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History Odyssey Study Guides Review by Dawn Oaks

Pandia Press
18400 SE Hwy 42
Wiersdale, FL 32195

Pandia Press publishes a series of history study guides, History Odyssey, that align with the classical approach widely known through Susan Wise Bauer's book The Well-Trained Mind. Consistent with the classical approach, the studies guides divide history into Ancient, Middle Ages, Early Modern, and Modern times. These categories are further divided into three levels: Level 1 for students in grades 1 through 4, Level 2 for grades 5 through 8, and Level 3 for the high school years. Our family had the pleasure of reviewing and using the Level 1 Early Modern guide, the Level 2 Modern Times guide, and the Level 3 Middle Ages guide. Our discoveries and observations follow.

Each study guide is designed to cover a full year of instruction. The Level 1 study guide has 20 lessons, with the suggestion that the student complete one lesson per week. The Level 2 study guide consists of 100 lessons, with a suggested pacing of about 2 hours per day three to four times per week. This will allow you to complete the course within one academic year. To complete the Level 3 course in one academic year, you would need to follow a study schedule of two to three hours per day, four to five days a week. The recommended study times for Levels 2 and 3 was a bit alarming to our family at first--until we realized all that was encompassed in the study guides. The History Odyssey guides include the normal activities and study covered in traditional reading, writing, history, and geography courses. When we began calculating how much time we normally spend on those subjects combined, the study schedule for History Odyssey seemed more than reasonable.

History Odyssey--Early Modern (Level One) is a wonderful compilation of world geography and history from 1600 to 1850. The author does realize that the reading ability of students in grades 1-4 varies greatly. Therefore, accommodations for these varying skills are discussed in the introduction of the study. This study guide utilizes The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History as its main reference spine. An optional reference spine is A Child's History of the World by Hillyer. In addition to the spine resources, quality literature is used throughout the course. Some of the works used in this particular study are The Man in the Iron Mask, George the Drummer Boy, Sam the Minuteman, and The Courage of Sarah Noble. An advanced learner could read these books independently, or you can use them as read-alouds for less-advanced readers. Students utilizing this and all study guides in the History Odyssey Series compile a notebook. For Level 1, the student completes simple labeling and geography work utilizing the maps in the study guide. There are also coloring pages that the student can complete while listening to one of the read-aloud texts. These coloring pages are directly related to the books being read. For the more kinesthetic learner, the author of this particular study guide incorporates hands-on activities from History Pockets: Colonial America and Moving West (published by Evan Moor).

History Odyssey--Modern Times (Level Two) brings to life world history events from the 1800s to the 21st century. Students will complete exercises in literary analysis, critical thinking, map work, and timeline analysis. They will also write essays and a research paper to culminate the course. The reference spine used for this course is The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (with an additional reference spine of The Story of Mankind by Van Loon, which is considered optional). As with all spine books, it is recommended that families purchase these resources, as they will be used throughout the course. A sample of some of the literary works used in this guide are Around the World in Eighty Days, Things Fall Apart, The Red Baron, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and To Kill a Mockingbird. But that is just the beginning. In Appendix E of the study guide, the author provides additional recommended resources for further explorations by students. This particular study is recommended for grades 7 and higher. What? I thought we originally said that Level 2 guides were for grades 5-8. In following the pure classical model, a student would study ancient history in grade 5, the Middle Ages in grade 6, early modern in grade 7, and modern times in grade 8. Kathy Desmarais, the author of this particular study, states that this study could be successfully completed by someone with a seventh-grade knowledge base or higher. If a family schooling multiple ages, however, there is always room for flexibility in adapting the curriculum to meet your needs.

History Odyssey--Middle Ages (Level Three) by Kimberly Maier is a great curriculum for assisting your high school student through the rhetoric stage of their classical education and successful bridging the gap from high school to college. This study guide focuses on the years 500 to 1600. However, I am not sure that the history knowledge base is even the greatest asset of this course. Am I questioning the solid historical content of this course? Absolutely not. The main reference spine utilized is The New History of the World by Roberts (with an optional second reference spine of The World's Greatest Speeches edited by Copeland, Lamm, & McKenna). The literary works used include, but are not limited to, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Inferno, and Hamlet. So if all this great literature and quality reference spines are not the strength of this study guide, what is? The extensive writing and analysis that is completed really prepare the student for the extensive research and writing that will be required of them at any major college or university. Students are not only asked to analyze literary works and key figures from this period of time, but they are given the tools to properly learn how to do so. The appendices in the back of the study guide abound with charts and forms that help the student to ask the appropriate questions in processing the knowledge learned. These analytical tools pave the way for the completion of the writing assignments that are also part of the course. (Grading rubrics are included in the appendix to assist parents in assessing the student's work). As with the other History Odyssey guides, there are maps for reinforcement of geography skills and recommended reading lists for further research on selected topics.

So after reviewing these products, what is our family's perception of the History Odyssey study guides published by Pandia Press? We like them and are seriously considering making a change in our curriculum to include them. The first important thing to be mindful of is that they are strictly study guides. Study guides are the glue that help to bring other great resources together in a meaningful way through integrated activities in reading, writing, geography, and analysis. The guides map out the pace and sequence in order to bring cohesiveness to the study as a whole. The History Odyssey study guides are moderately priced when compared to other similar products and are readily available through distributors such as Amazon and Rainbow Resource. Being a mom on a budget, I was thrilled to find that most of the literary works used in the guides are available through our local library. We would still purchase the study guide and reference spines. On the downside, there are no answer keys or suggested responses for any of the exercises that the students are asked to complete. This is not as much of an issue for the Level 1 guides. However, as a mom of self-directed older students, I feel a bit insecure knowing that if I do not keep up with mirroring all of their reading assignments it will be very difficult for me to evaluate their work. I love the literature and the ability to combine my kids' reading with history and writing, but I am unsure of how accountable I can hold them in their work if I am not able to read everything that they are. Our older children love reading and would consume this type of curriculum. With the great literature present, we are hoping to encourage our reluctant reader to fall in love with the written page.

All in all, our family would give the History Odyssey study guides a thumbs-up for their content, alignment with a classical education model, and multidisciplinary approach to learning. You can form your own opinion by visiting the Pandia Press website ( and checking out their "Try Before You Buy" option.

Product review by Dawn Oaks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2010