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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Great Empires by Home School in the Woods, a review


Home School in the Woods graphic

Amy Pak, homeschooling mama, author, illustrator, and creator of Home School in the Woods, is known for her beautifully detailed timeline figures and illustrated activity paks.  In the past, we enjoyed I recently received one of her newest products, Great Empires, for free to review with my kids.


Great Empires

Great Empires from Home School in the Woods

I recommend this study for late elementary to middle school.

Available as:  download for $18.95/cd for $19.95 +shipping

Great Empires covers 14 of history’s most powerful civilizations, including:

  • Ancient China
  • Ancient Rome
  • the Viking Empire
  • the English Empire
  • the Arab-Muslim Empire
  • and more

The study includes a timeline, timeline figures, world map, and a huge list of online resources (there’s a link to a page that’s kept updated for purchasers of Great Empires).  For each empire there are also:

  • 2-3 pages of text (these pages are packed
  • mapping activities
  • suggested activities (some involve hands-on creations and other are more cutting/pasting or notebooking)
  • recipes
  • a list of suggested books for further learning


The study is delivered in a series of pdfs which are accessed through a menu you open in your internet browser.  No hunting for weird file names, just double-click on your start.html file, and you can find exactly what you’re looking for.

great empires menu screenshot

I’ve used HSitW studies before, so this format wasn’t new to me.  But, Adobe has recently updated the Acrobat plug-in for reading pdfs and sometimes it doesn’t play nice for me in Firefox.  More than once when I tried to print from the browser, it would give me an error message and close the file.  Fortunately, you can simply open the pdfs directly from a folder.  They are all labeled by empire, so it’s not too difficult to find the group of files you need.

I found it easiest to print the “activities” list for each empire we were studying.  This gave me a blueprint for the study and told me exactly what I needed to print out for each activity.  You’ll notice that the buttons in the menu don’t tell you what is on each of the blackline masters.

great empires menu screenshot

Without referring to the activities list and making a note of activity page numbers, there’s no way to know which page is which without actually opening them up and looking at them.  It would be helpful if these were labeled a little differently (i.e. Greece map, Greece pottery, etc.), so that if I knew which activity I wanted, I could see which pages I needed to print at a glance.  This is really the one thing I think could be improved.

All the pdfs are in black and white.  I printed them using my laser printer, and they look great.

How are we using Great Empires?

I am using this as a supplement to our study of the Eastern Hemisphere with David (age 13), Mary (age 9), and Peter (age 7).  For the purposes of this review, we concentrated on the Arab-Muslim Empire and the Mongolian Empire, because that was what we were studying at the time.  I wish I had had it when we studied Japan, China, and Russia earlier this year. I plan to continue with Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Ancient China when we study ancient world history next year.

Great Empires is not what I’d call a complete study on its own, but it’s a nice way to add a little oomph to a more in-depth study of any or all of these empires.

As usual, the quality of Amy Pak’s illustrations and maps are outstanding.

IMGFull extent of the Arab-Muslim Empire

IMG_0004The Mongolian Empire












Important figures from the Arab-Muslim Empire

IMG_0005 cropColoring/Notebooking Pages for the Mongolian Invasions

We also sampled some Tabouleh, a traditional cracked wheat salad from the middle east.  Note:  I modified the recipe a little based on some other recipes I found, so it would better suit my family.


And we made rice pudding while studying Mongolia.  Too bad they ate it all before I snapped a pic.  Did you know that the Mongolian diet consists mainly of meat and dairy, because not much grows in Mongolia?  

Unfortunately, the activities for these two empires didn’t have much “wow” to them (lots of coloring, cutting, and pasting).  I’m looking forward to when we get to make a cartouche for Ancient Egypt and create our own fresco for Ancient Rome---I see a lot of ancient world inspired art in my future.

You could cover each of these empires in a few days, but we spent 2-3 weeks on each as we added in additional books, literature, and online resources from our regular study of the Eastern Hemisphere.  I highly recommend using one or more of the books on the lists provided in Ancient Empires to really bring your study to life.

I recommend Ancient Empires for late elementary to middle school children as a supplementary resource to your history and geography study. 

Younger kiddos will benefit from adding in some colorful books or videos.  While Peter (age 7) enjoyed coloring the maps and learning about Genghis Khan, the text was a bit dense for him on its own.  It worked fine interspersed with illustrated books. 

Younger children may also feel challenged by the fine detail of the drawings---they really do demand to be colored with colored pencils.  Mary (age 9) felt overwhelmed by the Mongolian Invasion coloring page, for instance, until I suggested that she choose some areas to highlight with coloring and leaving the rest alone.  She was very happy with the results.

And that’s a good point about Amy Pak’s work---it looks so good, you don’t have to color it to have a great looking end product.

Ancient Empires is available as a download for $18.95 or on cd for $19.95+shipping.

This is a digital product.  The Home School in the Woods EULA (end user license agreement) prohibits resale.

Photobucketgraphic disclosing receipt of free product for this review.


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