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Afterschooling with Story of the World v4

The deep, dark, SOTW IV

The deep, dark, SOTW IV

Third grade has started and our schedule is packed.  More importantly, my son’s classroom teacher is keeping his brain very full.  That’s not just good, that’s great.

So how can we meet our 1 hour and 45 minutes a week goal of Afterschooling without me being a mean mom?

Easy.  I’ve got two words for you: Carschooling and Kindle.

For the past month, Bruce(8) has been listening to Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 4: The Modern Age: From Victoria’s Empire to the End of the USSR.  (I couldn’t find the audio version of SOTW Volume 4 on Amazon anymore, but here’s the link to Peace Hill Press.)

SOTW v4 is a marked change from the previous three volumes which I have also reviewed on my blog: SOTW v1, SOTW v2, and SOTW v3.  It’s deeper, darker, and not meant for young children.  In the introduction, SWB gives a sober advisement to parents that this book is four fourth grade and up.

Bruce is still a year shy of that mark, but he has learned so much history, religion, and philosophy already, that I felt he could handle it.  But we are being very careful to listen to SOTW v4 when Jenna(4) isn’t in the car with us, or else asleep.

There are 11 discs in the volume, and we got through the first four before school ever began.

We’ve heard about the Second Reich, the Russo-Japanese War, the internment of Afrikaans in the Boer War, and the beginnings of World War I.  See what I mean about this volume being dark?

But we also learned a lot that ties in with our own Russo-German family history. That’s been interesting to hear, because it provides a more global understanding of why my ancestors came to America.

To supplement the audio discs, we also own the book version.  On the weekends when Bruce wants to earn extra time on his Kindle, I have him read a few chapters.  The new Angry Birds Star War edition is a great motivator!

The John Locke Experiment, SOTW III

A marshmallow, a chocolate chip, a raisin and a teaspoon of sugar.

A marshmallow, a chocolate chip, a raisin and a teaspoon of sugar.

Do you know what sweetness is?  Were you born knowing what sweetness is, or did you have to experience sweetness to understand?

That’s the question we were asking today as we learned about John Locke.

In case you were wondering, yes, this is another part of our summer adventure listening to Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times, 2nd Edition (9 CDs).


(Btw, check out the SOTW Pinterest board I’m creating with Mrs. Warde from Sceleratus Classical Academy.)

The John Locke experiment comes from page 99 of The Story of the World Activity Book Three: Early Modern Times.  Parents read actual exerpts from John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, while kids eat the sweet stuff.

Then you have a discussion about how John Locke believed people were born as a “blank slate”, or “tabula rasa”.

As activities go, this one only took about five minutes.  But hey, how many 8-year-olds and 4-year-olds are out there learning about John Locke this summer?

You might even say that my kids were born blank slates with ultimate potential, but their mommy is turning them into nerds, one summer day at a time…

Guerilla Warfare and SOTW III

Rocking out with history this summer!

This summer the kids and I have been listening to Susan Wise Bauer‘s epic book  The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times, 2nd Edition (9 CDs).

My eight-year-old son Bruce has also been reading the text version, and we’ve been trying to do some of the projects from the activity guide, which I’ve shared on the SOTW Pinterest board I’m creating with Mrs. Warde from Sceleratus Classical Academy.


But with Alaska, camping, swimming lessons and sleeping in, we haven’t done as much with SOTW III as I had hoped.

Yesterday however, was a lot of fun.  That’s because we played the guerilla warfare game from page 71 of the Activity Guide.  This was a tie-in to the story of Aurangzeb, “World Seizer” of India.

(On a side note, since we are listening to the audio version of SOTW, I thought the name was “World Caesar”.  Ooops!)

Here’s a brief quote from the Activity Guide: “Aurangzeb spent twenty-six years in the Deccan, fighting off guerilla warriors.  Guerilla warriors are soldiers who fight in sneak attacks and from under cover.” (p 71)

A hands-on learning approach to understanding guerilla warfare (without anyone being hurt).

A hands-on learning approach to understanding guerilla warfare (without anyone being hurt).

Susan Wise Bauer’s idea is to have kids try to hide under furniture around the house, and sneak attack their parents, grabbing ribbons which are close-pinned to mom and dad’s back.  If they pull this off unnoticed, the kids get a point.  If the children are caught, the point goes to mom and dad.

Granted, there is a moral issue to be considered when you are turning something as horribly serious as guerilla warfare into a game.  This isn’t a subject to be taken lightly.

