When a new homeschool curriculum comes on the market, there are times that some just catch your eye. America the Beautiful by the Notgrass Company was just one of those. I have been keeping my eye on it for a couple of years and asking other moms if they have used it with their children. When the opportunity to review it came about, I was more than thrilled. It would be a chance to really use and explore a resource that I had just briefly had a chance to look at while at our local homeschool convention.
What We Received
The America the Beautiful curriculum is for grades 5-8. It is a full American history curriculum covering the things that have shaped our nation from 1100 until 2000. The curriculum set includes the six books, America the Beautiful Volume 1 & 2, We The People, Timeline for America the Beautiful, Maps for America the Beautiful, and a Teacher Answer Key. The American the Beautiful 1 & 2 are the hard cover spine texts for the course that provide a lot of the instructional material as well as the student assignments. We the People is also a wonderful hard covered resource full of primary source documents that correspond to the lessons in America the Beautiful. The map and timeline books are softcover workbooks where different activities are completed as you journey through the America the Beautiful texts. The Teacher Answer Key contains all of the answers to the completion of the Timeline and Map books as well as the additional Student Workboooks: American the Beautiful Student Review and America the Beautiful Student Workbook.
We did receive a copy of each of the student workbooks. They are softcover spiral bound books. The spiral binding is wonderful as the pages lie flat as the student is filling in the answers for each assignment. The Student Review book is designed for younger students using this curriculum, while the Student Workbook is much more appropriate for the upper middle school student.
The America the Beautiful curriculum package retails for $99.95. The Student Workbook is $11.95 while the Lesson Review book is $9.95. There is also a literature package that corresponds to the America the Beautiful curriculum that retails for $59.95. We did not receive this literature package as part of our review, but I will share a bit more about this later.
How We Used This Curriculum
Because we received both student workbooks, I decided that I would really see how this curriculum would work at both ends of the age range that it is recommended for. Both of our sons, ages 9 and 13, used America the Beautiful during our review period. Our 9 year old is about to start 4th grade and our 13 year old is doing a blend of 7th and 8th grade work this upcoming year.
The starting place is in just opening up the America the Beautiful Volume 1 and starting with the first lesson. I generally read the selection from this book out loud to the boys. The reading selection for the day was about 5 pages long. This provides the basis for learning for the day. At the end of the reading selection, there is an assortment of about 5 different exercises that the students can do to process what they have learned. These exercises include mapwork in the Maps book, plotting things on the timeline from the Timeline book, notebooking activities that contain scriptural applications from the lesson, vocabulary study, creative writing assignments, literature readings and readings from We The People, family activities, and also work to be completed in the Student Workbook or Student Review Book.
The assignments are not the same everyday, but a variety of those listed above. This really helped to keep us from getting into a rut. At the beginning of the materials, the author does mention that not all of the assignments are even required, but just things to choose from. Our greatest difficulty was in choosing what to leave out because it was all so good. In the end, we left out very little, because it was just too good.
Generally, after I read the lesson from America the Beautiful, the boys would be given their assignments to complete. They would work on these independently for the most part and then we would get back together to discuss some things further. On some days, we just kept working together. I do want to add that this could very easily be a self-directed currriculum for an older student because everything is so clearly laid out. Our boys are our youngest and this mama is just not ready to give up on our together time in doing school. The discussions and thoughts shared in completing a lot of the curriculum together are just too valuable.
As mentioned above, there is a literature package that corresponds to this study. The students are encouraged to read classic literary works that help to highlight what they are reading. These books can be purchased in the literature package offered through the Notgrass Company or can be purchased through your favorite bookstore or on-line source. The books are ones that are still in print and readily available. Several of the books used are ones that we already had in our family library. Those that we did not have, we found we could borrow from our local library. The books studied in this curriculum are:
- The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
- Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
- Brady by Jean Fritz
- Bound for Oregon by Jean Van Leeuwen
- Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
- Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
- Blue Willow by Doris Gates
- Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
- Katy by Mary Evelyn Notgrass
Our 13 year old could certainly read all of these books independently. Our 9 year old could read most, but we did choose to read some of them together. These are all great books for a family to read aloud together if you are a family likes read aloud literature and the experience of journeying with the characters and discussing your thoughts on the events in the books. This could be used to fulfill the literature requirement in your homeschool or just be extra pleasure reading to accompany your journey through American history.
I can not begin to say enough wonderful things about this curriculum. The physical quality as well as the content of the materials is exceptional. The age appropriateness for the recommended grade levels is right on target. The big plus was that our boys loved it. History came alive for them and they were excited to talk about what we were learning.
The things that I really loved:
- Comprehensiveness – If this curriculum were utilized fully, the subject areas of history, literature, creative writing, vocabulary, and Bible would all be covered in a year long program. The homeschool parent would simply need to supplement this with a solid math program, science, and possibly grammar instruction.
- Flexibility – As the author states in the introductory pages to parents, you can do as much or as little as you like. After reading the 5 pages in the student text, you as the parent decide how many of the exercises to have your children complete. You can decide to use a separate literature curriculum and take out all of the additional literature assignments. Your family may already be involved in an intensive bible study and decide to skip the bible based exercises. There is so much flexibility in the breadth of how you use America The Beautiful.
- Price – This is literally a big selling point for us. With the basic curriculum package selling for $99.95, this is a great bargain. Many other comparable companies that have a history/literature/bible curriculum selling just the parent study guide for almost $70 and that does not include any of the textbooks, workbooks, mapping or timeline materials. For what you are getting and the number of subjects covered, the price point on this product is amazing.
- Multi-age Multi-level Focus – I loved that we could use this curriculum with more than one of our children at the same time. There are some curriculum that you really need to stretch to make this work. America the Beautiful was just as wonderful with our 9 year old as our 13 year old without me having to make any major modifications. We would have incorporated our high school level girls, but they will actually be using the Notgrass high school level American history course.
- Christ Centered – There is no greater selling point for me than to find a curriculum that is truly Christ centered. There are some curriculum that almost feel like the materials were written and then the author tried to go back and somehow fit the Bible back in as an afterthought. With America the Beautiful, you can just tell it was written with all these great resources sitting on the author’s desk side by side with the Scriptures as he was writing it. The biblical basis is fundamental to the perspective of this whole course. Right from lesson one when the students are asked to explore the natural beauty of America, they are directed back to our country and its physical attributes being God’s Creation. These roots are then explored with bible based study in Genesis and then following with notebooking about specific attributes of America that relate to the six days of Creation.
There are really not enough good things that I can say about this resource. I simply love it and can’t wait to dig in more with my boys. We have always loved the approach of combining Bible, History, and Language Arts in our schooling. Unfortunately, unless we created something ourselves, it has simply not been affordable. That has changed with the resources from the Notgrass Company. A big thank you to the Notgrass family who felt passionately about the very things our family does and decided to write this curriculum for their own family’s homeschooling needs. We are blessed to be able to reap from their efforts.
As always you don’t have to take our word for it. Check out the other reviews from The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew.