Tuesday, August 13, 2013

TOS Review: Notgrass Company (America the Beautiful)






I am just going to get straight to it.  I have found our History curriculum for this next school year (starting shortly). I hadn’t even heard of Notgrass Company before TOS set me up to review the America the Beautiful curriculum. I knew during the first lesson that I was in love. 


Of course, it’s not hard for me to get too excited about History. It was my minor in college.  Not to get all Ken Burns on you, but I think it is story of the Human Experience that appeals to me. To think of the lifetimes that have passed. These were real living and breathing people. My approach to homeschool history has been less about facts and dates than it has been about the story and the people.


It’s obvious from their curriculum that the Notgrass family feel the same way. They develop Bible-Based, homeschooling curriculum and have been in business since 1999. Their business is truly a family operation! 


America the Beautiful is a full-year history curriculum for students grades 5-8. However, it is far more than just a study of history. It includes geography, language arts, and even elements of a Bible Study. The student is given a lesson to complete daily (though they can be adapted to fit any homeschool needs). The only thing you need to provide is a 3-ring-binder with plenty of notebook paper and a collection of fiction books (I’ll provide the list in a minute). 

The student begins by reading the text. At the end of the reading, the student is given a list of activities to complete. They include Thinking Biblically (which might be coping a verse into their notebooks), Map Study (using the Maps of America the Beautiful book), Vocabulary (words to look up and define and record in the notebook), Literature (a reading assignment from We the People, assigned Literature book or both), and the Student Workbook or Lesson Review assignments (if you have purchased them…they are optional).  Sometimes a lesson might also include a Creative Writing Assignment. 

We enjoy history daily. I enjoy history daily. I'd rather do history than math. We read the text and Josiah followed the lesson assignments. It was pretty simple to follow. 

Here is Josiah's assignment for Lesson 3 (Natives of the Great Basin). He was asked to talk about his favorite food and how it might be come to him (as a consumer).

My favorite food is candy. I think candy is made in an candy factory, but I have made it at home. I like to make Christmas Fudge. You just add lots of sugar and water and and cook it on top of the stove.

Me thinks the boy forgot a few things...primarily the cocoa powder. And the butter. And a few more things. 
The advised length of the lesson is 45-90 minutes, but the time can be adapted to your particular needs.  Length of the lessons will depend on how many activities you choose to complete.   

An optional family activity is also included in the lesson once a week.  There are a variety of things to do. Some of the activities from Book 1 include making Indian Fry Bread (we've done this...YUM!), create a museum exhibit, making a salt map of the Erie Canal and learning to Dance the Virginia Reel (I'm pretty excited about this one.)

Josiah and I tackled this project. The object? To make a Iroquoian Longhouse out of gumdrops and toothpicks. 

Each Family Activity comes with a complete set of instructions. No guess work here!

Yes. There might have been more eating of gumdrops than necessary.

Josiah had a terrific time with his longhouse.

However, I am afraid the finished product wound up having some sort of mission propellant system. Not quite what we were going for.


You can find all the lesson plans at the end of each lesson. However, I recommend the Lesson Activities Checklist located on the website.  It is all the lessons on a couple of pages. I printed them off and added them to Josiah’s assignment binder.  On the same page you will find some edits and updates to the text as well as a list of literature questions (if you don’t own the Lesson Review book). 


And now the good stuff. You know you are a homeschooler when homeschooling materials arriving at your door sends you into fits of joy. When I got a box from the Notgrass Company it was like Christmas, my Birthday, your birthday…all rolled into one.

 All of these lovely books! 



Here is what you get in the America the Beautiful curriculum package. ($99.95)


~America the Beautiful { Part 1 }

~America the Beautiful { Part 2}

~We the People              

~Maps of America the Beautiful               

~Timeline of America the Beautiful

~America the Beautiful Answer Key – All the answers you will need for lessons, vocabulary assignments, etc. 


I also received (not included in the package)      

~Student Workbook - $11.95      

~Lesson Review - $9.95


I want to take a few minutes and tell you how it all works. Bear with me. You might need to grab yourself a snack. I, myself, am munching on a couple of wasa crackers with some lite cheese spread (TMI?).

Just a little "look-see" inside America the Beautiful (Part 1).

These photos are just fantastic!

I actually visited this location (Mesa Verde) when I was a teenager. I would love to go back.


America the Beautiful { Part 1 }– This is a large hardcover textbook. The time period covered is 1000-1877. There are 75 lessons in this book. What makes this text extra special is that it just doesn’t deal with historical facts. It also gives glimpses into historical figures and other areas of interest. 


~There is a lesson on Lighthouses. Did you know that the very first lighthouse to use electricity is The Statue of Liberty?

