Secular homeschooling sites have a lot of questions about how to use the Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer. This is not a secular series – it has a distinct Judeo-Christian bias, particularly in the first two volumes, Ancient Times and the Middle Ages.

I end up being sort of a SOTW apologist – we used the series in elementary school and found them successful, BUT I secularized them.

  • I read everything aloud – I didn’t use tapes so that I could stop and say, “what did you think of that last sentence?” “That’s a bit smug, isn’t it?” “Is she presenting any evidence for this?” and so on. I also rearranged the order of chapters in book 1 (that’s the least secular of the four volumes).
  • I moved the Iliad and the Odyssey back to the time the Trojan War probably took place in order to better match the position of the Biblical stories in Story of the World, which are placed when they might have occurred rather than when they were written down.

Learning to detect bias is a vitally important skill for studying history, and the Story of the World was a soft target to learn on.

I love the three cycles of history recommended by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer in the Well-Trained Mind.  In middle school, I made a list of history topics covered here, and if I were doing elementary school again, I would have hunted for books on each of these topics. On the other hand, using  Story of the World was inexpensive, efficient, and enjoyable, plus children learned a lot about looking for bias.

Here’s the syllabus I used when one child was in 4th grade and the other in 5th. It contains readings from high school-level books, After the Ice and Duiker & Spielvogel’s Essential World History, which should be omitted for younger children. (I read the selections aloud.) Dorling Kindersley books are hard going for first and second graders, although they enjoy looking at the pictures.

Like the syllabi I’ve put up for high schoolers, this should be taken as a starting point only. This is offered, as is, from 2012. Many of the book links are for newer editions, so the pages may not match up exactly.  And my apologies for the funky outline numbering; it doesn’t like cut & paste.

Budget Version

Elementary School/Early Middle School:

Story of the World, Ancient Times only for Elementary School. See if you can find the Dorling Kindersley books at the library.

Late Middle School:

Duiker & Spielvogel, Essential World History, old edition [The pages won’t match my reading list, but you can buy non-highlighted versions for $5 from Amazon.] See if you can find the Dorling Kindersley books at the library.

Higher Budget Book List

Main Sources:

Susan Wise, Story of the World: Ancient Times

DK Publishing, Early Humans,  Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient China

Particularly for UK residents: Galore Park, Junior History Vol. 1,   Junior History Vol 2, Junior History Vol 3 (Vol 3 is currently listing on Amazon for $81 which is insane. You can buy it directly from the publisher in the UK or for a reasonable price, even if you add in shipping.)

Add-ons for Elementary School:

Usborne Time Traveler series, Pharaohs and Pyramids and Rome and Romans.

The Calliope/Cobblestones Ancient History theme pack seems to be no longer available; I’ve left the page numbers here in case you can find it at a library.

Mary Pope Osborne, Tales from the Odyssey, Vol 1 and Vol 2

Add-ons for Middle School

Mithen, After the Ice

Duiker & Spielvogel, Essential World History [newer edition; pages won’t match syllabus]

Joy Hakim, The Story of Science, Aristotle Leads the Way

Reading List

Ancient History

20,000 BCE – 500 CE

20,000 – 3500 BCE: The Stone Age – Hunter Gatherers and the beginning of farming

    1. Story of the World, “Introduction,” pp. 1-6

    2. Early Humans, pp. 6-12

    3. Paleolithic Cultures

      1. After the Ice, “The Birth of History,” p. 3

      2. After the Ice, “The World at 20,000 BCE,” p. 8

      3. After the Ice, “Fires and Flowers,” p. 20, (20,000 – 12,300 BCE)

      4. After the Ice, “Village Life in the Oakwoodlands,” pp. 29-31, 34-35, 37-39 (12,300-10,800 BCE)

      5. Early Humans, pp. 22-29

      6. The Younger Dryas

        1. Climate Change charts in Two Mile Time Machine [Adult-level book]

        2. After the Ice, “1000 Years of Drought,” pp. 46-49; 52-55 (10,800-9600 BCE)

    1. Mesolithic Cultures (10,000-about 8,000 BCE)

      1. After the Ice, “The Founding of Jericho,” pp. 56-61 (9600-8500 BCE)

      2. After the Ice, “Catalhoyuk,” pp. 92-95 (9600 – 7000 BCE)

      3. After the Ice, “Star Carr,” pp 134-141, (9600-8500 BCE)

      4. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The First Humans,” pp. 3-4

