Many homeschool families find themselves wondering if the Mystery of History by Linda Lacour Hobar or Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer would be a better fit for them. Since we’ve used both courses in our homesechool through the years, I thought I’d offer my perspective about both of them. Here’s everything you want to know about MOH and SOTW and which one you should use in your homeschool.
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Mystery of History or Story of the World
Should you use MOH or SOTW in your homeschool? We’ll talk through the pros and cons of each curriculum.
Listen to episode 188 of the Homeschool with Moxie Podcast where we talk through everything you need to know about both programs.
What is Mystery of History like?
The Mystery of History was our very first history curriculum when we started homeschooling our oldest in kindergarten. We used it for multiple ages together for about ten years until our oldest kids were ready to spin off into their own high school history courses.
Volumes & content
The Mystery of History covers all of world history in four volumes.
- Volume 1: Creation to the Resurrection
- Volume 2: The Early Church and Middle Ages
- Volume 3: The Renaissance, Reformation, and Growth of Nations
- Volume 4: Wars of Independence to Modern Times
In each book, you will find a list of activities for each lesson, divided into Younger Students, Younger & Middle Students, and Older Students. You have the flexibility to pick and choose what will work best for your family.
Volume 1 includes 108 lessons which are divided out over 36 weeks. There are pre-tests, activities, exercises, worksheets, and tests included in the book that we have, which is the first edition.
In Volume 2, the textbook has 84 lessons spread out over 28 weeks in addition to the activities, quizzes, exercises, pre-tests, and tests (in the first edition).
Volume 3 also has 84 lessons over 28 weeks. The first edition of Volume 3 was published 6 years after Volume 1, and I do notice some changes. The book is now hardcover and looks more “textbookish” although it now includes color, which the original first book did not. I also notice that the activities are not listed out in the textbook. You now will need the paperback Companion Guide to access those resources.
In Volume 4, your students again will cover 84 lessons over 28 weeks, allowing you to take more time on the specific topics that you are most interested in and fill a “typical” 36-week homeschool year.
The author notes in volume 4 that “each volume in this four-volume series is more advanced than the last in regard to reading level and content. I would describe each volume as jumping up about two grade levels.” (Hobar, xiii)
The Companion Guides are huge and I can’t believe this information used to be included in the textbook! Here’s what you’ll find in the Companion Guide for each volume:
- Pretests – “What do you know?”
- Activities for each lesson divided into categories for All Students, Younger, Middle, Middle and Older, and Older Students
- Instructions for Memory Cards
- Wall of Fame or Timeline instructions
- Mapping activities & projects
- Exercise or quiz for the end of the week
- Addition reviews, assessments, and semester test
- Outline maps
- Activity Supplement
- Supplemental Books and Resources
- Answer Keys
The Mystery of History site sells best seller bundles for each volume, so these look like the main components with extra resources that Linda Lacour Hobar would recommend to use with her textbooks.
Here’s what’s included in these best seller bundles:
- Hardcover Student Reader with a code for a downloadable PDF Companion Guide
- Student Bible Atlas
- Rand McNally’s Historical Atlas
- Audiobook mp3’s of textbook lessons
- Homeschool in the Woods digital timeline figures
The site also has resources categorized as essentials, conveniences, supplementals, and games & more. So you could look at your budget, start with the essentials and work from there.
The essentials would be the main textbook, Companion Guide, and OHatlas. The conveniences include the mp3 audiobook of the lessons. I definitely recommend purchasing the lesson audiobooks if you can because it will save you from having to read it all! You can turn it on after lunch while everyone’s at the table and enjoy listening in with your kids while they work on their timeline or coloring page.
Another convenience resource is the timeline figures. We started out with just using generic people shapes on our timeline and customizing each one to the lesson. Then, we did use the timeline figures for a few years. They aren’t essential, but they are nice to have. Plus, you can create notebooking pages with the digital versions.
