Ways We Customize The Story of the World Curriculum in our Homeschool

We love The Story of the World history curriculum.  

(And, given that I loathed history when I was a kid, it’s no small potatoes for me to say that I love a history curriculum!)

After using Tapestry of Grace Primer for my oldest son’s first and second grade years, we started Volume 1 of The Story of the World and haven’t looked back.

If you’re not familiar with it, The Story of the World (SotW) is a four volume set of history books – from “Ancient Times” to “The Modern Age” – written by Susan Wise Bauer of The Well-Trained Mind in a chronological narrative style.  Activity Books are available for each volume which include review questions, narration samples, map work, relevant fiction and non-fiction book suggestions and awesome project ideas. 

The Story of the World Volumes 1-4 and Activity Books stacked
Our well-loved copies of SotW Vol. 1-4 & Activity Books

I plan on writing a full review of SotW in the future, but for now, I wanted to share some of the ways we’ve tweaked the program to fit our needs.

How We Customize Story of the World

We don’t always do ALL of the review questions.

I have two kids using SotW right now, so I usually alternate asking them the review questions. I give the straightforward ones to the younger student and the more complex ones to my older student. We skip over super-difficult questions that deal with some of the more obscure facts from the chapter. 

We personalize the map work.

When we started out with SotW, I had my kids do the map work as written in the Actvity Books – following instructions like “draw a blue and red box around Calcutta” or “outline the coast of Europe.” But following the rote instructions wasn’t working for my kids’ retention. The times they customized their maps – made their own symbols, chose their own colors and decided what to emphasize or highlight – those were the lessons that seemed to stick. So now we review the content of the Map Work section, but customize the actual mark-ups.

I scale down the Student Activity Pages.

My boys don’t dislike coloring, but it’s not their favorite thing either. Although the coloring pages provided in the Activity Books are helpful, my kids never had the patience for whole-page-sized coloring and map pages. So I scale down the map (usually half-size is still plenty big) and shrink the coloring pages. My kids then end up using these smaller pieces as elements on a single notebooking page per chapter or per section.

We rotate between oral and written narrations.

The authors suggest doing this and it’s been really helpful. I also rotate in other ways of assessing comprehension, like having them list “three things I want to remember” or “five things I learned” about the topic, or I have them make mini-books. It’s easy to customize this for different ages since a younger student can just write or dictate one or two facts while older ones can list four or five.

We make our own SotW-compatible timelines.

I explained in this post how easy it is to make your own fold-out timelines. We’ve been doing this as long as we’ve used SotW and it’s been really helpful to visually see where everything falls compared to other events and people from the past. 

Story of the World timeline with timeline figure stickers
SotW Vol. 2 Timeline
I prepare ahead of time.

Each year I do more and more of the prep work ahead of time, during summer, and each year things go more smoothly than the last. I try to have copies of student handouts pre-printed*, supplemental videos previewed and saved, project ideas pre-selected and book lists marked so I know what’s available at our library. Of course, I’d rather be at the beach than working during the summer. But, once the school year starts, I’m always thanking my past self for doing all the legwork ahead of time!

*WARNING: Pre-printing a year’s worth of curriculum handouts is risky. When I just started homeschooling, I ended up wasting more time & resources than I saved since I printed things we didn’t end up using. But now that I know we love SotW and I have an idea of the kind of pages that work for us, I feel more comfortable printing ahead of time.


Here are a few more ways I’m planning on customizing and improving our SotW experience in the coming school year: 

We’ll try using the audiobook version for our read aloud.

So far (Vol. 1 & 2) I’ve read the chapters aloud, but my energetic toddler made this a challenge this past year. I’m hoping by using the Volume 3 audiobook to read for me, I can play or color quietly with my youngest so we can all concentrate. A girl can dream, right?

I bought the Student Activity Page (SAP) PDF’s.

I’ve held off buying the SAP PDF downloads since I’d already bought the book and felt silly buying half the same content again in a different format. Some have suggested un-binding the Activity Book, three hole-punching the pages and making copies as needed. And in the past, I used the ScannerPro app on my phone to print copies for my kids. But this year, I decided it was worth $10 to save hours of my time in prepping Volume 3 for this coming fall.

I’m trying chapter summary sheets for my 5th grader.

I’ve been looking for a way to help my oldest delve more deeply into the content but, ideally, involving no additional work on my part. 😀 I found the idea of using a chapter summary page at Homegrown Learners (she’s got a lot of other good SotW tips there, too) and I created my own to try this year. This way my 2nd and 5th graders can work on the maps, narrations & activity pages together and then my oldest can skim the chapters and fill out a summary sheet for each chapter. (Download my set of chapter summary notebooking templates for Volumes 1-4 below for *FREE*! )

SotW Vol 3 - Early Modern Times Chapter Summary sheet printable
Volume 3 Chapter Summary Sheet

Hopefully some of these tips and ideas are helpful if you use SotW or are considering it!

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Ways We Customize The Story of the World Curriculum in our Homeschool title with wooden background and SotW Vol 1-4 stacked books