    2. Neolithic Cultures

      1. After the Ice, “At the Frontier,” (farming and mesolithic society) pp. 178-186, (6000 – 4000 BCE)

      2. After the Ice, “Epilogue,” pp. 504-6.

      3. Story of the World, “The Earliest Peoples,” pp. 7-13

      4. Early Humans, pp. 30-39

      5. Plant, “The Story of Wheat,” pp 56-7

      6. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Neolithic Revolution,” pp. 4-6

  1. 3500-800 BCE: Early Empires: The Bronze Age

    1. Junior History I, “The Bronze Age,” pp. 27-33

    2. Early Humans, the Bronze Age, pp. 42-47

    3. Mesopotamia, pp. 6-21

    4. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Emergence of Civilization” and “Civilization in Mesopotamia,” pp.6-7

    5. Story of the World, “The First Writing,” pp 21-24

    6. Early Humans, “Ancient Writing,” pp. 40-41

    7. Story of the World, “Egyptians Lived on the River Nile,” pp. 14-20

    8. Story of the World, “The Old Kingdom of Egypt,” pp 25-31

    9. Junior History I, “Ancient Egypt,” 36-45

    10. Pharohs & Pyramids (entire)

    11. Ancient Egypt (entire)

    12. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Egyptian Civilization,” pp. 12-14 (through ‘The Pyramids’)

    13. Stonehenge (begun 2700 BCE)

    14. Story of the World, “The First Sumerian Dictator,” pp. 32-34 (2300 BCE)

    15. Mesopotamia, pp. 22-29

    16. Appleseeds Magazine, “Children of Ancient Mesopotamia

  2. The Bronze Age outside of the Mediterranean World

    1. Story of the World, “The First Cities of India,” pp. 59-65 (2000 BCE)

    2. Calliope: Lost Cities, “The Treasures of Mohenjo-Daro”

    3. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Ancient India,” pp. 26-top of 30

    4. Story of the World, “Ancient China,” pp. 66-75

    5. Ancient China, pp. 1-12

    6. Story of the World, “Ancient Africa,” pp. 76-97

    7. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Africa,” pp. 159-164

  3. Back to the Mediterranean

      1. Story of the World, “Hammurabi and the Babylonians,” pp. 46-50 (1750 BCE)

      2. Mesopotamia, pp. 30-39

      3. Story of the World, “The Assyrians,” pp. 51-58

      4. Mesopotamia, pp. 40-51

      5. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Civilization in Mesopotamia,” pp.8-12

      6. Story of the World, “The Middle Kingdom of Egypt,” pp. 88-92

      7. Story of the World, “The New Kingdom of Egypt,” pp. 93-102

      8. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Egypt” from ‘The Middle Kingdom,” pp 14-16

      9. Calliope: Queens of Egypt, “Hatshepsut”

      10. Story of the World, “The Jewish People,” pp. 25-45 (this section is based on the Bible, written long after the events of the story)

      11. Story of the World, “The Israelites Leave Egypt,” pp. 103-109 (1200 BCE)

      12. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Children of Israel,” pp. 18-20

      13. Story of the World, “The Phoenicians,” pp. 110-114

      14. Faces: Mediterranean Trade

      15. Duiker & Spielvogel, “New Centers of Civilization,” pp. 16-17

      16. Story of the World, “The Return of Assyria,” pp. 115-121

      17. Story of the World, “Babylon Takes Over Again,” pp. 122-127

      18. Mesopotamia, 52- 55

      19. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Rise of New Empires,” and “Conclusions,” pp. 20-23

