Tuesday, August 13, 2013

America the Beautiful curriculum by Notgrass Company {Schoolhouse Review Crew}

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When Addison was younger, I did a fabulous job teaching history. We read textbook style books, enjoyed historical fiction read-alouds, mapped locations on a large world map (with the US printed on the reverse side), put stickers in a timeline book, and so on. As my days got busier, some of the extras fell by the wayside, and I struggled to do the timelines and the maps. Without those activities, it became harder for Brennan to grasp the main point of the history lessons.

Notgrass Company has developed a history curriculum that holds my hand along the way and helps make sure the all-important extra activities don't fall by the wayside. Better yet, their America the Beautiful curriculum is directed at the student, which means that I can now transfer a lot of the responsibility to Brennan.
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America the Beautiful includes two hardcover textbooks with a combined total of 1000 pages. The material is divided into 150 lessons. The actual reading assignment for each lesson is roughly five pages long. I assign this material for Brennan to read independently, and we discuss it afterwards.

The lessons follow a standard chronological approach to American history. Along the way, there are lessons that focus on American landmarks, biographies, and daily life for certain people during that time period. Brennan says his favorite lesson so far was the one about the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park because we visited there just a few weeks ago.

At the end of each lesson, the book has five corresponding activities. These activities often include mapwork, timeline assignments, literature, vocabulary, and creative writing. Many lessons have a "Thinking Biblically" assignment which relates scripture verses to the lesson. Brennan, a seventh grader, does most of the assignments each day, but the parent can choose to do less activities with a younger student.

In addition to the daily assignments, each unit (group of five lessons) has a family activity suggestion. For the first unit, Brennan and I attempted to build a Iroquoian Longhouse out of toothpicks. He's still waiting for me to find time to help him make Navajo Flatbread for another unit. Although I'm not normally the type of mom that whole-heartedly embraces big hands-on projects, I've found most of the family activities to be quite reasonable -- they'll take a little extra time, but I won't have to set aside a week to have a messy project taking up my kitchen table.

Some of the best features of the America the Beautiful curriculum are the Timeline of America the Beautiful and Maps of America the Beautiful books.

The important thing about a timeline is the connections that are made when you add things to the timeline. For instance, today Brennan added "1609 -- Henry Hudson explores New York Bay and the Hudson River." When we look at that page in the timeline book, we notice that this takes place just a few years after the English settled at Jamestown, Virginia. Since the lesson materials logically follow the development of one area before switching to the study of another area, the timeline is necessary to see the way that these events are happening at the same time.

The mapwork is designed for the student to add details as they are covering in the lesson materials. I particularly like the way that the maps have several days worth of assignments on a single map. This allows Brennan to work with a single map of the thirteen colonies over the course of several weeks. He then sees the individual colonies as part of the bigger picture.

The America the Beautiful curriculum also incorporates historical documents and literature into the lessons. The We the People book provides excerpts of historical documents to correspond with the lessons. Brennan has read essays about Indian Child Life, a passage from Christopher Columbus's journal, and a description of the Mountain Chant from a Navajo Ceremony. I've found that many of these selections are better tackled as read-alouds instead of expecting him to read them independently.

In terms of literature, there are ten historical fiction novels scheduled to correspond with the America the Beautiful curriculum. While I appreciate the reading suggestions and having them scheduled with the lessons, I felt that this was a weak point in the curriculum. There are a few summary questions (mostly fact based) in the America the Beautiful Student Workbook, I do not feel like I could count these questions as a literature study.

Notgrass company offers two optional workbooks to use in conjunction with the rest of the study materials. The America the Beautiful Student Workbook contains a variety of written review activities for each lesson. These activities are designed for younger students (5th or 6th grade), but I've found that they work well for my child that doesn't like to do a lot of writing.

The other optional workbook is the America the Beautiful Lesson Review. This book consists of daily comprehension questions about the lesson, weekly quizzes, and some literature review sections. I do not require Brennan to complete these pages every day, but I've found it to be very useful when we're discussing the material he read earlier in the day.

My bottom line: 

There was a time when I wouldn't have even considered a curriculum with large textbooks, but I've found that the America the Beautiful curriculum is a perfect fit for our homeschool family this year. The lessons are not the dry materials that I read in textbooks when I was in school. These books are full of information and pictures that bring the stories of our American past to life. The mapwork and timelines pull the lessons together so that Brennan can see the big pictures and not just isolated facts.

Perhaps most importantly for us, the materials work because it's a perfect blend of learning activities that Brennan can do independently and ones that we work on together. He reads the lessons on his own, adds events to the timeline, and marks locations on the maps. We read the historical documents, discuss the literature selections, and review the questions in the workbooks together. It's a perfect balance for us and one that fits well in our busy school days.

The first four units of America the Beautiful impressed me so much that I will continue using it with Brennan for the rest of this year. I've already got my eye on their government curriculum (Uncle Sam and You) to use next year and their high school history options for later on.

America the Beautiful is geared toward 5th through 8th graders (10 to 14 year old students). The curriculum package containing two texts, We the People, timeline, maps, and answer key costs $99.95. The student workbook costs $11.95, and the lesson review workbook costs $9.95. These materials approach history from a Biblical Worldview and are distinctly Christian in nature. 


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  1. I loved this! We are using it for a 2-year High School course by adding on some more in-depth studies (for example, there's only one Civil War to study (thank God!) but LOTS of battles to get into!). I'm amazed at how much *I* have learned already.

  2. Thank you, Cristi, for reviewing America the Beautiful! We're delighted to hear that it is working well for your family.



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