What’s exciting about studying history as a homeschooler is that we can start at the beginning and spend as much time as we want in each era, and we don’t have to stop until we understand everything. My typical way of teaching history is to have a good spine, such as one of these books, read through it slowly, and while doing that, check out library books about the various topics and eras that we want more information about. We also watch a lot of documentaries too, although we don’t always match up history documentaries with what we’re reading.
As a history professor, my husband gets a lot of free college textbooks to review, but we obviously needed books that would appeal to young kids. Finding the perfect world history text for kids didn’t prove easy! My husband and I spent some time searching for books on Amazon, and I checked these out from the library before we bought them. I’m going to list them in order of our preference.
The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia — This is our favorite. It’s a beautiful book with rich photographs and illustrations, and it has all the relevant information in it that we’re looking for. However, this is not meant to be an in depth look at history. For example, “Ancient Egypt” covers a two-page spread. Still, this is the kind of overview that kids would be getting in a world history class, and you can pause wherever you like and get more books from the library about each section.
The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History — This is a great book with beautiful illustrations and photographs. It doesn’t have quite as many details as the Kingfisher, but it covers everything and then some. We bought this intending to let our son read it on his own. Usborne considers “World History” to also mean “Earth’s History,” so it begins with about eighty pages dedicated to prehistoric time, what fossils are, and evolution, etc. When I think of “World History” I tend to think of that as “Human History,” which is what they do in school. But that makes little difference, and it’s nice to have the “big picture” laid out in one book. However, we’ve already learned so much about Earth’s history through our science interests that we already know this information. So I’m not requiring my son to read those first eighty pages unless he wants to.
The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer — We are well aware of the criticisms of this series, but having looked at the first one, we decided we would try it because learning about history through story form might interest our sons. As a history professor, my husband reviews many college level textbooks, and he tells me that many of them have biases. The point is that you should never use just one text as your information source just as you should never use one media outlet for all your current news. By studying many different resources, you will be more informed and better able to find mistakes or biases, and learning how to do that is a good learning lesson in itself. We have not gotten very far into SOTW, and my 10-year-old doesn’t love it, but I think my 7-year-old liked it better. I am not sure we’ll continue with these books, but I’ll let you know. (UPDATE: My younger son finished reading this first volume, but that is the only book we used in this series.)