Cathy Duffy Reviews home > History / Geography / Cultural Studies > Pearson Learning Core Knowledge History and Geography

Pearson Learning Core Knowledge History and Geography

Publisher: Pearson Learning
Edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
Review last updated: April 2014

NOTE: Pearson is taking this series out of print. The Core Knowledge Foundation is studying a possible way to replace it. I will post any news as it becomes available.

See Core Knowledge curriculum for free social studies lesson plans.

Instant KeyPublishers InfoPricing

Pearson Learning Core Knowledge
History and Geography

In response to a visible decline in cultural literacy among college students, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. formed the Core Knowledge Foundation and wrote the Core Knowledge series of books, each titled What Your _th Grader Needs to Know for each grade level. These books identified what Hirsch deemed essential knowledge to be learned at each grade level.

To make it easier to implement his recommendations, Hirsch has edited an entire series of history and geography texts for grades one through six called Pearson Learning Core Knowledge History and Geography. Content of the books is largely drawn from other works so the writing style varies somewhat even within a single book. This doesn’t pose a problem and may even make the books more interesting. Even so, the history content is excellent. Compared with other history texts for the elementary grades, these books present a thoughtful approach to history that is more nuanced than usual for these levels. It also tends to be more balanced than most regarding the presentation of religion. World religions are covered with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam getting a significant amount of attention—appropriate because of their historical impact. Religions are treated respectfully but honestly.

While I’m less enamored with the geography content, it is still quite interesting. Sometimes written in first or second person, the authors try to engage students with more of a personal narrative feel in many geography lessons.

The first grade program is presented in eight separate student books covering eight respective themes: Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Early Civilizations of the Americas, Early Explorers and Settlers, From Colonies to Independence (U.S.), Exploring the West (U.S.), Three World Religions (Christianity, Judasim, and Islam), and Mexico Today.

Second grade similarly presents the content in eleven student books covering the themes of Making the Constitution, Geography of the Americas, Americans Move West, Immigration and Citizenship, Civil Rights Leaders, The War of 1812, The Civil War, Ancient China, Ancient Greece, Ancient India, and Japan Today.

In both the first and second grade programs, each student book contains from four to ten lessons. In the younger levels, some sections are intended to be read aloud to children while older levels can be read by students independently.

A very interesting feature is that student books within one level might be used in any order you wish. So if you want to focus more on chronological United States history in the early grades, you might use only those three student books from the first grade level, and perhaps combine them with the six student books on U.S. History from grade two. Maybe you would add the Geography of the Americas study too. The next year could be focused on world history using the other student books from both levels.

Grades three to six are similar in concept, but student books are a single volume rather than individual books for each theme. These are substantial books ranging from 233 pages for the third grade book to around 350 pages for fifth and sixth grade. Student textbooks for all levels include vocabulary words and definitions both within lessons in sidebars close to where the words are used and in cumulative glossaries at the end of each unit.

Themes for third grade are Canada Today, World Rivers, Ancient Rome, The Vikings, The Earliest Americans, Exploration of North America, and The Thirteen Colonies.

Grade four covers Using Maps, World Mountains, Europe in the Middle Ages, The Spread of Islam, African Kingdoms, Dynasties of China, The American Revolution, The United States Constitution, Early Presidents: Washington through Jackson, and American Reformers.

In fifth grade, students study World Lakes; The Maya, Aztec, and Inca Civilizations; The Renaissance, The Reformation; England: Golden Age to Glorious Reformation; The Age of Exploration; Early Russia; Feudal Japan; Westward Expansion Before the Civil War; The Civil War; Westward Expansion After the Civil War; Native Americans: Cultures and Conflicts; and Geography of the United States.

Sixth grade wraps ups the series with the themes of World Deserts; Judaism and Christianity; Ancient Greece and Rome; The Enlightenment; The French Revolution and Romanticism; Industrialism, Capitalism, and Socialism; Independence for Latin America; Immigration; Industrialization and Urbanization in America; and Reform in Industrial America.

Student books for all levels are printed in full-color with plentiful illustrations, and they include indexes.

Teacher guides are packaged for each level as a set of individual three-hole-punched booklets, one booklet for each unit. The set of guides for each level comes with its own binder. Each unit then has a lesson plan for each individual lesson.

Lesson plans list the lesson objectives, a short introduction, discussion questions with suggested answers, “learning masters”—topical activity worksheets for some lessons, activity suggestions—most of which are useful only with a group class, and review questions with suggested answers. You might want to write out the review questions for students to then answer on their own, although you could dictate them to students rather than writing them yourself. (I imagine that the expensive classroom resources sold to schools include some easier way to present the review questions that is missing from the homeschool package.) Some lessons include activity suggestions that relate to other subject areas such as art, music, or science. Some lessons include map study, and some include “FYI” paragraphs—interesting tidbits of information that you might want to share with students.

The teacher guides include a multiple-choice assessment for each unit. Learning masters and assessments are both reproducible, and answer keys for both are in the teacher guides. A brief Parent Guide highlights the most important elements of the lessons and makes it easier to navigate the course, although these courses are straightforward and easy-to-use in comparison to some of the other Pearson courses.

Lessons will require some teacher preparation and presentation time. You should introduce each lesson with the “introduction” material in the teacher guide. You also need to present the discussion and review questions as well as any activities you choose to use. Younger students will need at least some of the content read aloud. Older students need little direct instruction, and the suggested answers in the teacher guide might allow you to lead discussions without having read all of the lesson material yourself, saving you lesson preparation time.

These courses are a bit different in perspective than most of history series that are popular in the homeschool market. Hirsch supports learning about western civilization and its roots while he also covers the rest of the world rather extensively. Overall, the content is more substantial than that of most social studies texts for the elementary grades. In addition, the coverage of religion without lending particular support to any one viewpoint should suit parents looking for religious neutrality.

The coverage of topics in what seems a scattered fashion could be either off-putting or appealing depending upon your own preference. While it is easy to rearrange both student lessons and teacher guide units for the younger grades, with a little more effort you could do something similar with upper grades by purchasing more than one level and rearranging the order in which students complete lessons. You can easily reorganize the teacher guide units into your preferred order then assign student lessons to match.

The high-quality content, attractive student books, and religious neutrality should earn this series a warm reception in the homeschool world.


homeschool bundle - $99.99 per level

  • All prices are provided for comparison only and are subject to change. Click on prices to verify their accuracy.
  • Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 1

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 1

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 6

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 6

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 4

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 4



    Core Knowledge Programs

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 3

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 3

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 2

    Core Knowledge History & Geography Homeschool Bundle Grade 2

    Instant Key

    • Suggested for: group, one-on-one
      grades 1-6
      Need for parent/teacher instruction: varies by level
      Prep time needed: low
      Teacher's manual: essential
      Educational philosophy: western civilization but inclusive of world history
      Religious perspective: secular

    Publisher's Info