Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: Notgrass America the Beautiful

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You would not believe how excited I was to be chosen to review the Notgrass Company: America the Beautiful history course curriculum package for grades 5-8, as well as a Student Workbook (grades 5-6) and Lesson Review (grades 7-8). This is how excited:

I was willing to do school work (like book-work!) in the summer! 

My friends who know me are surely all *shocked*. I'm pretty dedicated to our goal of no traditional school from May Day to Labor Day. We usually focus on the reading program at the library, sports, and outdoor learning all summer long. But since this review came up, I was willing to bend the rule.

Here's why... they sent us:
*America the Beautiful Part 1
This book has 75 lessons beginning with life in America before Europeans came and continuing through the first years after the Civil War. Hardcover. Color and black and white illustrations. 452 pages.
*America the Beautiful Part 2
This book has 75 lessons beginning with America's expansion into the lands west of the Mississippi River and continuing to modern times. It also includes an index to the curriculum. Hardcover. Color and black and white illustrations. 572 pages.
*We the People
A collection of 150 original journal entries, newspaper articles, advertisements, poems, songs, letters, short stories, speeches, and other historic documents from American history. Hardcover. Black and white illustrations. 220 pages.
*Maps of America the Beautiful
A collection of 30 maps drawn especially to accompany this curriculum. Your child will often refer to a map while reading a lesson in America the Beautiful and do activities on the map at the end of the lesson. Saddle-stitched. 61 pages.
*Timeline of America the Beautiful
This is an illustrated timeline of American history from AD 1000 to the present designed specifically to include facts learned in the lessons. Some facts are already printed on the timeline. After most lessons, your child will add an event mentioned in the lesson to the timeline. Saddle-stitched. 57 pages.
*America the Beautiful Answer Key
Includes answers for the Timeline, Student Workbook, Lesson Review, and the vocabulary assignments included in the main text. Saddle-stitched. 55 pages. 
Which sell for $99.95.

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They also sent:
*America the Beautiful Student Workbook A book of crosswords, find-a-words, matching, codes, drawing assignments, and other handwork activities which review and reinforce information learned in the daily lessons. This book is designed for students in 5th and 6th grades, but it is suitable for older children who enjoy these types of activities. Plastic coil. 150 pages. Consumable. $11.95
*America the Beautiful Lesson Review A book of daily lesson review questions, literature review questions, and weekly quizzes. This book is designed to help parents measure their child's comprehension of the material. This book is designed for students in 7th and 8th grades, but it is suitable for younger children who prefer this type of review. Plastic coil. 110 pages. Consumable.  $9.95
It was like Christmas in July when the box came! It was beautifully packaged and the books are nice and durable. After several weeks of use in our home they are still new looking and shiny.

How we used this:
We began right away doing one lesson per day. We only have a 4 day school week so with 5 lessons per unit, we didn't always do lessons 1-5 on Monday through Friday, but we did, at times, do two lessons to stay caught up.

Each day we would open up America the Beautiful (volume 1), and read the lesson (an average of 4-5 pages, including pictures).  Originally, I had asked my two children who were using this to read it themselves, but true to their learning styles, that didn't work. I then chose to read the lesson aloud to all four kids, while they worked in the accompanying books. Mayda (grade 2) would fill in the Timeline blanks, as well as color the nice black and white line drawing illustrations. Emma (grade  5) would fill in the blanks in the Student Workbook, often doing a game or puzzle using facts from the lesson. Tyler (grade 6) would do the Map coloring and assignments. This helped them all to listen more closely, and they sat near me so they could see the illustrations as well. Ultimately, I think it would work best if you ordered a student workbook for each student. We just split it up this way due to their varied interests and abilities.

The Lesson Review book is for upper grades, and so has less illustration, and more fill in the blanks questions, approximately 4-5 questions per daily lesson. We just answered those orally together. After the lesson was read, we would read the selection from We the People that corresponded. So, for example while studying the Native American people, we read Indian Child Life by Eastman (1913 AD).  Or when we were studying the Pilgrims, we read excerpts from Of Plymouth Plantation, by Bradford (1620 AD). We love this aspect a LOT because my kids know how much more reliable an original source is when researching facts.

Aside from each of these activities, which there were usually 6 or so at the end of each lesson, we enjoyed the "Thinking Biblically" Scripture passage that went with each lesson. There were also vocabulary assignments in every lesson as well.

In one lesson of each unit there would be a weekly Family Activity, such as imitating a colonial printing press or building an Indian lodge model out of gumdrops and toothpicks, in an earlier lesson. We tried that one out and had a really fun time with it.

Also, there are Literature selections for books to read along with the text, and in the assignments at the end of each daily lesson, there are a few chapters of reading assigned. The books assigned were all readily available at my public library, but can also be purchased from Notgrass. They come to less than $6 a title, so very affordable. The book assigned for the units we covered was The Sign of the Beaver. 

I loved this history book because it focused on History from a uniquely Christian standpoint, that God ordains the course of human events for His glory. From the Biblical worldview to the Scripture in each and every lesson, this curriculum kept the focus on Christ. Doing that, it also focused well on facts, names, and dates... and through the lesson assignments re-enforced them in many ways. From the tactile leaner to the auditory learner, this set was a "pick up and go" kind of thing, and I LOVED that.

The introduction of the textbook also included all the information on how to use everything, including a chart for how to adapt it for every grade from 5th to 8th. I also included tips on how to use it without becoming overwhelmed and offered the publisher's contact information for "When you need encouragement." This just knocked my socks off!

The book not only covers History, but also Geography and Biography. I loved how each unit was laid out. Within the unit, the lessons were of varying types to highlight each of these facets of history:

  • Our American Story - Major evens for the time period being studied
  • God's Wonders - Natural wonders that were created by God, here in America
  • An American Landmark - Important places in American history
  • An American Biography - Focusing on a specific person in American history.
  • and Daily Life - telling how life was lived in America during specific periods of American history. 

What I liked:

  • The variety of the material covered (see above bullet points). 
  • That the beautiful texts are re-usable, only needing to buy new workbooks. 
  • The photos on every page are stunning and are well labeled and described within the text. 
  • These books were written by homeschoolers, and it shows that they "get" how family school works. 
  • The quality of the material covered. 
  • The flexibility of this program for a unit study type approach or a more traditional approach. This would work for nearly anyone.
  • The amount of original source material solidly grounds this history text in absolute fact, not opinion.
  • That the literature assignments were readily available at my public library.

What I didn't like:

  • Only that I had never heard of the Notgrass Company, and I had no idea how much I would LOVE these books. I am talking about them to every one I know: they are that good. How had I never heard of them!?
  • Now I need to save up so we can keep using this program through the years. I am SOLD on this one.

Bottom Line:
This is a treasure. I would recommend it to ALL of my friends. It is enjoyable, beautiful, and well done. The Biblical worldview is an important component, and doesn't feel added or contrived. The family activities were easy and memorable. I really would recommend these books to anyone, and recommend that they use them together as a family as much as possible.

Be sure to read other's reviews of this series, as well as the Notgrass Draw to Learn books, head over to the Crew Blog:


©2012-2013 Loving and Learning on the High Plains. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

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*Prices and links are accurate at the time this is published, and are subject to change.

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