The History Quest series serves as an introduction to world history that is written from a secular perspective. History Quest will eventually replace the entire History Odyssey, Level One series. (The other levels of History Odyssey are not being replaced.) The biggest difference between the two series is that History Odyssey relies entirely on the use of core books from other publishers (e.g., Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World), while History Quest courses are based on a core text from Pandia Press that was written specifically for each course. However, you will still use supplemental books such as The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History: with Internet Links with the History Quest study guides.
The primary book for each course is the core text—a compilation of well-written history and stories. Each core text is written primarily for use as a read-aloud book for children in grades one through four, but older students in fifth and sixth grade can read it without assistance. These core texts can also be used as supplements along with other approaches to history.
The publisher has created complete courses for students in grades one through four by combining a study guide with each core text. Older students can use the core text along with a unit study or other resource that provides appropriate grade-level assignments. The series will eventually have four courses:
- Early Times: Pre-history to the Eighth Century CE (Common Era)
- Middle Times: Fall of Rome to Seventeenth Century CE
- U.S. History
- Modern Times
Available thus far are the first two courses, Early Times and Middle Times. Both the core texts and study guides are available in either print or digital versions. Audiobook versions of the first two History Quest books arealso available. These can be huge time-savers for busy parents, a help to auditory learners, and another way to reinforce learning.
The History Quest: Early Times core text was written by Lisa Hawkins, and History Quest: Middle Times was written by Lindsey Sodano, but they share the same approach and style of writing. These core texts were written to be both engaging for children and strongly based on historical facts. Written from a secular point of view, they combine storytelling with the presentation of more-comprehensive historical information.
These core texts avoid the promotion of religious, cultural, or political agendas, and they include information about influential women and underrepresented groups who are often ignored. They include the discussion of various religions and their practices without promoting any of them. Christianity receives very little attention in contrast to the discussion of other religions which might seem odd to some readers since Christianity has had a far broader impact than some of the other religions.
Each chapter in the core texts is written in two parts: a broad historical overview of events is followed by a “History Hop" that tells the story of particular people within that era and location. The broader history is written in a way that helps children make connections. For example, in History Quest: Early Times, Hawkins introduces the Andean civilization by saying:
Many thousands of years ago, people began to build civilizations all around the world. There were a total of six different civilizations that started from scratch—that is, they started without anyone teaching them how to do the many things that people living in civilizations do. You already learned about the ones in Mesopotamia and Egypt. But this one started far away from those others, clear on the other side of the world, on the western coast of South America in what is now Peru. This ancient civilization formed near the Andes Mountains, so it is known as the Andean civilization (p. 102).
The History Hops are written as if the child reading or hearing the story is traveling back through time to interact with a person from that era. History Hops focus more narrowly on a particular aspect, event, or person of a culture or historical period, such as the high priestess Enheduanna of the Akkadian Empire, the embalmer of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in ancient Egypt, and potters and weavers in the Andean civilization (from stories in Early Times). These fictional stories usually begin with the child suddenly finding him or herself in a strange place, observing life in that historical era. At some point in most of the History Hops, the child has a conversation with a person of that era. The author grants the time-traveling child the ability to both read and understand the language of the people of that era so that they glean historical and cultural information from both conversations and observations in their time-travel surroundings.
This two-part approach allows the authors to include more information than other history series that rely almost exclusively on a story-telling approach—series such as The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, The World’s Story by Angelo O’Dell, or the Simply Charlotte Mason history series by Sonya Schafer. Because the History Quest core texts are so content rich, they are suitable for reading by fifth and sixth graders as well.
