Notgrass Company’s America the Beautiful: Engaging History, Geography, & Literature (Review Crew)

Notgrass Company's America the Beautiful: A Review From Home With Purpose

Our family has always used a literature based approach to teaching history. I have no doubt that we learn more effectively from quality literature than dry textbooks, and we really enjoy reading together as a family. And yet it became obvious this past year that we needed to make a change. My older two have used the same program for years, but it’s very time-intensive and we needed to simplify to allow more time for their extracurriculars and other subjects, not to mention our tight budget this year!

So, a few months ago I began researching our options. Somehow I ended up on the Notgrass Company website. I’d heard of it before, but didn’t know much about it, and looking at the information on the website, I really liked what I saw. I knew I wanted to do American history with both the Dancer (15) and Karate Kid (12), and thought that Exploring America and America the Beautiful, respectively, ย would be a good fit. I asked a few friends what they thought of the curriculum, got really positive feedback, and even ended up getting a bargain on a gently used Exploring America set!

Just a few weeks later, I was given the opportunity to review America the Beautiful and share our thoughts about it with my readers. Funny how that worked out! ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, Karate Kid has worked his way through the first several weeks and we’re ready to share our opinion on it.

First, let me tell you a little bit about the program.

America the Beautifulย is a one-year history, geography, and literature program designed for students in grades 5 through 8. The Notgrass website describes it as combining the “flexibility and richness of a unit study with the simplicity of a textbook-based approach to history.”

We received the complete curriculum package, which contains:

  • America the Beautiful Part 1
  • America the Beautiful Part 2
  • We the People
  • Maps
  • Timeline
  • Answer Key

Plus:

The backbone of the program is the two-volume text. It contains 150 lessons, divided into 30 units of 5 lessons each, covering American history from before the arrival of the Europeans up through the new millennium. The first page of each unit gives a brief overview and lists the lessons and books needed for the week. For each lesson, the student reads from the text (usually about 3-5 pages from what we’ve seen so far), then completes several assignments using the supporting material and literature.

At the end of each lesson, directions for all required work is clearly laid out. The assignments vary each day. Some lessons have “Thinking Biblically” assignments with applicable Scripture readings and questions to answer in a notebook. Sometimes there’s a short creative writing assignment, also to be put in the notebook. There are map and timeline assignments, readings from We The People (this book contains excerpts from speeches, newspaper articles, journals, songs, poems, and other historical documents), literature reading (click here for the list of literature), and student workbook or lesson review assignments. Once a week there is a “Family Activity” to go along with the unit consisting of a craft, recipe, or other hands-on activity.

The consumable Student Workbook has a variety of activities like word finds, crossword puzzles, and puzzles that reinforce the lessons. It’s aimed at 5th and 6th grade students, but is suitable for any student who enjoys those types of activities. The Lesson Review book, also consumable, contains simple fill-in-the-blank review questions and quizzes for the lessons and literature. Neither of these is required. We chose to use the Student Workbook but haven’t used the Lesson Review book yet.

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So what do we think?

I am really loving this program! The texts are beautiful full-color hardbound books, full of gorgeous photos, illustrations, and engaging text. The layout and content is truly impressive! They’re not “textbook-y” at all! We the People is unique and full of interesting first-hand accounts of all the events the students are reading about in the lessons. The variety in the assignments keeps Karate Kid’s interest level high.

Another huge positive for me is that he can do it all independently! Everything is laid out so clearly that he can read the lesson, follow the directions, and then bring me his finished assignments to go over at the end of each day. I love the simplicity, and yet it’s still robust and comprehensive.

The literature selections are great, although there’s not much analysis included beyond basic comprehension questions. To beef it up a bit, I’m going to use the principles I learned in IEW’s Teaching the Classics seminar to develop a bit more in-depth analysis and discussion of the books. Ten books is just right. Not so much that he’ll be overwhelmed, since he’s not a bookworm like his older sister, but still enough to challenge him. It also leaves me room to add in a book or two that I’d like him to read too, something I’ve struggled to do in the past with the amount of reading already required by our base curriculum.

And best of all, Karate Kid is absolutely loving it! He told me earlier this week, completely unprompted, that with the exception of one specific book about the Wright brothers that he read as part of another program, this is his very favorite history ever! I’ve never seen him so engaged in any subject except science!

America the Beautiful is a hit in our family, without a doubt! If you’re looking for a rich, engaging history, geography, and literature program for a 10-14 year old student, take the time to check it out. I give it my highest recommendation!

The complete curriculum package (contents listed at the beginning of this post) is $99.95 and the optional consumable Student Workbook and Lesson Review book are $11.95 and $9.95, respectively. Be sure to check out the samples on the website. You can also purchase a literature package for $59.95, containing all ten works of literature assigned in the program.

You can read more reviews of America the Beautiful and other Notgrass products from other Review Crew members here.

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Comments

  1. I love Notgrass! I've used the Exploring World History, Exploring American History and Government. I agree with all of the reasons you cited for liking it. For a very long time we did almost all of our school work together with unit study type curriculum but at some point it was really holding my older children back. I was so happy when Ifound Notgrass. Also, at least with the high school curriculum, there isn't anything that's consumable so you can use it with child after child.
    My recent post Cranberry Lemon Drop Biscuits {recipe}

    • Thanks, Angi! Based on these few weeks, I'm pretty sold on it. In fact, I already got a used set of Exploring World History too! And I've been eyeing the Government for in a year or so. Y'all enjoyed it too?
      My recent post Purposeful Links 8/10

  2. I'm using America the Beautiful for Seth this year as well (7th grade). We are just getting started with it, but love what we've done so far! I think it's going to be a hit. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Thank you, Kara, for reviewing America the Beautiful. We are delighted that your family is enjoying it.

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