Classical History for Homeschoolers: History Odyssey

Classical History for Homeschoolers: History Odyssey

I talk with a lot of homeschooling families – it’s one of my favorite pastimes! A reoccurring concern among many is a shortage of comprehensive history curricula.

More than many other subjects, history typically requires home educators to scramble unaided to scour libraries, bookstores, yard sales, and the internet for engaging works. Piecemeal-ing a course of study only to find selected titles that are cost-prohibitive, out of print, subjective, or, worst of all, boring is a time-consuming disappointment.

If you can relate to the scenario described above, I’ve got some good news for you; it is Pandia Press, a producer of secular history curricula created with home educators in mind. 

The History Odyssey series combines a classical approach to teaching with a thoughtful reading list and hands-on activities for grades 1 through 12. The classical method expects that students will cycle through a study of historical periods three times throughout their education. With this in mind, Pandia’s curriculum provides three levels: Level One, for grades 1-4, Level Two, for grades 5-8, and Level Three, for grades 9-12. Each level provides four programs lasting one year apiece; they are Ancients, Middle Ages, Early Modern, and Modern Times. If a student were to start with this program in grade one, completing the entire twelve-year program employing the classical method, she would revisit each history section three times.

For this review I looked at the ebook version of History Odyssey Ancients, Level One, which is a look at world history from 6000 BCE to 500 CE. A hard copy edition of this work is also available; however it is not a bound book; rather, it’s a set of loose leaf papers, which for some might be disappointing.

History Odyssey is not a textbook but rather a guide. Think of it like this—your closest homeschooler friend, the organized, well-read mother you so admire, mentions what a great year of history studies her family has enjoyed. She tells you this is thanks to all of the great resources she managed to glean from hours of exhaustive research. She happens to have recorded all of the details in a digestible, comprehensive format and over of cup of coffee she offers to share it all with you—this is what it’s like to thumb through the pages of this guide.

Each chapter of this guide is a complete week-long lesson plan organized and presented in a straightforward fashion that harried home educators will appreciate. An instructor’s prep list, a lesson plan chock-full of readings, map work, writing assignments and project ideas, and animpressive reading list are all provided. 

Elementary level guides are for use with children 6 to 10 years old. Understanding that the range of skill sets in this age range varies dramatically, the author provides lesson ideas that can be easily adapted to suit the needs of individual students.

As there may be more suggested readings and project ideas than a family could complete comfortably in a year’s time, there is no need to acquire all of the suggested resources in advance. Take time to gauge your child’s level of interest and select the resources that will be most appealing. The author acknowledges that families will choose to approach these materials in number of different ways; for this reason she has designed flexible lesson plans that can be modified accordingly.

History Odyssey is not a canned curriculum, and parental involvement is required; however, I’m pretty certain you’ll enjoy the process. Along with overseeing lessons, time enough to locate all of the books and project materials referenced is also required. The good news here is that these titles are generally easy to come by at libraries and online. This guide also eliminates countless hours one might spend trying to identify history’s most important themes and organizes them in a linear, practical manner.

Secular and religious homeschoolers are likely to feel equally at home with History Odyssey’s respectful approach to world religions.

Kinesthetic learners who learn best through movement and hands-on activities may not find this curriculum is a fit. Although there are opportunities for projects and map activities, History Odyssey is primarily a book-focused curriculum that entails a great deal of reading and listening.

History Odyssey is bit pricey. At $46 for a loose leaf series of pages and $37.99 for the e-Book, you’ll want to be certain your library can provide the bulk of required reading materials.

A unique program, History Odyssey makes wearisome, lifeless textbooks a thing of the past. Children for whom this program is suited will enjoy tremendously the compelling stories of people, places and customs of the long ago past. Parents who know the labor involved in compiling resource lists such as these, will be deeply appreciative of the time they’ll save using this guide; they’ll be equally impressed with the quality of resources explored.

Great Secular Science Curriculum: The Story of Science

Yes! Secular, literature-based science curriculum! The Story of the Science takes a historical approach and is definitely worth checking out if you need help with homeschool science.

OK folks, I am really excited about this one! Joy Hakim’s work, The Story of Science, is truly a treasure. Whether you’re seeking out curriculum for a science-loving learner who can’t get enough of the subject or navigating a path with a humanities kid who’d rather be reading and writing, Joy Hakim’s series has much to offer.