The author also includes a timeline notebook as a convenience. In the early years when the kids were young, they absolutely loved the giant timeline we created on a foldable cardboard sewing cutting board! Then, as the kids grew to upper elementary ages, they preferred individual timelines, which we created in 3-ring binders or spiral notebooks. Then, they could draw their own pictures for each lesson or use the timeline figures.
The supplemental resources include:
- Wondermaps to create customized PDF maps for lessons
- Challenge Cards: pre-made question & answer flashcards for each lesson
- Coloring pages to correspond to the lesson
- Notebooking pages
Some of the games & more include paper dolls to correspond to the historical time period and multiple versions of Go Fish (Ancient, Medieval, Constitution, American History).
MOH is set up to complete about 3 lessons per week for 36 weeks in Volume 1. The other volumes have slightly less lessons but they are longer. This gives you flexibility to take your time, spread out the lessons, or dive into several activities or map work for each lesson.
Is MOH secular or Christian?
Mystery of History promotes itself as distinctly Christian and it definitely is. The main focus of all the volumes, but especially the first one is how all of history points to Jesus Christ and the plan of God to bring a Savior into the world. Your kids will trace the line of Christ on their massive timeline. The focus is definitely on biblical history with the rest of world history added in for context, rather than the other way around as is the case for many history programs.
In all of the volumes, Linda Lacour Hobar emphasizes God’s hand in history, tracing His sovereignty throughout all of human history.
The Mystery of History presents the biblical Creation of the world with a literal six day creation, Noah’s flood, and a resulting ice-age that fits with a biblical reading of the age of the Earth.
Linda Lacour Hobar isn’t shy about quoting relevant Scripture passages to relate to various lessons through all four volumes.
In addition, the author states that she is writing from a Protestant Christian worldview, however, she does handle the Catholic versus Protestant issues during the Reformation with much grace, even including heroes of both the Catholic and Protestant traditions.
Is MOH classical?
The Mystery of History doesn’t describe its curriculum as uniquely classical, but it could fit into a classical style homeschool.
Classical education is built on the different stages of learning, from the Grammar Stage (learning the building blocks of history in grades 1-4) to the Logic Stage (becoming more analytical in grades 5-8) and finally to the Rhetoric Stage (being able to express conclusions in speaking and writing in grades 9-12).
Because MOH is written to be used in chronological order through a few different times during a child’s education, you could go through each volume at a different and deeper level during each of those stages.
But to be truly included in a classical homeschool model, you would likely want to add multiple original sources and include required reading from the Great Books of western literature.
Do you find MOH to be enough history?
Mystery of History is enough history for K-8, especially when you have loads of additional projects and activities you can do. As your kids get older and head into high school, you can still use MOH but will likely want to require additional reading or work. We’ll discuss the question of high school below in another section.
Mystery of History includes plenty of map work options, hands-on activities, timelines, quizzes, and other work to extend the learning for each lesson. All of this is optional. The main component is to read each lesson, only adding in the activities or work that you want to add. Some days all we did was read the lesson and add to our timeline. Other days we took more time to dig deeper. As the kids got older, they may have written a summary or done an oral narration of the lesson.
Each volume introduces your kids to about 100 important historical figures. At the younger ages, they will never remember them all, but they will be able to place them in historical context and add on to the details they remember as they get older and encounter the lessons again.
What age is MOH for?
One of the best characteristics of MOH is that you can easily use it to teach all your children together, across all grade levels. This greatly helps a homeschool mom who has multiple children. If you had to teach each child a specific “grade-level” history course, you would literally go crazy! This is one of the tricks of homeschooling multiple ages without losing your mind – teaching subjects like history together.
And the MOH curriculum makes it very easy to do this because at the end of each lesson, the optional assignments or activities are divided out by level. So, you can clearly see which activities your younger children will do and what your older children can be responsible to accomplish.
