time, known my kiddo better and understood that big picture. Yet despite our less than desirable start, here is an example of one of his final outlines. He completed this completely on his own with no help from Mom.

And here is an example of the three paragraphs (he forgot to indent the third) he wrote independently from the second part of the outline you can see above all about Civil Rights. I was beyond thrilled when he brought this to me!

Overall, I am thrilled to give Story of the World my strongest recommendation as a first history program for grammar stage students. There are many wonderful options out there and I rate this as one of them. It was a strong start for us in what I want to be one of our core subjects all throughout our schooling. Thank you, Susan, for all your hard work and your contributions (this being only one of many) to the homeschool community!


Kellie said...

Thank you for a very helpful review. I did SOTW 1 & 2 when my oldest was still being homeschooled. When she went off to a classical school, I decided my younger two weren't ready for SOTW 3, so we did MFW Adventures and this year we are doing MFW Exploring Countries & Cultures. I struggled with whether we should continue with MFW next year or go back to SOTW. I just recently decided on SOTW, so your post has helped confirm that decision.

As far as geography suggestions, I have just loved spending a whole year on it (MFW ECC) and I feel like my younger two are so much better prepared going into SOTW 1. I'm also starting to incorporate some of the geography suggestions in The Core.

We've had a similar progression with narrations in our house, but I think we're not as far long in the recovery as you are. I'm so encouraged by your son's outline and essay!

Amanda said...

I'm so glad I read this today! My oldest is in first grade and we are about half way through SOTW 1. I have been frustrated with the narrations and have all but dropped them so I am glad to have the encouragement to keep trying. I plan to listen to the MP3s. I had no idea of how SOTW progressed into outlining and writing skills and that really excites me. I've been mulling over switching to something else but this really encourages me to continue.

I do love the stories and so does my son. I have one question, though. There is so much mention of Greek gods and mythology that I sometimes feel that I am causing confusion. He is a strong believer for his age and does not seem at all swayed by mention of it but I have wondered how other Christian mothers approach teaching this aspect of history. Have you found it confusing for your kids?

Thank you for sharing!

Ritsumei said...

What a great post! I'm going to have to go have a look at those mp3s you recommend. We're just setting up to start SOTW1, and this is so encouraging to read your review!

Would You be interested in submitting this to the Classical Homeschooling Carnival?

Jennefer said...


Thank you for suggesting the blog carnival. I submitted the post. I hope it helps many others! :)


Chelle said...

Just following you here from the blog carnival.
Your post is very helpful - we're in SOTW3 so it's nice to read your encouraging remarks about where SOTW4 took you L/A's wise.

MissMOE said...

Wonderful post, Jennifer. I throughly enjoyed it.

musicalmary said...

Thank you so much for all of your insight on SOTW. We are almost done with Volume 1 - and I use it with a Kindergarten and Fourth grade student. My oldest writes her narrations, and my youngest is happy to talk with me about the stories, which is good for us right now.

I am DEFINITELY going to listen to Susan Wise Bauer's lectures that your recommend. I did not know about those.

I am just now starting to delve into classical homeschool blogs and they are such a WEALTH of information.

Thank you for a great post - and I am following your blog now.

Stop and say hello!