      20. The Story of Science, “Birthing a Universe,” and “Myths of Creation,” pp. 1-19

      21. The Story of Science, “Making Days,” pp. 20-33

      22. Story of the World, “Life in Early Crete,” pp. 128-136

      23. Calliope: Vanished Civilizations, “Minoan Crete”

      24. Calliope: Vanished Civilizations, “Atlantis: Fact or Fiction?”

      25. Calliope: Lost Cities, “Mycenae”

      26. Story of the World, “The Early Greeks,” pp. 137-141

      27. Story of the World, “The Greek Gods,” pp. 169-172

      28. Calliope: Lost Cities, “The House of Vengeance”

      29. Mary Pope Osborne, Tales from the Odyssey, Vol 1 & 2, entire (these stories are based on those of Homer, who was writing many years later in circa 700 BCE)

      30. Ancient Greece, pp. 6-13

      31. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Greeks,” pp. 68-71

      32. Mythology cards

      33. Calliope: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, “The Jewel on the Bosporus,” pp. 4-8

      34. Calliope: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, “A Cow’s Crossing,” pp. 9-12

    1. 800 BCE – 350 BCE – Antiquity / Greece

      1. Early Humans, the Iron Age, pp. 48-63

      2. Story of the World, “Greece Gets Civilized Again,” pp. 142-154

      3. Story of the World, “The Medes and the Persians,”

      4. Mesopotamia, 56-57

      5. Story of the World, “Sparta and Athens,” pp 162-168

      6. Junior History II, “Cities and Civil Wars,” pp. 20-26

      7. Story of the World, “The Wars of the Greeks,” pp. 173-179

      8. Junior History II, “Life in 5th Century Athens,” pp. 29-37

      9. Ancient Greece, pp. 14-61

      10. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Greeks,” pp. 72-82

      11. The Story of Science, “Ionia? What’s Ionia?” pp. 34-43

      12. The Story of Science, “The ‘A’ Team,” pp. 44-55

      13. The Story of Science, “Elementary Matters,” pp. 54-57

      14. The Story of Science, “Being at Sea,” pp.58-63

      15. The Story of Science, “Worshiping Numbers,” pp. 64-71

      16. The Story of Science, “Pythagoras Knows It’s Round,” pp. 72-85

      17. The Story of Science, “Getting Atom,” pp. 86-93

      18. The Story of Science, “Aristotle and His Teacher,” pp. 94-105

      19. The Story of Science, “Does it Change? No way, says A,” pp. 106-113

    2. A Quick Visit to the Rest of the World

      1. Calliope: Vanished Civilizations, “The Etruscans”

      2. Story of the World, “China: Writing and the Qin,” pp. 239-250

      3. Story of the World, “Confucius,” pp. 251-253

      4. Ancient China, pp 6-17

      5. Duiker & Spielvogel, “China,” pp.46-top 58 (no outline)

      6. Story of the World, “The Aryans of India,” pp. 222-232

      7. Story of the World, “The Mauryan Empire of India,” pp. 233-238

      8. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Arrival of the Aryans,” 30-33

      9. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Escaping the Wheel of Life,” pp. 35-40

      10. Duiker & Spielvogel, read the rest of the chapter (no outline), pp 40-44

      11. Story of the World, “The People of the Americas,” pp. 188-197

      12. Calliope: Ancient Mexico, “The Olmecs: America’s First Kings”

    3. 350 BCE – Back to Greece Again

      1. Junior History II, “Macedonia and Alexander the Great,” pp. 41-49

      2. Story of the World, “Alexander the Great,” pp. 180-187 (356-323 BCE)

      3. Ancient Greece, pp. 62-63

      4. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Rise of Macedonia and the Conquests of Alexander,” pp. 82-87

      5. The Story of Science, “Aristarchus Got it Right – Well, Almost,” pp. 114-119

      6. The Story of Science, “Alexander’s City,” pp. 120-127

      7. The Story of Science, “What’s a Hero?” pp. 128-135

      8. The Story of Science, “Euclid in His Elements,” pp. 136-145

      9. The Story of Science, “Archimedes’ Claw,” pp. 146-159

      10. The Story of Science, “Measuring the Earth,” pp. 160-165

      11. Calliope: Queens of Egypt, “Arsinoe II”

    4. 300 BCE – 100 CE Antiquity / Rome

      1. Story of the World, “The Rise of Rome,” pp. 198-204

      2. Junior History II, “Who Were the Romans,” pp. 52-59

      3. Junior History II, “Life in the Republic,” pp. 61-68

      4. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Emergence of Rome” and “The Roman Republic,” pp. 90-93

      5. The Story of Science, “Rome Rules,” pp. 166-173

      6. Story of the World, “The Roman Empire,” pp. 205-216

      7. Story of the World, “Rome’s War with Carthage,” pp. 217-221 (264-146 BCE)

      8. Calliope: Africa’s Carthage

      9. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Roman Conquest of the Mediterranean (264-133 BCE) pp. 93-95

      10. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic (133-31 BCE), pp. 95-96

      11. The Story of Science, “Longitude and Latitude, plus two Greek Mapmakers,” pp. 174-183

      12. Story of the World, “The Rise of Julius Caesar,” pp. 254-260

      13. Story of the World, “Caesar the Hero,” pp. 263-273

      14. Calliope: Queens of Egypt, “Cleopatra VII”

      15. Junior History II, “Rome’s Domination of Italy,” pp. 73-83

      16. Junior History II, “Civil War,” pp. 86-93

      17. Junior History II, “Roman Entertainment,” pp. 95-103

    5. Romans in Britain

      1. Junior History III, “Britain in Rome,” pp. 2-13

      2. Junior History III, “Romans in Britain,” pp. 15-28

      3. Junior History III, “British Peoples,” pp. 29-40

      4. visit Roman Villa in IOW.

    6. Visiting other parts of the World

      1. Calliope: Lost Cities: “Loyang: the Emperor’s City”

      2. Ancient China, pp. 18-29

      3. Duiker & Spielvogel, “The Glorious Han Dynasty,” pp. 58-65 (no outline)

      4. Calliope: Ancient Mexico, “Teotihuacan: City of Pyramids”

      5. Calliope: Vanished Civilizations, “Mysterious Angkor”

      6. Calliope: Ancient Maya, entire

    7. 100 -500 CE Back to Rome

      1. Story of the World, “The First Roman Prince,” pp. 274-277

      2. Ancient Rome, entire

      3. Rome and Romans, entire

      4. Duiker & Spielvogel, Rome, pp. 97-102

      5. Story of the World, “The Beginning of Christianity,” pp. 278-284

      6. Story of the World, “The End of the Ancient Jewish Nation,” pp. 285-287z

      7. The Story of Science, “The Greatest,” pp. 183-189 (Ptolemy, 85-165 CE)

      8. Story of the World, “Rome and the Christians,” pp. 288-296

      9. Story of the World, “Rome Begins to Weaken,” pp. 297-301

      10. Calliope: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, “The Soldier of God,” pp. 14-19

      11. Story of the World, “The Attacking Barbarians,” pp.302-309

      12. Calliope: The Hunnic Invasions, entire

      13. The Story of Science, “A Saint Who Was No Scientist,” pp. 190-199

      14. Story of the World, “The End of Rome,” pp. 310-316

      15. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Crisis & Late Empire” and “Christianity,” pp. 103-108

      16. How the Earth Works, Climate Change and Human History, episode 41

      17. Duiker & Spielvogel, “Reflections,” pp. 110-113

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Image credit: By Antimenes Painter – Walters Art Museum, Public Domain,