We started using MOH when our oldest was in kindergarten and continued for about 10 years all together. In the early years, your young children are not going to remember everything! But it’s about exposure to the chronological narrative and introduction to the big ideas and important players. As they get older and encounter the history again at a more mature level, they will be able to understand the remember more.
At the youngest ages, the main lesson activities are hands-on tasks that are easy to do with young children. You don’t have to introduce any writing or worksheets to younger children. If you want your older kids to complete written work, there are multiple options included for you.
MOH for high school
Can you use Mystery of History for high school? Yes, you can, although you will want to keep track of hours and give objective assessments to include a grade on the transcript. Linda Lacour Hobar outlines how to use MOH for the high school years, which includes adding in supplemental reading.
We personally didn’t keep using MOH during the high school years. We’ve started using Notgrass curriculum for 9th-12th grade.
If you want a more detailed look at all the components of Mystery of History, along with our top reasons for using it for so many years, then you’ll love our Mystery of History review.
Video flip through of MOH
Here’s an inside peek into the Mystery of History curriculum and how we’ve used it over the years.
What is Story of the World like?
When some of my kids were in middle school, I switched them over to use Story of the World instead of Mystery of History. This was mainly because we had done MOH together with multiple ages for about 10 years.
But once my older kids were in high school, working on history independently using Notgrass curriculum, I still had a middle schooler or two plus our youngest was in early elementary. So, we transitioned to doing history altogether and my middle and high schoolers worked on it independently while I started MOH Volume 1 with my youngest on her own.
This is when I switched my middle schoolers over to SOTW. It’s a solid curriculum as well and they enjoyed Susan Wise Bauer’s writing style. We mainly did oral narration with the lessons in middle school, as I wanted them to enjoy the story of history and mainly focus on reading the lessons.
There are definite differences between SOTW and MOH, and we’ll detail them below. But first, a bit about SOTW.
Volumes & content
Like MOH, Story of the World is divided into four volumes, encompassing ancient history to modern history. Here are the volume titles.
- Volume 1: Ancient Times (From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor)
- Volume 2: The Middle Ages (From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance)
- Volume 3: Early Modern Times (From Elizabeth the First to the Forty-Niners)
- Volume 4: The Modern Age (From Victoria’s Empire to the End of the USSR)
SOTW books are divided into chapters instead of lessons. In Volume 1, there are 42 chapters, each with a specific focus. For example, here are some of the Ancient Times chapter titles:
Chapter Twenty: Greece Gets Civilized Again – this includes Greece Gets an Alphabet, The Stories of Homer, and the First Olympic Games
Chapter Twenty-One: The Medes and the Persians – this includes A New Empire and Cyrus the Great
Author Susan Wise Bauer writes with an engaging narrative style that depicts the old way of passing on oral history. She loves to dive into interesting tad-bits about famous people and average people alike so you can be immersed in the story. Her books do not read like a traditional textbook at all, and I would categorize SOTW as more of a living book than even MOH.
Here’s a peek at the author’s engaging style as she relates the fun questions of history that she will cover in Volume 2: The Middle Ages.
- Who discovered chocolate?
- What happened to Giant Fovor of the Mighty Blows?
- Why did the Ottoman Turks drag their warships across dry land?
You can use SOTW with just the main text. Or, you can add multiple components. If you want activities, worksheets, coloring pages, and review or narration prompts, then you’ll definitely need the corresponding Activity Book.
In addition, you can also purchase the mp3 audiobook version so you don’t have to read it all out loud yourself. There are coloring books to go along with the lessons for your younger children. There’s also a test book for each volume to use with your middle school students if desired.
Is SOTW secular or Christian?
While Mystery of History starts its first volume with the literal 6-day creation of the world according to the Bible, Story of the World begins “about seven thousand years in the past” with the first nomads living near the Fertile Crescent.
