What Every Child Needs to Know About Western Civilization is the main resource in the Tools for Young Historians series from Brimwood Press. It provides students a rapid overview of world history, but more importantly it offers them a solid framework for studying history, not just as elementary students but throughout their academic lives. Author Marcia Brim utilizes a number of out-of-the-ordinary but effective methods to present the information to both students and their parents/teachers.
This is a four-week course with a total of 16 lessons (including wrap-up and review). The initial eight lessons should only take around an hour per day including preparation and presentation, while the later ones are more involved and require more time. At the beginning is a brief teacher's introduction explaining how to use the manual, followed by a student introduction with a defense of the course's methodology. Each lesson begins with a teacher preview (usually not more than half a page long) outlining what prep work needs to be done before the lesson.
Most of what you'll need is either contained in the manual or is easily obtained around the house. The book Calendar Quest, also published by Brimwood, is necessary and will have to be purchased seperately; it tells the story of the Western calendar through the fictional adventures of Father Time and two adolescents. By extension, Western Civilization uses the history of the Western (or Gregorian) calendar as its framework for an overview of Western history and culture.
Hands-on activities, map exercises, reading assignments, timelines, etc. are all employed in the course of the lessons. In the back of the book are materials for a game called "What Makes WC, WC" designed to help reinforce name and date memorization, as well as "Hats of History" cards. The "Hats of History" idea was originally utilized by the author while delivering education lectures for homeschool parents—she would have parents wear various historical hats and line up against a wall before getting themselves in chronological order. The principle hasn't changed, but here students use cards and fill out some of the information on each one themselves.
The purpose of this course is not in-depth historical knowledge, but rather it is preparatory for further study. The author uses the analogy of a jet and a wagon: in a wagon you see all the details but it takes you forever to get anywhere, whereas in a jet you get a good idea of the terrain and basic features but you get there a lot quicker. This course is a jet ride. It is not to be used in conjunction with another history program because of its introductory nature, but don't think you can't start it if your kids have already had some history—a sense of chronology is essential to understanding history, yet it's commonly overlooked in otherwise comprehensive courses.
If you need to step back and catch your breath before plunging back into the maze of history, this short and accessible program could be exactly what you need. More than anything it offers a sense of perspective, a chance to look down the corridor of time from the top rather than at one end of the tunnel where the light at the other end is lost in a rubble of people and events you can't keep straight.
A drawback for older kids may be the slightly juvenile style of the text and some of the activities, but you could probably just blitz through so they don't have a chance to roll their eyes too much. If you're planning on using Christian Theology and Ancient Polytheism with your junior high/high school students, this would be a good place to start. Even if you don't plan to use any of the other materials offered by Brimwood Press this one is an invaluable resource for improving both your and your students' comprehension of history.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.