Tuesday, September 6, 2016

TIPS For Reading Story of the World to Wiggly Wompus Learners

I love Story of the World.  It's such an engaging way to present history to younger children.  I love how it weaves the stories of different civilizations together, and presents gritty history in a manner that's gentle, but not sugar-coated.  But, I wasn't sure how it would work with my child, who has a very short attention span for text without pictures.  People kept telling me the sections were very short, but I knew that even a short page of text without any pictures would be hard for my kiddo.   But, for the other reasons I mentioned, I still wanted to give it a try.

Here is how we made Story of the World work for a visual/tactile wiggly wompus 6 year old with a short attention span. 

1.  Split it Up
I broke up some sections into smaller parts by doing a single section over two or three days.  For example, in Chapter one in the section about Nomads, we read the informational part (paragraphs 1- 4) on one day and read the story of Tarak and her family the next day.

2.  Pause and Ask Questions
This is pretty easy, since there are some questions built into the text and others suggested in the activity book.   I wrote questions in pencil in the margin where I wanted to ask them, and underlined ones already in the text. This helped pull wandering attention spans back into place.

4.  Use the Activity Pages
There are pages in the activity book that you can show your child and have  them color while you read Story of the World to them.  If you didn't get the activity book, you can look up printables online to use in stead, or purchase the pdf of just the consumables here.

5.  Borrow Pictures
I checked out books from the Library on the same era, and look for pictures that could be used to illustrate Story of the World.  Sometimes I would also go online and print pictures.  I'd often pause the reading and ask questions to connect the pictures to the text (Do you see anyone hunting in this picture?  Can you find the canals in this picture?  Who do you think is the king in this picture?)

6.  Draw Your Own Pictures
I know of some people who have made their own illustrations for the story.  I did this only once so far (too much work to do it for every chapter).    You could also have your child try to draw the story as you read it.

7. Use Props
I would look for tangible objects related to the section to let my child look at and play with during the reading.  For example, during the "What is History" section I brought out old baby books for my child to look through while I read.  When reading the story of Joseph, you might have grain for the child to run their hands through.  There are so many options for making this more hands on.  Montessori types might want to make a sensory bin related to each chapter's subject.

8.  Have a Snack
Having a snack during the reading keeps the mind awake and the hands busy.  You can even make the snack something related to the reading (like, during Mesopotamia, we had pistachios and pomegranates, two foods from the area.

8.  Break Up the Reading With Activities
In stead of waiting until the end of the reading to do activities, you can pause and do an activity half way through, then return to the reading after it's done.  This is a great way to break up the reading into smaller bits.   Or, in some cases, you can have your child complete the activity DURING the reading.  This works especially with with activities that take a long time but only need a little instruction in the beginning, like making a pyramid with Legos, or wrapping a doll with cloth to make a mummy.

9.  Keep Hands Busy With Non-Related Activities
Actually any quiet activity during the reading can help...such as doing a puzzle, building with blocks,  or "story threading."  (Of course, if you have a puzzle related to the period that's even better...but non related quiet games can help).  Children can often listen better when their hands are busy.

10.  Use Alternative Books
Since I wasn't fond of the "tweaks" made to some of the Bible stories, I decided to use other Bible storybooks we have for those sections.  You could do that with some of the other  myths and fables presented too.  Usually it's not hard to find library books that cover the same material.   I don't do that much because for the most part I like how  Story of the World presents things, but it's definitely an option.  (And sometimes I read the Story of the World version, but show pictures from a library book that tells the same story).

11.  Use Video
I've replaced sections of the text with a video about the same subject (usually on my iphone, so we could still sit at the table).  You could at times find YouTube videos that would replace a whole chapter completely.

12.  Puppet/Paper Doll Theater
I haven't tried this one yet, but I can see using paper dolls to act out some of the story sections.  It's not hard to find historical paper dolls online.  Though it would be harder/more expensive to get historical puppets or dolls with historical costumes, those would work too.  Both have the advantage of becoming play-toys afterwards, increasing engagement.

13.  Readers Digest Condensed Book Style Editing
That's right...I just went through and with a pencil crossed out sentences and sections I thought we could skip, shortening it (don't hate me SOTW purists...I promise I left the best parts in).

How do you help your child listen through longer reading passages?


  1. These are some really good suggestions for Story of the World or other readings without pictures. We used quite a few of these tips for reading aloud when my kids were little.

    1. Thanks. With my older two reading long passages aloud was no problem, but with my youngest, it's been a whole different story. We've had to get creative to keep him focused. :-)

  2. When we were using the Ambleside Online curriculum, one of our biggest challenges was getting through long readings with sophisticated vocabulary and no pictures. I sure wish we'd had someone like you around back then to help us adapt the lessons!

    1. Thanks. This really means a lot.