Wednesday, August 14, 2013

America the Beautiful - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

 In early July my family was blessed to receive a package containing the America the Beautiful Curriculum Package, by the Notgrass Company, for us to use and review. 

Notgrass Company is a family owned and operated family, and the core materials have been written by Notgrass family members and published by Notgrass Company. That is huge. It blows my mind!

In our package we received both the America the Beautiful Student Workbook, geared toward grades 3-6, and the America the Beautiful Lesson Review, geared towards grades 7-8.
My son is an 8th grader, but he wanted to use the book for the younger students. To me,  America the Beautiful Lesson Review looked like less work, but it is in a "finish the answer" or "fill in the blank" format, whereas the America the Beautiful Student Workbook has more fun-looking stuff like crossword puzzles, word searches, and fill-in-the-blank places requiring shorter answers. I think my son was evaluating which one required less handwriting and which one looked like less work for him.
I gave my son the freedom to choose for several reasons:
  • While he may have the personal goal of avoiding work, I also am working on a goal for him that he may or may not care about pursuing -- that of being a more independent student. So which book he worked out of was minor in the broad scheme of my larger goal.
  • No matter which "workbook" he works in, if he is doing all of the accompanying assignments he will be learning, which is another larger goal.
  • We have not normally, previously, been year-round home schoolers. He is already being stretched outside of his comfort zone to be required to do school work during this period when his friends are on break from school, so I didn't want to make a big issue about a choice of workbook. Maybe later in the year I will re-evaluate and switch him. I don't know.
So, I think I got slightly sidetracked by my discussion of workbooks, so let me get back to the complete product. 

The day America the Beautiful Curriculum Package arrived in the mail was like Christmas! I opened a well-packed box and out came these beautiful, shining, quality, well-made books that were mine for the upcoming school year! Oh, I know, ordering curriculum can feel that way in general, but I'm telling you this package is amazing!

I quickly went to my computer and clicked on the link to America the Beautiful Curriculum Package, because I was and am still stunned by this package of materials. I checked the price--...$99.95 ...My brain keeps saying, "That can't be right!?!" How can they provide all this for under $100? I can't grasp it! Well, I finally figured out that they gave me more than just the Curriculum Package -- I also received a Student Workbook and a Lesson Review book.

Let me go through it for you item by item. The America the Beautiful Curriculum Package includes the History Component, America the Beautiful Part 1: America from 1000 to 1877 (hardcover, 452 pages) (view sample pages),
America the Beautiful Part 2: America from the Late 1800's to the Present (hardcover, 572 pages) (view sample pages),
We the People, which contains stories and letters from original source documents (hardcover, 220 pages) (view sample pages):
 Maps of America the Beautiful (soft cover, about 63 pages):
Timeline of America the Beautiful (softcover, about 59 pages - View Sample Pages):

and the America the Beautiful Answer Key (soft cover, 55 pages - View the Answer Key):

So all of the above materials come in the America the Beautiful Curriculum Package for $99.95, which is an amazingly low price for that much material, in my opinion.

In addition to these materials, the TOS Homeschool Crew reviewers of this product were also sent America the Beautiful Student Workbook, my son's choice (softbound spiral, 150 pages, priced at $11.95, geared towards 5th and 6th grade, but suitable for older children who enjoy these activities):

and America the Beautiful Lesson Review (softcover coil spiral, 110 pages, priced at $9.95, geared towards 7th and 8th graders):

The America the Beautiful Curriculum is designed to be used five days per week, but is flexible (you can cover as many lessons per week as you prefer). Each five lessons constitutes a Unit. Each of the five lessons is a different type of lesson: (1) a story about major events in the time period of the unit; (2) a lesson describing an amazing creation God placed in America; (3) a lesson about an important site in American History; (4) a lesson focusing on a person who lived at the time being studied; and (5) a lesson telling how certain people lived and worked during the time period. [Above lesson descriptions taken from the Introduction of the book.]

Each day the student begins the day's lesson by reading the history section in the main America the Beautiful, Part 1 or Part 2. At the end of each section is a set of directions of Activities for the lesson:
The activities for a lesson can contain a Bible assignment, a map assignment, a timeline assignment, a vocabulary assignment, a creative writing assignment, suggested family activities, assignments in the workbook of the review book, and possibly more, I'm not sure. I've had the books six weeks, and there is so much here that I can't say I've read all the lesson assignments yet.

The program is to be used with America the Beautiful Literature Package that Notgrass Company also sells, classic titles that you will, no doubt, recognize:

Notgrass  America the Beautiful is so closely aligned with my style that I already own all the books but one, which I will buy, and we've already read at least half of them. I do not consider that a problem, though. With my son's issues, he might not remember them. For those he does remember, I have plenty of books to choose from as substitutes for any book in the above list. I can't wait to also get to the books I hadn't yet worked into our plans!

So, how well did this material work with my son? Let me preface this by preparing any new readers of my blog: my son hates school. He hates most materials I review. He is a hard critic. Now that you know that, please hear how this went for us. My son gets up each day and contentedly works through the assignments in the day's lesson. During this review period I have heard comments like, "I'm going to do the map work first. That's my favorite part!" I had hoped to find a curriculum that my son would be able to learn to do on his own, and this is it! I've found it! It is clear, concise, easy to follow, and he is doing it on his own!

That said, he and I still have a few issues we are working through. He will quietly skip assignments and tell me he is done. He will "skim" the material and be unable to discuss it with me. And, for my part, I still need to review his work each day, make sure he has done everything, and discuss it with him. Ideally I should glance at the next day's assignments to make sure I am prepared for any "Family Activity" assignment that might call for things I don't have on hand (gumdrops and tooth picks for making a long house), or to make sure I am ready and willing to help him do the activity of the day (Navajo flat bread). I'm really weak in this area, but I'll be working on it this year. Those activities are a huge part of what makes this curriculum so fun!

On a typical day, when I walk out into the living room, this is what I see next to his chair:
(yes, we're also currently reading Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain). One last photo for you, here is a photo of a page taken from the Student Workbook that my son did, a crossword puzzle from the lesson about the Great Lakes: 

I feel like I can't say enough how pleased I am with these materials, how well they are working for us, what a blessing they are going to be throughout this next school year. So, if you have not yet settled the question of what you will choose for your core curriculum this year, take a look at Notgrass Company's America the Beautiful. This might be the perfect choice this year for your family too!

To see more reviews of this product and other materials this company provides, click the link below:

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