Hakim’s approach to the study of science is to discontinue the practice of isolating this subject from other disciplines such as world history, critical thinking, and language arts. Hakim advocates a multidisciplinary approach, which she masterfully brings to life for readers in her compelling three-volume series. The Story of Science meets the requirements of the National Science Education Standards and Common Core. However, these books are also rich with compelling language and ideas that ignite desire to delve deeper into the stories of scientists and their discoveries. Each volume ($24.95) can be supported with a student work book ($12.95) and a teacher’s guide ($39.95).

Suggested reading level is 5th grade through high school.

Volume I Aristotle Leads the Way:
This first book introduces students to ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, India, and the Arab world. The lives and work of Pythagoras, Archimedes, Brahmagupta, Al Khwarizmi, Fibonacci, Ptolemy, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas are presented in a lively style of narrative that is often absent in more traditional textbooks. Hakim’s selected topics for this volume explore the very questions that led the great thinkers to concepts of modern science as we understand them today.

Volume II, Newton at the Center:
The second, longer volume in this series features the work of important thinkers such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes. This text demonstrates how the genius work of Isaac Newton made possible what is recognized today as modern physics, astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry.

Volume III, Einstein Adds a New Dimension:
Readers have a front seat ride with Albert Einstein as he and other great minds make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of physics. The history of physics is explored in amazing breadth in an engaging and literary manner. Hakim presents a wide range of concepts from electromagnetism to quantum mechanics, black holes, quarks, and more.

For those who view traditional textbooks with a healthy degree of skepticism, these exceptional volumes will be a pleasant surprise. Throughout each book, substantive text is peppered with colorful photographs, informative sidebars, useful charts and maps, and original excerpts from the scientists’ writings, as well as suggested further readings. The scientists themselves are brought to life like characters in a novel, presented as compelling individuals who are oftentimes as interesting as the discoveries for which they are famous.

The workbooks accompanying this series are well organized, and their layout is simple and straightforward. Each unit opens with a thoughtful quote from a featured scientist in order to establish the theme of the particular chapter. These quotes are a lovely springboard for some fascinating conversations with kids. Before students begin reading the text independently, they can refer to the who, what, where portion of the workbook, which succinctly presents important key details and vocabulary to guide their reading. “The Quest Sheet” appears at the end of each unit and is generally a series of questions and suggested hands-on activities. These exercises, though science-based, also offer opportunities to work on mathematical concepts, language arts, and historical interpretation. “Scientists Speak” is a fun page found in each unit on which an illustration of a scientist appears next to a speech balloon. Here the student is invited to write down a phrase or concept associated with that particular great thinker.

The Story of Science is not intended as a self-teaching course to be done independently by students; the teacher’s guides are essential. These well-organized guides contain original plans that utilize engaging methods. Many of its pages may seem formal or a bit stiff to homeschooling families as its format is geared toward classroom teachers. However, there is much to be gleaned from this resource. Each section provides a supplies list for getting started. Ideas for using the text and student guides are presented as are answer keys and activity ideas. Hakim’s commitment to a multidisciplinary approach is most apparent through enrichment activities, referred to in the guide as curriculum links. Through these, the author provides a means to engage students with projects that link science with math, art, geography, history, music, and language arts.

The Story of Science is not the right resource for every family. This is a secular science curriculum. Religion is presented in a historical and literary context. Those seeking a program that students can work at independently should look elsewhere. Although lesson preparation is minimal, parent involvement is required. The numerous maps, charts, and sidebars located throughout the text are well done and relevant, but could easily prove distracting to some learners. Students looking for a general overview of the sciences may find this work too analytical and expansive. This is a series for academically inclined students with a strong interest in science and history, who are able to make abstract connections.

The volumes reviewed here are part of a larger six-part series still in the works. Hakim is reported to be at work currently on a biology text focusing “especially on the story of how our knowledge of life has emerged.” For those who find this curriculum a good fit, this is very good news indeed. 


Rebecca Pickens is home/school/life’s Curriculum Junkie in the magazine and online. (Subscribe to read her smart, thoughtful, secular curriculum reviews in every issue.) She writes for several publications and also blogs at This column originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life. We're reprinting it here as part of our web relaunch celebration.