Using The Story of The World as a Spine For Learning

Do you ever just wonder WHERE TO START in homeschooling?  

What can be the basis for all of your learning?

The Story of the World has been an integral part of our homeschool over the years - and served as the spine for our homeschool for many years.

I want to share how we use this basic history text and activity guide as a spine for learning in our homeschool. Along with those two things I got just a bit creative, did some research, and came up with engaging, memorable, and fun activities for my children.

Yes, we used the Story of the World at points for supplemental reading, listening, and just for fun, but his post will address how we used The Story of the World as a spine for learning in our homeschool.

Using the Story of the World as a Spine for Learning in Your Homeschool

The Story of the World was always a wonderful SPINE for all of our other learning. I pulled read-alouds, music selections, art study, science, and other subjects from our activities in Story of the World. 

Plus, this book is written by Susan Wise-Bauer. I have enormous respect for her and all of her curriculum pieces have worked well for my children. (We are fans of Writing With Ease and First Language Lessons.)

If you are on the beginning of your homeschool journey, or have never read The Well Trained Mind, I HIGHLY recommend this book. I read it before we started homeschooling and it shaped my philosophy then and continues to do so today, as well. 

The Story of the World presents the history of the world in a chronological manner that makes SENSE. I could see my children (and me!) learn about new events in history and relate them to many other events they have learned about in SOTW. They are learning history isn't isolated. Everything is connected.

Our Story

Our story (which I think is very similar to many other homeschoolers) is simple.

I was schooling my children at home without the aid of a co-op or structured program we would attend each week.I wanted a history curriculum that incorporated LIVING BOOKS, HANDS ON ACTIVITIES, and A CHRONOLOGICAL PRESENTATION.

We began  with Volume 1. Fast forward 5 years and we made it through Volume 4.

Yes, that means it is taking us more than a year to get through each volume.  Don't hyperventilate.  That's ok! )

We stop at points that are interesting. Sometimes one chapter will take us an entire week (or two).

We spent several weeks studying Robin Hood in a delight directed way.  What fun that was! It was all inspired by an edition of the book recommended in the SOTW Activity Guide.  

I know we have TIME, and as long as my children's interest is there I'm not worried about completing the volumes in a certain time period.


In this post I will use Volume 3 - Early Modern Times as an example.  I think this is because it was my personal favorite of all 4 volumes.

I always purchased the book and activity guide.

We pull most of our read-alouds and activities from the SOTW Activity Guide.

It's important to note I didn't do anything fancy.  We notebooked through the activity guide (more on that in a minute) and I chose some of the suggested read-alouds to share with my children.

Some of our favorite read-alouds from Volume 3 were:


Take, for example, the above example from Chapter 3:  James, King of Two Countries.  

The student pages (included in the activity guide) include mapwork, coloring pages, and other activities. 

Example Lesson from Story of the World

  • Read the chapter aloud - have children take notes (more on that in a minute!), do narration questions and mapwork suggested in the guide. 



My son (who is 8 and in second grade) builds LEGO creations to along with our chapter, colors a coloring sheet from the activity guide, or draws while listening to the chapter. I require my daughter to take more extensive notes since she is middle grades now. 

  • Throughout the course of the week we had read-aloud to go with our chapter. This particular week it was Blood on The River, an excellent living book about a page working for Captain John Smith. 


I also know that Handel was living at this same time in Europe, so we completed the Handel lesson from SQUILT Volume 1.

We also had a book of Isaac Newton activities and chose a couple that interested the kids. 

One night we sat as a family and watched Nightmare in Jamestown on Netflix.

We read passages from the King James Version of the Bible.


  • You get the idea. Anything related to this period of time we were researching and enjoying. Use your imagination and let your children be your guide, too.


Yes, it took some legwork on my part. But, it's a lifestyle of learning that I believe is worth it.

The activity guide does a lot of the research for you, though, and after a while I came to enjoy the research. I am learned so much about history.


If you aren't familiar with notebooking, I would like to recommend my friend Jimmie's post: Getting Started With Notebooking is a great post to help you understand what it's all about!

