My all time favorite subject to study is history. I love all history but I’m especially drawn to American History. What I do not love is studying it in order. I prefer to read my history books in whatever order strikes my fancy. I may read a biography on George Washington and then a book on the New Deal followed by something about the 60’s and top it off with the civil war.
While this method is great for a woman who already has a basic knowledge of American History and it’s context, it doesn’t translate well for teaching history to those who don’t. My biggest problem with teaching history (World and American) is hitting all (or at least most) of the important points in history in order. Without a guide I would likely jump from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War without a second thought to the 90 years in between. For this reason I have been on the lookout for YEARS for a complete American History Curriculum that could serve this purpose for our studies. The Notgrass Company’s America the Beautiful Curriculum Package has proven to be just what I needed.
America the Beautiful is a complete American History program for grades 5-8. The curriculum package ($99.95) comes with several different books:
- America the Beautiful Part 1 – This text consists of the history and geography of America and the United States between the years 1000 and 1877.
- America the Beautiful Part 2 – Part two encompasses the late 1800’s through the 2010 midterm election.
- We the People – Original texts from American History.
- Timeline – This timeline is a book for you or your child to write in significant events in the appropriate blanks
- Maps – The map book has 30 maps corresponding with the lessons. There is also a key naming and explaining appropriate points on each map.
- Answer Key – Answers for the review questions for the student workbooks (workbooks sold separately).
Additionally you can purchase the America the Beautiful Student Workbook ($11.95) and/or America the Beautiful Lesson Review book ($9.95). These books are designed for grades 5-6 and 7-8 respectively and contain age appropriate activity sheets and review questions for each unit.
The America the Beautiful books are beautifully done and I was really impressed with them. The books are divided in to units with several chapters within each unit. There are colorful photos and black and white sketches that correspond with each lesson. In addition to the general “history” there are also geography lessons and map work. The end of each lesson has a list of activity and supplemental reading suggestions. It is written in a conversational tone appropriate for children up through middle school.
Notgrass Company writes their books from a non-denominational Christian point of view. There are several “God’s Wonders” geography lessons such as those about the Mississippi River, Appalachian Mountains, and Yellowstone. I especially enjoyed the lesson entitled “God’s Wonders: God Created America’s Islands”. My husband is an avid “Island collector” (he likes to visit as many islands as possible) and our family has lived on two of the islands that were mentioned in the lesson. There are also lessons entitled God’s Wonders and Our American Story, which puts history and geography together, such as the lesson on Lewis and Clark. Being a Christian company, each lesson also ends with a scripture. While the scripture in the text comes from a different translation of the bible than what I use (we use the Kings James Version) I was easily able to use the scripture as a way to introduce and incorporate scriptural lessons that can be learned from history.
**I interrupt this review for a message specifically for my fellow Latter-Day Saint homeschoolers. One of the reasons why, after four years of homeschooling, I had yet to buy an American History program is because all history I found were either entirely too secular, unpatriotic, or hostile to our Latter-Day Saint Church History. When I was researching the America the Beautiful Curriculum I emailed the Notgrass Company specifically asking them how they approached the LDS Church History (if at all) and they immediately emailed me a copy of the applicable pages. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream Christian authors don’t believe in the Restoration (I didn’t expect them to), but after reading the excerpt from the applicable lesson, I found nothing in it that would keep me from thoroughly enjoying this curriculum.
The section on the Joseph Smith and the Mormon Pioneers was very tactfully done. My only complaint is when they are explaining temple work they say:
Mormons believe that they can be baptized for their dead and unsaved relatives, through a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29. This is why they have developed such an interest in genealogical studies, as part of an effort to track down all of their ancestors.
Obviously I don’t think we misinterpret 1 Corinthians 15:29 at all, but I hardly think this issue of semantics takes away from the value of the curriculum as a whole. Perhaps in a future edition they could change “misinterpretation” to “their interpretation”, but like I said, it’s certainly not a deal breaker for me. If you are still concerned, feel free to email them, they will be happy to oblige. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.**
Including the “God’s Wonders” lessons, there are five types of lessons. They are all pretty self-explanatory and every lesson falls in to one of these five categories.
- Our American Story
- God’s Wonders
- An American Landmark
- An American Biography
- Daily Life
In addition to the texts included in the complete package and the workbooks, Notgrass has carefully chosen ten pieces of literature that corresponds with the units. You can purchase these separately or from Notgrass Company.
At the end of each text there are activity suggestions for each unit.
The We The People book is FABULOUS! I LOVE this book! Inside We the People are 150 different glimpses in to American life. Letters from the Founders, short stories, journal entries, newspaper articles, famous speeches, folk songs, and other pieces of genuine Americana. I mean just look at this:
Matt sings “Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam” to Henry whenever he rocks him to sleep.
Here is a speech that was given at the onset of a war we are still fighting today.
And this is a poem written in 1888 by an American journalist about an American sport.
We the People is an absolutely brilliant addition to this curriculum and quite possibly my favorite part. It is a historical and literary gold mine.
We started with Unit 10: America in the Jacksonian Era because that is where we were chronologically in our studies. After our morning school routine I would pull out our book and read while the kids drew in their sketch books. This kept little hands occupied and little bums in seats. After reading the chapter I would ask them questions from the Lesson Review book. I would also use the content of the lesson to guide the rest of our day. Sometimes we would look up pictures on the internet about the landmarks or people we had discussed. After the “Remember the Alamo” lesson we read additional stories about Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. We looked up the Texas cities that were named after the Texans who fought in the Texan Revolution.
Funny story, shortly after learning this lesson I loaded up on Potty Toys for Jack. We decided on some Western Playmobil toys and the delight in the faces of my children was evident. “We can play the Alamo! Mom, make sure it has a canon!”
I found America the Beautiful to be politically and religiously unbiased and yet also unashamedly patriotic. That is a very delicate balance to keep if you ask me. They seem to tell it like it is, neither hiding the good (for political correctness’ sake) nor running from the bad and telling both sides to the story and explaining thoughts from several different world views.
I think the America the Beautiful Curriculum Package is a wonderful American History program and was perfect for my needs. Not only did it help keep me on track but it was easily adaptable to younger children. It was also very adaptable for older students (aka, me) and can be easily supplemented with biographies and other historical literature. It can be used as a stand alone program; or you could take your time (as I did) and use it as a jumping off point for us to dive deep into subject at hand.
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