Susan Wise Bauer does include Biblical history in volume 1, including chapter six, The Jewish People, which includes God Speaks to Abraham and Joseph Goes to Egypt. She quotes extensive sections from Genesis to cover these two accounts, but I can’t see which translation is used.
The author includes biblical stories and characters as relevant to history, but she doesn’t center the flow of history around them the way the author of Mystery of History does. SOTW is not described by the author as a Christian curriculum and it isn’t presented from a Christian worldview lens.
Is SOTW classical?
SOTW does follow a classical model with four cycles of history studies being presented over three main life stages: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. However, you would likely only use SOTW for the Grammar and Logic Stages (approximately K-8) and want to find a more comprehensive curriculum for the high school years.
Do you find SOTW to be enough history?
SOTW is definitely enough history for your elementary children. In fact, it’s likely abundantly more history than they are being taught in the public school system.
What age is SOTW for?
Story of the World was created as a real-aloud series for parents and their elementary aged kids.
Middle school students could use it as a spine and jumping off into more research or reading or writing about the content. You could definitely use this curriculum to teach multiple ages together from K-8, requiring more analysis or written work from your older children.
Like MOH, the reading level in SOTW increases across the four volumes.
Want a super way to introduce history to your youngest kids? Download the FREE cheatsheets from SOTW – How to Keep Your Children Entertained for Six Weeks Using Story of the World – and they’ll tell you the absolute best chapters to read with your younger children and which activity to do – like making Turkish delight or mummifying chickens!
SOTW for high school
SOTW isn’t geared toward a high school student. You will definitely need to find a more suitable curriculum for the high school years. We love Notgrass History for 9th-12th, Compass Classroom, free Hillsdale courses, or using dual enrollment classes.
Video flip through of SOTW
Here’s an inside peek into the Story of the World curriculum.
Mystery of History & Story of the World Comparison
Both MOH and SOTW are written in an engaging, narrative style. Neither of them feel like a dusty old history textbook from school. Both of these programs also provide hands-on activities, projects that correspond to the lessons, and can easily be used for multiple ages together.
The Mystery of History could probably be used into the high school years with supplemental work and reading. The Story of the World isn’t recommended for the high school years. In addition, other main difference would be the worldview perspective, with MOH being written from a distinctly Christian perspective.
Mystery of History & Story of the World Differences
The main differences from my perspective as a Christian homeschooler is that MOH is more focused on presenting history from a Biblical worldview. You will especially notice this in Volume 1 where the main spine is biblical history with world history brought in to bear. Linda Lacour Hobar focuses in on the Mystery of History, Jesus Christ, and how Creation to Resurrection is all leading to Him.
In contrast, SOTW does not present itself as a Christian worldview history course. Susan Wise Bauer does include biblical stories, but doesn’t present them in an authoritative way or as the main focus of her telling of history.
Why you should use Mystery of History
Use MOH if:
- You want a distinctly Christian history curriculum
- You want to focus on biblical history (especially in the Ancient history volume)
- You want a history program that is based on a Christian worldview
- You want to teach multiple ages together
- You want a flexible curriculum that can include hands-on activities, maps, and timelines (but doesn’t have to)
- You want to teach K-12
- You want a more traditional history textbook
Why you should use Story of the World
Use SOTW if:
- You want a more secular history curriculum (although it does include lessons related to biblical history)
- You don’t want the focus of Ancient history to be on the biblical timeline
- You want to teach multiple ages together
- You want a flexible curriculum that can include hands-on activities, maps, and timelines (but doesn’t have to)
- You want an enjoyable history read-aloud for your younger students
- You want an engaging history book for your middle school students to reach independently
Conclusion: Mystery of History or Story of the World?
We have used both at different times in our homeschool. They are both solid choices and are excellent resources for teaching history in your homeschool. And they can both fit into many different homeschool styles, including classical, Charlotte Mason, eclectic, and even traditional. It really comes down to your family priorities in homeschooling.
Learn more about our homeschool curriculum choices.