The A Living History of Our World series will eventually be a comprehensive history series covering both World and U.S. History for the elementary grades as well as U.S. History and Government for high school. The volumes available at this time are:
Volume 1 – America’s Story: Ancient Americans Through the Gold Rush
Volume 2 - America’s Story: The Civil War Through 1900
Volume 3 – American’s Story: 1900 Through Modern Day
Volume 4 - The Story of the Ancients: Creation to Rome
Volume 5 – The Middle Ages: The Fall of Rome Through the Renaissance
Volume 8 – America: Land of Opportunity (For high school. Not included in this review.)
“Living History” in the title reflects Charlotte Mason’s recommendation that history, as well as other subjects, be taught with what she described as living books—books that are lively and interesting, focusing on the stories of history in this case rather than just names, dates, and events. In this series, author Angela O’Dell writes in a very personal, storytelling style that should appeal to children of all ages, very much reflecting a Charlotte Mason approach.
The content coverage of the first five volumes makes them suitable for children up through sixth grade as complete courses. The reading level is essentially the same through all of these volumes. Junior high students can still use them, but they need to supplement with additional reading and other assignments. My focus in this review is on the first five volumes.
Because these books use a storytelling approach, historical coverage is not totally comprehensive. Nevertheless, there are so many stories, that students will certainly learn about the main events and many key people.
Narration, a key element in Charlotte Mason methodology, plays a prominent role throughout this series with frequent narration breaks in the text where the parent is to present an opportunity for students to narrate what they have learned from the material that has just been read. Partly, because of this, the books are ideally read aloud to children rather than assigned for independent reading. At various points, parents are cautioned about reading particularly sections with younger children such as one on slavery. The writing style really lends itself to read aloud situations. The large font used for the text makes it easy for a parent to hold and read the book in such a way that children can also view the illustrations. Most of the hand-drawn illustrations (by Savannah and Angela O’Dell) are printed in black-and-white, but there are occasional full-color drawings.
For each volume there is a companion Student Journal that is an essential part of the course. Student Journals have an assortment of activities for each chapter including map work, writing and journaling, copywork, hands-on projects, coloring pages, timeline activities, and review pages. Six reviews are built into the course, with children making some sort of presentation about what they have learned. Students also write about what they have presented. Children should simultaneously be learning some geography; various geographic locations are underlined in the text for parents to point them out on a map or globe as they read the stories. The map work reinforces these efforts.
Suggested lesson plans at the back of each volume are fairly brief, but they remind you about the activities to be completed from the Student Journal, including “long term” map and timeline projects. There are also reminders in the lesson plans for older students to do additional work such as written narrations or further research, although no other specific direction is provided for them.
The A Living History of Our World series is thoroughly Christian (Protestant) in perspective. The fourth volume, The Story of the Ancients: Creation Through Rome, relies heavily on the Bible for content—much more so than do the other volumes. However, the other volumes also include both Christian emphasis and commentary.
You can read sample pages from both the first and fourth volumes on the publisher’s website that illustrate this.
A Living History of Our World is very easy for parents to use. You need to gather some basic craft supplies—construction paper, glue, scissors, hole punch, markers, etc.—as well as old magazines for pictures. You will also need an encyclopedia for reference (print or online) and both world and U.S. maps. With everything on hand, preparation for each lesson is generally not required.
The design of A Living History of Our World makes it a very practical and appealing way to teach multiple children together.