But I think the point is to teach children that in many wars, weaker fighters are successful combating stronger troops by not following the traditional rules of warfare.  This also becomes important when understanding America’s Revolutionary War, which is also covered in SOTW III.

So a “game” like this is only one part of a larger discussion about power, control,  and the heartbreak of war.

Stay tuned for more of our SOTW adventures this summer…

Dipping our toes into Story of the World 3, Activity Guide

This summer my kids and I are going to be exploring Susan Wise Bauer’s “Story of the World, History for the Classical Child, Volume 3, Early Modern Times”.

We have already listened to SOTW III a couple of years ago in the car.  This time around, we are listening, reading, and doing some of the projects in the activity guide.

Catherine the Great Paper dolls from SOTW III

Catherine the Great Paper dolls from SOTW III

I’ll be blogging about our SOTW III adventure, and updating the SOTW Pinterest Board I’m making with The Younger Mrs. Warde from Sceleratus Classical Academy.

Click here to see our SOTW Pinterest Board.

As you can see from our picture, we jumped into SOTW III in the middle, because Catherine the Great is of particular interest to our whole family.  But now we are back at the beginning, taking things chapter by chapter.

As always, I’m considerably impressed by what Susan Wise Bauer has accomplished.

Shakespeare for all ages

Do you think Shakespeare is too hard for kids?  Think again!

With the right type of scaffolding, almost any age can enjoy the “Bard of Avon”.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

For Kids 2.5 Years Old and Up

Shakepeare’s Storybook with CD by Patrick Ryan doesn’t exactly tell the stories of Shakespeare.  Instead, it includes the stories that inspired Shakespeare.  So instead of “Hamlet”, you hear the story of “Ashboy”.  “A Bargain is a Bargain” tells the story of “The Merchant of Venice.”

There are two CDs with this book, as well as lots of pictures.  None of the stories were too scary for my daughter, who started listening to them as young as two and a half.

For Kids 4 and Up

Can I just say how much I love Jim Weiss?  Basically anything you purchase from Greathall Productions is going to be golden.  Shakespeare for Children is no exception.  This is an audio CD that tells the stories of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Both versions are awesome!

Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer is another great choice for kids.  My son and I have read this book at bedtime over and over again.  The plays are told in narrative form but include original lines whenever possible.  The illustrations are beautiful; my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them.

For Kids 6 and Up

Chapter 39 of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2 includes historical information about Shakespeare, as well as a brief retelling of “Macbeth”.  If you have Jim Weiss reading the audio version of SOTW2, this appears on Disc 9.  I love the entire SOTW series to begin with, so getting a bit of Shakespeare thrown in is a nice bonus.

The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical novel for middle grade audiences by Gary Blackwood.  It tells the fictional story of Widge, an orphan boy who knows how to do a cryptic shorthand that allows him to transcribe plays when he should just be watching them.  The language is pretty advanced (not inappropriate, just challenging).  You really feel like you are getting a history lesson when you read this, as well as being entertained.

For Kids 10 and Up

Imagine if Monty Python, the Globe Theatre, and the evening news were mixed together.  You might end up with “This is Macbeth” and “This is Hamlet”.   These are two really wonderful introductions to Shakespeare for older students, created by Greg Watkins and Jeremy Sabol from Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education program.  (More about my own interest in SLE here.)

There are key scenes from the plays performed, faux interviews of the characters, musical interludes, and pretend medieval commercials.

My son Bruce is only seven, so he doesn’t quite have the attention span to make it through an entire DVD.  But he loves the medieval commercials so much, we have watched those on repeat.  It’s going to be really difficult to walk past the replica sword store, the next time I take Bruce to the mall…

Story of the World III

We are now on disc 8 out of the 9 disc audio version of Story of the World Volume III by Susan Wise Bauer.  Bruce(6.5) and I continue to love this series.  Jenna(2) alternates between yelling “No Story of the World!  Music CD!” from the back seat, or paradoxically, sometimes asking for it.  I’m not deluding myself into thinking my two year old has learned anything from thirty plus hours of listening to SOTW volumes 1-3, but I think it hasn’t hurt her language development at all to listen to speaking, stories, and big vocabulary words.

For his part, Bruce told me recently:

“Mom, I’ll tell you what history is about.  It’s about Christians fighting Muslims, Muslims fighting Christians, Catholics fighting Protestants, and Protestants fighting Catholics.  Every once in a while a real powerful guy comes along and builds up a great empire.  But then after a while the empire gets all messed up.”

