In the classical homeschooling circles, Memoria Press is a familiar name, so I was pleased to be offered their Famous Men of Rome Set for the purposes of review. We’ve always enjoyed studying history in chronological order, but my middle students started after we’d already studied ancient history with my oldest, so they missed out on anything besides Biblical history. We looked forward to utilizing this set to fill in some of those gaps for them!
Famous Men of Rome
We received the beautifully illustrated reader, the Student Guide, and the Teacher Guide all in physical format. These are beautiful paperback books, about a half inch thick each.The set is geared towards grades 4-8, though I would say that grade 4 is pretty young for this set. I’d gauge it to be more closely useful for the academically inclined, traditionally aged middle school group. Memoria Press and the classical approach to homeschooling are both generally considered to be more advanced, and this set is no exception to that rule of thumb.
The red reader has just the stories to be read aloud during lesson time. It’s really beautifully illustrated! Even my middle school aged kiddos wanted to sit near me so that they could see the pictures as I read to them. The boys enjoyed the stories very much, and I seldom had any argument getting them to sit and listen. I honestly think that this reader would be a great supplement to any Christian based core curriculum, and that you could use the reader without the workbooks. Using it in that way would help to ease up on the advanced tone of the set, allowing you to use it with more students, including those who may be a little slower of a learner (or just less interested in the subject matter).
The Student Guide consists of the workbook pages. The reader is geared for utilizing advanced vocabulary in context, and the workbook has the students research the meanings of words that may be unfamiliar to them. There are facts to learn and memorize, as you’d expect with a classical curriculum. There are comprehension questions for each lesson; we usually did these orally, though they are meant for the student to write out an answer. Some of the questions could be used as essay and writing assignments! Then there are activity assignments. Sometimes the activities consist of timeline and map work; some days they are research questions, correlation activities related to US government today, and often actual essay and thought assignments. Occasionally, there is an assignment to draw a scene from history or to look up and compare history with passages from the Bible.
Every 6th lesson is a “review” assignment. These reviews are extensive and look more like tests. They include vocabulary, memory work of the dates, events, and people covered so far, map work, timeline review, and similar. There is no final exam; there are appendices in the back including the maps and vocabulary. The answer keys to both the workbook pages and these “reviews” are found in the Teacher Guide.
I must admit to being disappointed in this set. From a company that claims to be Christian, I felt like many of these lessons were presented in a very non-Christian light. The very first lesson about Romulus reads as if it is fact, and it is a good 2/3 of the way through the story before “facts” appear that show the story to be myth or legend. When Roman gods and goddesses are discussed, it is mentioned at the beginning and again at the end that this is what people believed, but in between those declarations it is presented as fact. I also have some doctrinal concerns with assumptions made on the part of the authors.
They [the augurs, or fortune tellers] pretended that by watching the sky and observing how birds and animals acted they could tell what would happen to people and nations. When they were alone, however, they would have a great deal of fun over the tricks they played upon the foolish people.
I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of that paragraph, or if it may have been true for at least some of those people. My kids are well aware of spiritual forces and that there is a such thing as using the “back door” to access the supernatural; it’s called witchcraft, and it’s a very real thing. Now, that’s a doctrinal difference we have personally as a family, and I realize that not everyone believes or thinks that same way, but it’s a recurring subject in studying things like Roman mythology. I just expected more from a company that is trying to convey a Biblical worldview.
That said, I think the reader by itself would be an excellent supplement for an average high school student or an advanced middle school student, who has a strong foundation in their own faith, and who has a need to dig deeper into a subject where a family-based core may not delve deep enough. The workbook is pretty intense for my average middle schooler and my struggling 4th grader, and we found the activities to be very dry. We do plan to hang on to the reader and use the stories to supplement our usual Christian history reader.