In my last post I explained why after many years of using Susan Wise Bauer’s 4 volume history series, The Story of the World (SOTW), I decided last year to search for a new history curriculum. In my search I was looking for a resource that presented history chronologically and included a Catholic worldview.
Here I’ll discuss what I found to be the best of the options for Catholic homeschoolers who are drawn to classical and/or Charlotte Mason homeschooling. All these options will provide your children with an excellent education in geo-political history and the Church’s role in it.
Best Overall Catholic History Textbooks: Bishop Philip Furlong’s Series
My favorite Catholic history books were written by Bishop Philip Furlong in the 1920s – 1940s. He wrote an 8-volume series published by W.H. Sadlier that was used widely in Catholic schools for many years. I can only find some of the texts which have been in some cases updated and in other cases republished with their original illustrations. You can still find some of the original textbooks used, and they are collectible. The series was apparently updated in the 1960s, and a reviewers say that the 1960s version is not as good as the original one.
Like many of you, I use a main history text as a “spine” for our studies so that we have an overview of the historical period we’re studying. From there we choose other books that allow us to focus on one particular historical figure or to learn about some aspect of the culture of the time period. These other books are often living books; that is, they are written by inspired and imaginative authors who are able to capture a child’s heart and not just their heads. Our history textbook (the spine) has never been a living book – it was just there to provide us with background.
While not living books in this Charlotte Mason sense, Bishop Furlong’s texts – at least the ones I’ve been able to preview – almost qualify at times. The writing is charming and engaging. He’s only providing an overview of history, so it’s impossible for him to go into great depth about any particular historical figure or event. Because we love to linger over ideas and the drama of history, in my home we will use Furlong like I always used SOTW: as background reading for launches into focused reading, writing, and craft projects. But as a spine for your Catholic history program, Furlong’s books are a beautiful option. They are illustrated in black and white, and they are very affordable.
The following titles are available new in newly released editions. They are sold by Lepanto Press and Tan Books, which also sell student workbooks and answer keys for the questions in the main texts:
- Before Our Nation Began (ancient history to founding of America)
- How Our Nation Began (colonial America through the Revolutionary War)
- The Old World and America (ancient history through the founding of America)
- A New Nation (founding of America through the Civil War)
- Our Pioneers and Patriots (focuses on great figures in American history, including great Catholic saints)
As you can see, the first two volumes together at both grade levels provide an overview of history from ancient times through modern American history. Mother of Divine Grace school uses some of Furlong’s books, and their approach is such that one title is used over 2 or 3 years. If you take this approach, you would have history texts for grades 1-8.
You can find other texts in the original 8-volume series used. I have become enchanted with the original editions. I ordered 2 used titles published in 1939: Our Country Begins and Our Country Advances. The reading level seems to fall in between the two levels above. I think I’m kind of collecting these old Furlong history books! I’ve come across some of the 1960s edition of the series, which were published as “The Revised Christian Social History Series.” I have not purchased any of these as I am most interested in the original series from the 1920s-1940s.
As I begin to use the series and I grow to understand it better in terms of quality, leveling, and availability I will update my readers.
Best Modern Catholic History Textbook Series: Catholic Textbook Project
One possible concern for parents: Furlong’s writing does at times reflect some attitudes and misconceptions of the early 20th century. For example, Native Americans are called “Indians, and, of course, the textbooks reflect scientific understanding from the early 20th century. So far I haven’t seen anything too shocking, but if parents are concerned about this, I do have another textbook series to recommend.
The Catholic Text Project is a new history textbook series for middle school through high school. You’ve probably seen this around. The textbooks cover both world and American history. The publisher is planning to come out with texts for early elementary. These books are very expensive (about $65 each), but they are visually beautiful with color illustrations. The Catholic viewpoint is covered throughout, but not in an overly sentimental manner. The writing is more wooden compared to Furlong’s, but it’s a lot better than most standard textbooks. The volumes are in full color with preview points and review questions. The publisher also sells teacher’s guides and student workbooks.