When I put together the Volume 3 notebooks for my kids, I did the .pdf download of the student pages. Yes, I still ordered the physical Activity Guide (for the teaching notes and activity suggestions), but downloading the student pages allows me to print them for my kids, and only print what we need/want. It also keeps everything on the up and up with copyright.

Both of my children keep extensive history notebooks. They look back on them with pride and joy. It is something we will save for years to come.

This video might be helpful to you as you notebook through the curriculum.

Notebooking Pages

Since my daughter is in middle school now, I really wanted her to do a little more written work this year. With each chapter I require her to take notes. She records any terms she doesn't know, important dates, people, places, etc... 

My membership to Notebooking Pages has been such a tremendous help with notebooking. There are templates for every single event in history you can think of. There are blank templates that you can print and have the child customize. And, I don't even have time to go into how awesome the Notebooking Publisher App. is.

If you are considering using SOTW as your history curriculum, I believe the investment in a Notebooking Pages Membership is WORTH IT! 

I have printed  country pages, animal pages, and so much more - all to go with our studies in Story of the World. There are timeline pages, book of centuries pages, and pages to go with each era in history. If you need a notebooking page, Notebooking Pages has it.  I promise.

And if they don't, they will most likely make one for you upon request. 


Here is a simple lined notebooking page I gave my daughter after our Jamestown chapter. She narrated back from the chapter and did a beautiful job. 


She also completed a "Modern Times" notebooking sheet (I require one of these for each chapter!), which helps her take notes during the chapter.

Do you see why I love Story of the World so much?


In the very first chapters of Volume 3 we were learning about the Incas in Peru. My son latched onto this. I was able to print a map of South America, and make another page all about Llams from the Notebooking Publisher Web App. We had a science study about Llamas for a week and it was such fun! 


Notebooking Pages LIFETIME Membership


Final Thoughts

The reasons we use Story of the World are simple:

  • Beautiful stories, in chronological order
  • Wonderful suggestions in the activity guide for extending learning
  • A Classical approach to history, which works well for my children - lots of narration and quality literature appeal to us
  • It provides a spine for all of our other learning - from science to music - from art to literature

If you're looking for a neat and simple history curriculum, The Story of the World is it.  You can do as little or as much as you want with it, and it is customizable for a wide age range. 

Story of The World Resources & More:

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Revised EditionThe Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance (Second Revised Edition)  (Vol. 2)  (Story of the World)The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 3: Early Modern TimesThe Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 4: The Modern Age: From Victoria's Empire to the End of the USSRThe Story of the World, Activity Book 1: Ancient Times - From the Earliest Nomad to the Last Roman EmperorThe Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Activity Book 2: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the RenaissanceThe Story of the World Activity Book Three: Early Modern TimesThe Story of the World Activity Book Four: The Modern Age: From Victoria's Empire to the End of the USSRStory of the World Audiobook Collection, Volumes 1-4 Books on CDThe Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (Kingfisher Encyclopedias)



*Note:  Peace Hill Press publishes The Story of The World.  I did not receive any compensation or product for this post. I just love this curriculum and it has worked well for my children.  

Using the Story of the World as a Spine for Learning In Your Homeschool

Getting Started With Notebooking

Notebooking has long been a wonderful way for my children to learn in our homeschool.

When children notebook they:

  • use creativity to document their learning
  • retain information longer because they have "created" something of substance
  • gain valuable research skills
  • create something tangible to demonstrate their knowledge 

When you are new to a field its jargon can be intimidating.  

But homeschool notebooking should not be scary because getting started is not a difficult venture.  

Getting Started with Notebooking

Our notebooking expert for this post is Jimmie Lanley -- otherwise known as the Notebooking Fairy

Select a Lesson for Your Notebooking

 Look at your weekly lesson plans and choose an area that would lend itself well to notebooking.  You may be thinking, "I have never done this!  I have no idea what will mesh with notebooking!"  In that case, I suggest you begin with either science or history.  Those topics normally are easy to both write about and illustrate.

Then look at your weekly plans.  Choose a day that introduces and completes a single idea.  It might be a famous individual or a single historic event.  Or in the case of science it may be a lesson about a chemical process or an animal.  

Zero in on that one day's science or history lesson .  Now you have your notebooking target.