I found this reflection to be both wise and poignant, especially since it was coming from my six year old.  This is not to say that I found SOTW III very dark or depressing, because it was not.  There were a lot of wonderful stories of historical heroes, heroines, brave explorers, and noble defenders. 

SOTW III is also the only book for children that I have been able to find that discusses John Locke specifically.  There is a good, five minute section about Locke and his theory that in a natural state all men are equal and have the right to pursue life, liberty and possessions.  I mention this because Bruce and I are currently plugging through my SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2, which by design, needed to include a child’s introduction to John Locke.

The theories created by John Locke of course flow straight into the creation of America, and so SOTW III also includes some early American history.  In fact, it goes into more detail about certain parts of American history than the AP US History text I had in 11th grade.  The history of Manhattan for example, was all new to me and very intriguing. 

In fact, I was shocked at how much history I learned from Volume III myself.  I had never studied the liberation of South America, nor the Mongol empire in India.  These are the hardest parts for me to learn, because I don’t have any tracks laid down in my brain from childhood for the information to stick to.  This won’t be a problem for Bruce or Jenna!

The Grammar Stage

Diverse Exposure without In-Depth Analysis

When I first read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, I had a lot of difficulty with the concept of the Grammar Stage, the first four years of Classical Education from the first through fourth grade.  My main opposition was to the wording that the Grammar Stage should include memorization without understanding.  As an educator, I am 98% philosophically opposed to this.  For some reason, certain conservative homeschooling groups like Classical Conversations seem to have really latched on to the idea of memorization without understanding, and that further soured my take on the Grammar Stage for a while.

But  after multiple readings of the WTM, and after discussing it with parents who put some of the ideas into practice (please see our online book discussion here), I think that what Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise are really proposing is that in the Grammar Stage you flood children’s minds with stories and information.  Their theory is that children under the age of nine do not necessarily need to analyze and evaluate information deeply (although they might), but that they should hear as much information as possible.   

My understanding now is that SWB and JW are advocating exposing children to a plethora of information, not sitting them down and having them memorizes lists and dates.  Instead of “memorization without understanding”, why I think they meant was diverse exposure without in-depth analysis.  True understanding of this thesis put into practice becomes clear if you listen or read Story of the World with your children.  There are no lists to memorize, just lots of historical stories and myths to listen to and enjoy.  Here’s a quote from page 22 of the third edition of The Well Trained Mind that really sums up this point:

 “In the first four years of learning, you’ll be filling your child’s mind and imagination with as many pictures, stories, and facts as you can.  Your goal is to supply mental pegs on which later information can be hung.”

 Right now we are listening to SOTW #3 in the car on the way to Bruce(6)’s school, and to Jenna(2)’s Kindermusik CD on the way home from dropping him off.  The Kindermusik CD has a lot of songs about trains on it, and as I was listening to the music today the perfect metaphor for the Grammar Stage came to mind.  The Grammar Stage is a time when parents can help their children lay down tracks for future learning.  Your goal is to lay down as many tracks to as many places as possible.  Some day in the future your child will be older and more mature, ready for full-blown locomotives of information.  If the tracks are already in place, those steam engines will be able to come quicker, faster, and heavier because they have someplace to stick to.  Kids who have a maze of tracks already in place will have a huge advantage over their peers who do not.

If you have ever tried to learn a foreign language as an adult, or pick up a new musical instrument, or (eek!) tried to fully understand and remember the Mongol Empire section from SOTW #3, then you know how difficult it is to learn something when you do not have the proper train tracks laid down in your brain.  There is nothing for the information to “stick” to.  That doesn’t mean you can’t learn new information at an older age, it just means it is more difficult.

Good public schools will hopefully be doing an excellent job of exposing children to great books, strong mathematics, beginning science concepts, and a smattering of social studies.  If you are lucky like my son is, school will also include music, poetry, and art.  But my job description as parent means that I am ultimately in charge of my children’s’ educations, and I take that role seriously through Afterchooling.  This is why we do cool science experiments on the weekend, listen to world history in the car, learn extra math over the summer, and (heaven help me!) are trying to learn Spanish at home.  At the end of the Grammar Stage both of my kids will have a maze of train tacks going through their heads, and when they hit middle school and high school– watch out!