I prefer Furlong myself, but the Catholic Textbook Project is very strong choice for parents who want to be confident about updated content. In addition, Furlong never wrote a textbook for high school students, so I am considering the Catholic Textbook Project for my older daughter when she is in 10th grade.
Another option for your high schoolers, for church history that covers a lot of world history and a little American history, take a look at The History of the Church published in the Didache series (Midwest Theological Forum). This text covers Ancient Rome through Vatican II, including a unit on American history. I would tend to use this volume over a 2-year period, adding in focused reading about figures and events that spark your high schooler’s interests. You can also purchase teacher’s guides and student workbooks for The History of the Church.
Best Comprehensive Catholic History Curriculum: Connecting with History
If you are looking for a comprehensive Catholic history program that 1) helps you teach multiple students at the same time 2) teaches history chronologically over several years, and 3) provides daily learning plans and activity suggestions, my recommendation is Connecting with History. CWH is not a history textbook series. In fact, the publisher does not produce textbooks at all, but rather syllabi that give you options for different textbooks (including a few of Furlong’s books and titles from the Catholic Textbook Project).
This isn’t just a history curriculum; it’s a paradigm shift! The publisher explains its philosophy:
Most of us have been educated to think of history and religion as two separate, unrelated subjects. The surface events of the world – war and politics, governments and nations – are generally taught with little, if any, reference to a deeper meaning than what is immediately apparent. However, as Catholics we know that our lives are oriented toward Another, that there is a Divine Planner who gives purpose and direction to our actions here on earth. We know that the story of history has a definite beginning and an ultimate destiny, the fullness of which we can only begin to understand in this life. – Connecting with History Teacher’s Guide, p. 3
In their view, the Incarnation is the central point in all of human history, and the curriculum is arranged to highlight this truth. This program covers A LOT! It provides suggestions for papers, oral presentations, map work, literature, additional history reading, family discussions, and it even provides background reading for the parents. You can use the suggestions that work for your family and leave the rest out. Not everyone has as much time to devote to history as would be required to do everything on the syllabus.
The syllabus is the heart of the curriculum. It tells you which pages your child should read in his history textbook, then it provides family reading ideas, literature suggestions broken down by grade level, and tons of activities. This is exactly how I like to teach history. If you are not interested in any other resources other than the main history text, you would be safe to use Furlong or the Catholic Textbook Project, but if you are like me, you will appreciate that somebody has done so much work for you and found great, family-friendly literature to use in your history homeschooling. As mentioned, CWH uses some of Furlong’s titles, Catholic Textbook Project titles, and addition to some other Catholic history texts.
The authors of this program love history and they have spent a tremendous amount of time finding great options for Catholic families. They use some history textbooks that I like less well than Furlong, but I’m sure I could quickly figure out which pages in Furlong my kids should read and I could continue to benefit from all of CWH’s great ideas for map work, literature, discussions, and crafts.
This program is currently sold in 4 volumes which cover world history from ancient times through the modern world, including one volume focused on American history:
- Volume 1: Old Testament and Ancient Cultures
- Volume 2: New Testament and Early Medieval
- Volume 3: High Medieval to Early Explorers
- Volume 4: American History (Volume 4 will eventually come in 2 volumes (4a and 4b); the publisher currently only sells volume 4 which covers early American history through the Civil War. A later volume will cover the modern world.)
You buy a Teacher’s Guide only once; this guide is used with all 4 volumes. Each volume is sold as a syllabus that provides a couple of options for history texts in addition to supplemental history and literature reading. You can also purchase optional daily lessons plans for each volume. If you use this program, your family will become familiar not only with geo-political history, but with scripture and Church history.
TIP: Be sure to read the Teacher’s Guide before you do anything. Unfortunately this is not a pick up and go program. I bought Volume 3 and tried to use it this way last year, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Then I was sick one weekend, so I read the Teacher’s Guide. (Isn’t that what all homeschool moms do when they’re sick in bed?!) It all made sense. I recently purchased the daily lesson plans to try next year.
I hope you found my experience helpful as you make decisions for your own families!