Even with the two-part approach, the core texts do not cover all important historical events. They are necessarily selective, and this is especially true for History Quest: Middle Times. This text covers more than a thousand years of history and it highlights civilizations from around the world at their highest points. Among the countries, empires, and civilizations featured in this text are the Byzantine Empire, Islam under the Abbasid Caliphate, western Europe (highlights from a few significant places and times), China, the Pueblo and Cahokia civilizations in North America, the Mongol Empire, Japan, the Khmer Empire, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Polynesia, Mali, India, the Aztec and Incan civilizations, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. Obviously, there is not space with the core text to relate the entire history of each of these, so the information focuses on a limited time span. The historical information focuses primarily on the most positive and impressive developments of each civilization although the text also covers topics such as the difficult life of medieval serfs, the bubonic plague, the Crusades, and the conquests of Genghis Khan.
The History Quest study guides use both the core texts and The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History as spine books. The Usborne book presents a more comprehensive, chronologically organized history. Other books on specific topics are recommended for each unit but are not required. The study guides present a wide range of activities that make learning more interesting, while also addressing the needs of students with different learning styles. The activities expand beyond history into literature, religion, language arts, and art, using a unit-study approach, but activities in subject areas other than history are only supplementary.
Approximately the first 200 pages of each study guide provide the lesson plans and instructions. The next 75 or so pages are for students to use as they create a History Travel Log in their own three-ring binder.
A number of supplies will be needed for the activities. You will need a variety of arts and crafts supplies, such as scissors, glue, paints, paintbrushes, clay, craft sticks, and markers. You will also need cooking ingredients and other items such as a clay pot, cardboard boxes, apples (for mummification rather than eating), origami paper, and paper-towel tubes.
The study guides have 27 regular units in Early Times and 28 in Middle Times, plus an additional four “Hygge History” units interspersed throughout each course. With no worksheets or assignments, the Hygge History units are more laid back than the other units in each course. In the study guide for Early Times, the Hygge History units suggest one or more books for studying the Epic of Gilgamesh, Greek mythology, Hindu mythology (from the Ramayana), and Chinese mythology. Hygge History units for Middle Times are used for reading literature from the Middle East (the suggestions are various versions of Arabian Nights), Arthurian literature, Japanese folktales, and African tales.
The units should each take a week to complete. For each of the regular units, the study guides first list the resources you will need. Then they display a five-day schedule showing pages to be read from the spine books and the other activities to be completed each day. The five days for each lesson are labeled Discover, Explore, Create, Demonstrate, and Enrich, reflecting the different types of learning that will take place.
The first day, Discover, has one or more reading assignments from the two spine books, and it sometimes adds map work.
The second day, Explore, has either a parent or student read the History Hop part of the chapter from the core text. Then students work on their History Travel Log. Using templates from the student pages, they mark on a timeline then cut, paste, and color an illustration from the student pages—or draw their own illustration. They can write or dictate answers to questions about the History Hop regarding whom they met, what they saw, and what they learned. During some weeks, they might also explore historical sites using Google Earth™.
The third day, Create, is for projects such as art, cooking, and more-complex endeavors, such as creating a model of a ziggurat.
The fourth day, Demonstrate, gives choices for how students will demonstrate what they have learned. All children are to read through the terms and concepts shown at the beginning of the unit, then parents can decide whether to have children copy some or all of them into their history notebook. After this, parents can choose from three options: present children with questions that require short answers, ask the child to narrate verbally or in writing what they have learned, or have the child copy or write from dictation a passage in their history notebook.
The fifth day, Enrich, is the most flexible since it presents suggestions for websites that can be explored through links found at Pandia Press, supplemental books to read, and videos to watch.
If you use the study guide, you will probably spend an entire school year on each course, but you can reduce the number of activities to fit the courses into a shorter time frame if need be.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the study guides are for grades one through four. Fifth and sixth graders might participate in some of the activities, but they should do other activities that are more academically challenging. You can add your own reading, research, and writing activities for older students if you want them to be involved in these courses.
While you can buy print versions of the study guides, the price is significantly higher than for the digital books. You might also prefer the digital books so that you can print student pages for other children in your family rather than photocopying.
The History Quest core texts can be used for a secular study of history either on their own or as spine books within the more comprehensive courses laid out by the History Quest study guides or other programs. Using the study guides with the core texts gives you more than enough history coverage for grades one through four along with enjoyable learning activities.