Now this is history the way I like it: conversational presentation, with God squarely in the middle of the picture (it's His story, after all), hands-on projects divided by age and ability, a study we can do together as a family even though we have students ranging from early elementary to high school.
The book contains eighty-four lessons divided into twenty-eight weeks of study, plus reviews and semester tests. That makes three lessons a week, or you might do things as we did, with lots of additional activities, and stretch Mystery of History Volume 2 into a two-year study rather than just one.
Each "Week" or unit begins with a pretest, and these come in varying formats: fill in the blank, matching, "circle the word that makes the most sense," unscrambling words. The pretest introduces the topics to be covered in the unit. Some will already be familiar; some will be new ground to cover.
Next, you have three lessons, most of which are biographies. I love the idea of teaching history through biography. History, after all, is the study of what has gone on in the past, and how better to relate than to read about people who were very much like us, except for the times they lived in? This covers not only European history, but major events affecting other countries and cultures as well. The readings are broken up, making it easy for the way we do things in our family - I read a section, the kids pick a number and the closest narrates. I read another section, the kid who just narrated gets to preside over the others picking a number to see who'll narrate next, and so on.
Key words within the readings appear in bold print, and your older students can build a vocabulary list from these, if you want them to do that, or if they are paging back through the book to find a term, the bold type makes the search easier. (Subtitles help, too.) For me, when I see a place name in "bold" it jogs me to stop long enough to look up that place on the globe, or if it is a person, we'll stop long enough to make a note on our timeline. I tend to "hyperfocus" and bulldoze right to the end of a reading, so I'm grateful for that "interruption"!
After each reading are "optional" activities. With my hands-on crew, I assure you that activities are not optional! It is nice, however, to have a list to choose from. One of the reasons we took two years instead of one, using this book, is because we wanted to spend more time on activities. No need to rush through!
Activities come in three levels: Younger, Middle, and Older students. "Younger" students use their five senses to "experience" history. They might build a "pagoda birdfeeder" in a lesson on China, or a "cool shield and sword to fight off dragons (Directions ... in the Activity Supplement)" after reading about Beowulf.
Meanwhile, in the "Chinese empress" lesson, the Middle-level students are writing a report on panda bears and/or researching the Dunhuang caves in northern China; the Older students are studying the famous Three Pagodas (with a handy Internet link provided by the author), and/or reading and summarizing biographies, and/or researching a debate over opening the tomb of Wu Zetian, an empress of China. In the "Beowulf" lesson, the Middle-level students are researching dragons, and both Middle and Older students might read a book about the descendents of Noah and give an oral report on what they learned, and/or research a monk by the name of Caedmon who lived during the same time period as Beowulf. Note the "and/or" in this paragraph: There are often more than one activities to choose from in a lesson, and some activities span age groups so that we can do them together as a family.
There is plenty of review built into this history course: reviews (timeline and mapwork), quizzes, exercises, quarterly worksheets that put the information from a number of lessons into context, and semester tests. Directions for compiling a student notebook are included.
Though we started with the lessons, let's step back a moment and look at the introduction to Mystery of History, Volume 2. The author begins with letters to the students (three letters, each appropriate for the age group it's directed at), introducing herself and her passion for history, expressing her hopes for the student's interest to grow, and an invitation to write her with questions, photos or comments. Next comes a long and detailed "letter to the teacher." This gives an overview of the course starting from the beginning, or why Mrs. Hobar wrote the course in the first place. Herein she identifies her purpose: "...one of the only reasons why we are here on earth is to know God and to make Him known" (author's emphasis). I am in full agreement! Next, the author goes through "Curriculum Layout" and details the hows, whys and wherefores of each part of the curriculum, including suggested teaching schedules, depending on your students' ages and ability. I found this whole section very enlightening in making plans to use Mystery of History, Volume 2 as well as a good thing to review, periodically, to make sure we were gaining maximum benefit from this thick and rich resource.
The introductory section concludes with the author's approach to classical education, how to use the "memory cards" feature for review, suggestions for the "Wall of Fame" or timeline (complete with lots of photographs, which I find very helpful), "Tips on Grading" and a reproducible grade record.
Appendices contain outline maps for use in mapwork exercises and "Activity Supplements" that are coded to the lessons in the book - these might have craft patterns, recipes, writings, artwork, extensive instructions for an activity that needs more than a simple paragraph to describe what takes place...that sort of thing. I appreciated the step-by-step instructions, complete with photographs of a craft in progress, that are to be found in the "Activity Supplement" section. There is also a section of "Supplemental Books and Resources" with books, videos, games, and websites listed by category and by lesson.
A great planning resource is the "Materials List" table, broken down by lesson and age group. This table lists the materials needed for each lesson, or suggested field trips. It's nice, when planning next week's history lesson, to know that I'll need, for example, a specific map, along with a spice-scented candle and Foxe's Martyrs, along with a bunch of household items that I can check off as I make my plans - oops! I'm out of vinegar! ... and that the week after I'll need sugar cookie ingredients, paper, markers, and Handbook of Today's Religions, and I might want to schedule a field trip to a chocolate factory. Yum!
An extensive bibliography follows, and after that are answer keys for pretests and activities, exercises and quizzes, worksheets and tests.
As I have already said, this thick book of over 700 pages is full of ideas and information, photographs and resources, and if it's not enough (though really, if you're having one of those years, like we had a few years ago, the book can even stand alone without using any of the suggested supplements) there's plenty more you can find using the suggestions and lists of supplements.
Mystery of History, Volume 2 is well-suited to use in an individual homeschool, for multi-level teaching, or in a co-op setting where students might do the readings at home and join together to work on crafts or present reports to the group.
There is also a yahoo email group for users of Mystery of History, Volume 2, where you can share ideas and find answers to problems.
We are eagerly awaiting the publishing of the third book in the series!