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (poet) has his own lesson. He wrote Paul Revere’s Ride. Listen my children and you will hear…Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

~The Notgrass Family made sure that they didn’t neglect the rich Christian heritage of our nation. One lesson talks about John Jay, one our founding fathers. One of John Jay’s many public offices is that he served as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He also was one of the founding members of the American Bible Society, whose purpose was to provide people with Bibles.   
    

America the Beautiful { Part 2} – This textbook covers the late 1800’s to the present. It also contains 75 lessons. Some of the lessons that jumped out me were:


~A whole lesson on the Carnegie Libraries. The Notgrass family are my kind of folks!

~An American Biography: Laura Ingalls Wilder, American and Author. Anybody else obsessed with Laura and Manly?

~And yes. Mister Rogers has his own lesson. Love! 

Of course, there are the usual history lessons, but I love how they incorporated all these treasures. 


Inside the textbooks you will find all the information you will ever need on how to use the curriculum (no Teacher’s Manual required). You are provided with all kinds of helpful advice. There is even a little section on what to do when you are feeling overwhelmed.  These Notgrass people are really encouraging. I felt very cared for and supported.




We the People – This hardcover book is a compilation of 150 historical documents…ranging from journal entries, songs, letters and more. I loved this more than I could say. It’s one thing to read about someone and to make assumptions about what kind of person they were. It’s another entirely to read their own words. There is a great mix of things here. 

~ There are plenty of short stories, etc. We had just read The Legend of Paul Bunyan. I loved that it is included in Josiah’s history. It puts everything in context for him. 

~And how much fun is it to read Casey at the Bat!

~I loved that there are songs and hymns included. My favorite hymnist, Fanny J. Crosby is highlighted, along with her hymn, “Near the Cross.” Gorgeous!

~Nothing like hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth! Another interesting feature are writings, speeches and letters from a variety of presidents. Including a letter from President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) to his children on the eve of Operation Desert Storm.        




Maps of America the Beautiful – This a book containing 30 maps that are used within the course of the curriculum. There are activities that accompany each map and lesson. It is a thin, softcover book making it easy to tuck in a notebook. 


Timeline of America the Beautiful – This book is an interactive timeline that runs from 1000 AD to the present (and beyond). A variety timeline activities are included in the textbook. Some important dates are already filled in.  



The next two items are optional. You have to determine if they are beneficial to your family.      

What you don't see in this picture is a little box asking for the total number of people recorded in these little charts. What? Math? How did this get in here!


Student Workbook – This contains all manner of puzzles and handwork activities used to reinforce a lesson. These activities were fun, but I don’t know if you have to have the book to get the most out of the lesson. 

Lesson Review – This workbook contains daily review questions and more. It is designed for students in 7-8 grades. Josiah is entering 6th grade and he enjoyed it (though he and I worked on it together).  It requires some thought and gave me opportunity to see if Josiah was really grasping the information. 

Another terrific aspect of this curriculum is the Language Arts. I love, love, love (can you tell I love it?) that this is part of the curriculum. Within every lesson there is a vocabulary lesson and creative writing assignment (of which you have already enjoyed a bit of Josiah Bevan's efforts).



There are 10 additional books you will need as well. These are of the novel kind. The books are not included in the package, but I have already started to scavenge my favorite thrift stores and used book stores with my list in hand. 

If would rather spend your time doing other things like hoofing around town (looking for books) or waiting to reserve it at your local library) you can purchase the Literature Package from Notgrass for $59.95 (also available to purchase separately).  

These are the books. 

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Spears

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


Here are a few closing thoughts.


  • The books themselves are beautiful written and designed.  

  • America the Beautiful is primarily a textbook curriculum. I know! I am never crazy about a textbook, but I felt like this was so much more. The information is never presented in a dry or lifeless manner. Also, the additional activities and resources during the assignment portion of the lesson are creative and will appeal to many different kinds of learners.

  • There is a lot of material covered and everything is provided for you. I never felt like I had to add to the lessons.

  • I love, love (haven’t we went over this before) that this product includes the Language Arts. I have always loved the Unit Study approach. Incorporating literature fits right into my teaching style and methods.

  • All the books included in the curriculum package are available to purchase separately. I think this will helps with budgeting.
  •  The website is filled with helpful information. In fact, I recommend you go take a look. Each product has way to download it... you can see if it floats your boat. 
  • Because Josiah is dyslexic I read most of the text to him. However, I didn't feel that the reading was overly complex. It was divided into topics nicely and I had him read a paragraph or two every now and again.
Notgrass Company has created a stellar product in America the Beautiful. It is easy to use and very enjoyable. I know I have had as much fun as Josiah and I look forward to our year ahead.   
I know that this will be a company I will come back to again and again.

You can read more reviews for this product and the Draw to Learn series at the TOS Crew Blog.



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1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Rebekah, for reviewing America the Beautiful! We are delighted that you and your son are enjoying it.

    ReplyDelete

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