Carry Out Your Lesson as Normal

Go ahead and teach as you normally would whether it's having your child read silently or you reading outloud.  If it is a video or a hands-on experiment, that will work too.  Don't change your normal homeschool plans for the sake of notebooking.

The only change you need to make is at the start of the lesson.  Cue your children that at the end of the lesson you are going to have them retell the lesson on a notebooking page.  If they look confused, don't worry.  Tell them it will be easy once they get to that point.

Have Your Child Narrate Orally

Now that the lesson is over, ask your child to tell you back what he learned.  You listen and probe for more details if you feel the narration is not thorough enough.

While your child is narrating, you need to make some choices.  Eventually you are going to ask your child to write down what he just explained outloud.  So you may want to take outline notes of what your child says.  Or you may prefer to write key words, like a word bank.  Some of you may even serve as a scribe for the child and write down exactly what she ways.

Notebooking Pages LIFETIME Membership

Write it Down

You don't need anything fancy here.  A plain piece of notebook or copy paper will work.  But you can also print out some of generic notebooking templates if you desire.

Ask your child to write down what he just explained.  You can offer your outline or word bank as helps.  If you have tips for things like capitalization or spelling, make mention of them, but don't stress the child out.  The main point is to get her ideas down on paper.  There will be mistakes, so use a pencil.  This doesn't have to be perfect.  And the oral narration should be a good "practice" for the written work.

Gauge the length by the age of your child.  Some children may write only a sentence.  Others will write multiple paragraphs.

Mohs Hardness notebooking2

Illustrate the Notebook Page

Reserve part of the paper for an illustration of the lesson.  If your child is crafty, set him loose with markers.  But if your child despises drawing, offer some alternatives such as an image printed out, a picture photocopied from a book, or a coloring page.  Diagrams and graphic organizers work here too.  And stick men are absolutely acceptable.  The point is to illustrate the lesson not to create a work of art.

Check it and Store it

Now your page is complete.  Check it for glaring errors and make minor corrections.  Then hole punch your page or slip it into a page protector for safe keeping in three ring binder.  Let your child personalize her notebooks and take responsibility for making covers and dividers.  Even if they are very simple, the idea is to teach organizational skills.

Repeat the Process Again

To use notebooking another day, simply repeat this process.  To prevent falling into a notebooking rut, take a look at the list of 50 things you can put into a notebook

If you buy the complete guide to notebooking, Notebooking Success, this lists of 50 things is included as a bonus printable that can go straight into your mom notebook.  After your children have learned how to make the basic noteooking page with written text and an illustration, let them select some new formats for their pages.  There are many different ways to add variety to your pages:  puzzles, paper dolls, flashcards, minibooks, postcards, photographs, brochures, stamps, paper crafts, coints, etc...

Notebooking pages can become an enjoyable part of your homeschool routine where children narrate their lessons, practice writing, adn expres creativity.  As a bonus, when you are done, you have a portfolio of your work that documents all you learned.

See?  Wasn't that easy?  Getting started with notebooking is truly simple.  Start small and see if notebooking is a good fit for your homeschool.

Jimmie Lanley is the mother of one creative teenaged daughter. Living abroad in China necessitated the original choice to homeschool. But now that she and her family are back in Tennessee, Jimmie can't imagine any other way to educate her middle schooler. Jimmie's Collage is where she blogs about her Charlotte Mason styled homeschool. In the early years, Jimmie's lesson plans were full of hands-on activities and lapbooks. As the years passed, she began using more and more notebooking and became so passionate about the method that she created her second blog, The Notebooking Fairy. That site features free notebooking printables and how-tos plus the affordable eBook guide Notebooking Success.



Our Favorite Notebooking Resource: 

In our homeschool we have made excellent use of our Lifetime Membership to Notebooking Pages.  

Notebooking Pages literally has a printable page for ANYTHING you are studying, and if they don't -- you can make one yourself using the Notebooking Web App publisher.  

This is BY FAR the most used resource in our homeschool! 

Getting Started With Notebooking

What about you?  Do you notebook?  Can we answer any questions about notebooking for you?

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Notebooking: How to Resources, Tips, Tricks, & Freebies