The Story of Civilization is a four-volume series covering the entire span of both world and U.S. history. Each volume has a core book plus a number of ancillary items. This is similar in concept to Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World, but The Story of Civilization is written primarily for a Catholic audience and has more thorough coverage of U.S. history. The four volumes are titled:
- Volume I: The Ancient World
- Volume II: The Medieval World
- Volume III: The Making of the Modern World
- Volume IV: The History of the United States
As with Story of the World and other such series that use a storytelling approach to history for young students, the courses cover selected events and people.
Phillip Campbell is the author of the texts and the presenter for the video lectures. I first encountered his work when I reviewed a video history course that he created for Homeschool Connections. I was very impressed with both the content and his presentation. So when I heard that Campbell was to be the author and presenter for The Story of Civilization, I expected that the quality would be excellent. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Story of Civilization series is written for use with students in grades one through eight. The publisher envisions that the audience for Volume I is most likely to be younger students who are just beginning the four-year sequence. Thus, the activity book for that volume targets those younger grade levels. Nevertheless, you can still include older children, probably those up through sixth grade with Volume I and up through eighth grade with Volumes II through IV. The idea is that you will cycle through the four volumes in chronological order over four years, possibly going through them in more depth a second time when your children are four years older. Because the courses try to cover such a wide age span, they are not comprehensive enough for seventh- and eighth-graders. While you can supplement with additional reading and assignments for older students, you might want to use The Story of Civilization as the supplement alongside a more comprehensive resource for junior high.
The complete set for each volume includes the textbook, teacher’s manual, audio CDs or MP3 files, streamed lecture videos, an activity book, and a test book. A timeline is included as a freebie when you order the complete set. The activity book and test book are both consumable, so students will each need their own copies of these two items. (All items can be purchased individually.)
The caliber of the writing and the illustrations, as well as the production quality of the audio readings of the books and the video lectures, are outstanding. I was told that the resources were field-tested by a number of families who were able to provide valuable feedback, and that feedback is likely a major reason why these courses are so easy to use, even for those with large families.
In the core textbooks, historical fiction is interspersed within the actual history, and the author clearly delineates when shifting between the two. The writing style makes the books especially suitable as read-alouds even though older children can read them by themselves. You can use the core textbooks entirely on their own without any of the other resources if that suits your purposes.
Each of the four textbooks has more than 300 pages and features occasional black-and-white illustrations. They are laid out such that you will complete one chapter per week.
For parents who lack either the time or the inclination to read these books aloud, or for children who want to listen a second or third time, sets of audio CDs or downloadable MP3 files present the entire content of each book. Voice actor Kevin Gallagher reads each book and has a dramatized background of subtle music and sound effects. You might have students read along in the book as they listen so that they use both visual and auditory input at the same time.
The streamed video lectures for these courses, presented by series author Phillip Campbell, are optional. The lectures—one for each chapter in each of the textbooks—run about ten minutes each and review key points and characters. Campbell adds occasional explanations that go beyond the text, along with a few graphics and visual aids. In his lectures, Campbell sometimes refers to the historical fiction stories within the textbooks, but he generally skips them. (Note that the video lectures are optional and do not replace the core textbooks, because the textbooks contain essential content that isn't in the lectures.) At the end of each lecture, the videos present review questions and activities that family members might try to answer. Even though neither the video lectures nor the audio presentations are required, they can be very helpful.
The publisher recommends the activity books for students in grades one through four, but older students might benefit from some of the activities since they all relate to the chapter material in some way. Activities include coloring, map work, cut-and-paste craft activities, various types of puzzles, and drawing. Some of the coloring pages feature simplified versions of the drawings that are used in the core textbooks. Activity book pages are perforated for easy removal, and those that need to be used for crafts are printed on only one side of the page.
The teacher’s manual for each volume is essential if you want to do anything more than just read the text. It guides the use of the activity book as well as all of the other lesson activities. You can’t use the activity books without the teacher’s manual.
In the teacher's manuals, the section for each chapter begins with five comprehension questions that should be answered orally. Next, the teacher’s manual lists two narration topics, such as “Chariots” and “The Hittites,” each followed by a paragraph or two of a sample narration. These examples let parents know what type of information students should be retelling (in their own words) based on what was covered in the chapter. You can have children provide either oral or written narrations.
After the comprehension questions and narrations, the other activities vary from chapter to chapter. There are one or more craft projects for each chapter. Most, but not all, chapters have one map activity and one coloring page. Make-and-eat snack projects and drawing activities show up in some chapters. The occasional drama projects seem better for students beyond fourth grade. Other unique projects show up from time to time—projects such as writing a poem, taking a poll and graphing the results, and performing a water displacement science experiment. You are not expected to complete all of these projects.
I want to expand on the projects since these are probably the largest component of the activities for each chapter. Each chapter's list of required resources for craft, snack, drawing, and science projects is at the beginning of the teacher’s manual for easy reference. Lists of the required items are also included with each project’s instructions. The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, but they will take time and require parental oversight and assistance. Crafts require fairly simple materials such as cardboard, brown paper bags, tape, markers, toilet paper rolls, metal brads, a hot-glue gun, googly eyes, bronze spray paint, and modeling clay. While there is nothing expensive or difficult to find, you still need to plan ahead.
The test books are suggested for use with students in grades five through eight. Questions for each chapter generally consist of two or three sections, each with a different type of questions—multiple-choice, matching, or true/false. Tests pages are perforated for easy removal, and test answers are at the back of each test book.
The companion timeline for each volume is a glossy, 36” x 18” poster that covers only the time period of that volume. Most of the illustrations from the textbook appear again on the timeline, serving as visual reminders to students of what they have read or listened to. While the back side of each timeline has 20 Timeline Trivia questions, I expect that most families will want to mount the poster somewhere readily visible, covering up the reverse side. Students do not add anything to the timeline; it serves only as a visual aid.
Catholic and Biblical Content
I mentioned at the beginning that The Story of Civilization was written primarily for Catholic families. However, the first 27 chapters of Volume I (out of 35 chapters in all) could easily be used by any audience. Only with Chapter 28, “The Coming of Christ,” does the Catholic nature of the series become evident. Chapters 29 through 35 integrate the history of the church with the history of the Roman Empire up through the rise of Constantine. In Volumes II through IV, the Catholic content is prevalent throughout the courses.
I was surprised that the beginning of Volume I skips over early prehistory that we know from the Old Testament. It introduces “The God of Israel” in Chapter 7 where we meet Abraham and Moses. There’s no mention of Adam and Eve, Noah, or other events covered in the Old Testament prior to Abraham. Chapter 8 succinctly covers Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land up through the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 587 B.C. So, while the textbook brings in biblical history, it does so briefly. the reason for this is that the publisher expects their customers to also use TAN Homeschool’s The Story of the Bible, a two-volume series designed very much like The Story of Civilization. That series provides thorough coverage of the Bible with the first volume devoting significant attention to the book of Genesis. So if you also use The Story of the Bible, you’ll have plenty of coverage of biblical history.
You can check out free previews and sample pages from all four courses on the publisher's website.
Catholic families have struggled with The Story of the World and other history resources that are great for Protestant families, but tricky for Catholics to use. They now have an excellent choice that supports their faith. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these textbooks. As a side note, I think many junior high and high school students might likewise enjoy reading or listening to the books or watching the video lectures even if not for course credit. An older student who missed out on a Catholic perspective in their history in previous years might find The Story of Civilization volumes a great way to quickly fill the gaps in their knowledge.