Story of the World Volume 2, Disc 4

Bruce(6) and I listened to disc 4 of Susan Wise Bauer’s wonderful book The Story of the World Volume 2 last night. We heard all about William the Conqueror, Harald, and the Battle of Hastings. We also learned about what castles were like at the turn of the first millennium.

Here is a picture of William the Conqueror’s fortress, The White Castle, that my husband and I took when we visited London last May.

Here’s another picture. Right now The White Tower is used as an armory/museum.

Look how thick the walls are!

This is the portcullis we walked through, just like Susan Wise Bauer describes in her section on castles.  Pretty cool!

Story of the World Volume 2

(I will be revisiting this post soon with updates.)

We are now on disc #3 of the 9 disc audio set for Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2It is absolutely fabulous!   That being said, it is also leading to a lot of problems in our household.  Jenna(25m) has now listened to ten hours of Jim Weiss reading SOTW, since we also listed to SOTW Volume 1 this summer.  To put it bluntly, Jenna has now had enough.  Bruce(6) on the other hand, is desperate to hear to more.  So this is what it is like every time we get in the car:

Bruce: Story of the World!  Story of the World!  Turn it on Mom!!!

Jenna: No Story of the World!  I want music. CLASSICAL music!  No Story of the World!  Music!!  Mommy put on classical music!

Repeat 100 X

Sigh…. As my husband has put it, our children have no hope.  They are being trained to be nerds from the start.  The first grader is begging to hear history from the middle ages, and the two year old is a classical music snob.  🙂  We are going to try putting an old boom box into Bruce’s room so he can listen to SOTW on his own.

Please note that I haven’t been deluding myself into thinking Jenna was learning anything from listening to SOTW, but she had been tolerating it pretty well for Bruce’s sake.  And who knows?  Maybe she did pick up some vocabulary along the way.  She is pretty darn good a stringing sentences together for such a little girl.

To help support SOTW #2 I have gathered up all of the books in our home library that correspond to the years 300-1500.  As you can see, we are a little knight heavy.  Mary Pope Osborne’s Favorite Medieval Tales is one of the best of the bunch. I will write and link up full reviews of all of the books in the next few months.

The Story of the World Volume 1 Audio CD

Initial Impressions:

Right now we are listening to The Story of the World Volume 1 by Susan Wise Bauer. There are seven CDs that go with the audio version, as well as a detailed table of contents that is helpful in case you want to fast forward to a certain part of history. The narrator is Jim Weiss, whom our whole family absolutely loves because he can do so many different voices and accents.

At first, I hesitated to purchase SOTW because the Amazon ratings are very skewed. Half of the reviewers absolutely the series, the other half claim it is riddled with historical inaccuracies. Here’s what my friend Claire said about this controversy:

Claire: Most of the criticisms I’ve seen of Mrs. Bauer’s history series (both SOTW and her adult one) has to do with her treatment of Biblical stories as historical fact. She is a pastor’s wife, and her books reflect a Protestant Christian POV, though not a “Providential” one.

I have also heard the opposite opinion expressed. Some Christian conservatives dislike SOTW because she doesn’t cite all of the Bible as historical fact. We have only listened to the first CD so far, but in no way does it seem to be from a Bible literalist point of view.

Another criticism of SOTW I have heard is that there are not clear delineations between fact and myth. I do not think this is true either. Not only does SWB distinguish between stories and verifiable fact, but she knits them together along with fictional stories that appeal to young readers to create an engaging narrative experience.

We are listening to SOTW as a work of historical fiction, and are enjoying it tremendously. Since we are an Afterschooling family, this is just a Classical Education supplement to my son’s public school education. I have not purchased the written version of SOTW, or the activity guide that goes with it.

The activity guide however, does look pretty cool if you have the time, or are using SOTW for homeschooling. Here are three of my favorite blogs that show some of the activities from the book:

Pretty cool blogs, hunh? I’m enjoying seeing the activities and showing Bruce the pictures, without having to create the actual mess! We just have too much on our plate right now to add anything else. However, I am thinking about purchasing the activity guide in the future and doing some of the projects over winter break.

P.S. I will be updating this page in the future as we listen to more of the CDs. These are just my initial impressions after hearing disc one.

Update #1 One of Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s main ideas in The Well Trained Mind is to create a timeline in your house starting out in ancient times. (This is something that is typically done in public school classrooms.) Over at Ourlearningjourney, you can print out free timeline cards that the mom created to coincide with SOTW. These cards are really beautiful, so be sure to check out her pictures and be inspired.