U.S. history for middle school with America the Beautiful from Notgrass (review)
A family business begun in 1999 by veteran homeschoolers Ray and Charlene Notgrass, the Notgrass Company produces simple-to-use – but solidly constructed – homeschool curriculum. While their early products were primarily for high school history, they’ve more recently branched into elementary and middle school, in a variety of subjects.
We’ve been using the America the Beautiful curriculum package, along with the Student Workbook and the Lesson Review. America the Beautiful is a U.S. history, geography, and literature curriculum designed for grades 5-8 (approximately ages 10-14). America the Beautiful is a full-year course, with 30 units consisting of five lessons each.
There are several components to the America the Beautiful curriculum:
- Two thick 11 ½” by 8 ¾” hardbound America the Beautiful textbooks, subtitled “Part 1: America from 1000 to 1877” and “Part 2: America from the Late 1800s to the Present”. These include both color and black & white images, and run about 1000 pages total between the two of them.
- One hardbound “We The People” text that includes reproductions of documents from all eras of U.S. history. These are used in conjunction with lessons and the textbooks, a nod to those who prefer living books (documents?) as a way to show the connection between the story in the text and the real people that history is about.
- Maps of America the Beautiful is a soft-cover, saddle-stitched workbook with approximately 60 pages. Maps aren’t just used for one lesson and then forgotten – later lessons often revisit already-used maps, adding depth and greater understanding of the proximity of events – something that’s hard to imagine when each lesson’s map is used in isolation from all others. Black & white workbook.
- The Timeline of America the Beautiful is a timeline book specifically designed to accompany this particular curriculum. Many pages include images, and lines are given for including specific facts as suggested in the curriculum. Saddle-stitched in black and white, the timeline is a good reference to document and compare events in America the Beautiful, though if your family has another timeline project going, they may want to add these details in it, also.
- The Student Workbook includes many fun activity pages that use material learned in each lesson, one page per lesson. Activities include crosswords, find-a-words, matching, codes, drawing assignments, and much more. Crafted for the 5th & 6th graders, this workbook may be used by the older students if desired. Black & white, 150 pages, spiral-bound.
- The Lesson Review workbook includes questions and blanks for each lesson, and usually are closer to half a page then a full page in length. Questions tend to check comprehension and understanding of the lesson, not just rote fact memorization. Also included are 30 quizzes, one per unit. The quizzes usually consist of matching or true/false style questions. Black & white, 110 pages, spiral-bound.
- The America the Beautiful Answer Key includes answers for the Timeline, the Student Workbook, the Lesson Review, and all vocabulary lessons included in the textbooks.
What does the America the Beautiful package include?
The America the Beautiful curriculum package includes both textbooks, We The People, the map and timeline books, and the answer key, and is priced at $99.95. The Student Workbook ($11.95) and Lesson Review ($9.95) are sold separately. A literature package with all necessary novels may be purchased from the Notgrass Company, or you can purchase these in a variety of other ways – used, online, many are even available in ebooks.
While the two textbooks and We the People, along with the answer key, are reusable by all your students, all four workbooks – the Maps ($8.95), the Timeline ($6.95), the Student Workbook and the Lesson Review are all consumable items and additional copies are available singly.
Novels to be read during the course include:
- 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
How much teacher prep is required for America the Beautiful?
In a simple summary…
America the Beautiful, as I’ve already mentioned, is arranged in 30 units, each consisting of five lessons. Our natural way to divide these would be into weekly groups, and that’s what we’ve done during the review period, but we may adapt that during our actual school year as we finish it out, as I’m planning for 4-day weeks.
- Thinking Biblically
- Creative Writing
- Student Workbook and/or Lesson Review
- Family Activity (one per unit)
Please note, students are not necessarily required to complete all the items on the list for that lesson – it’s up the parent to decide what lessons are appropriate for their student and assign them.
While I’ve been having my students do all of the activities for the review, it’s been easy to find the time because we’re on summer break from our regular schoolwork. I may choose to do some adjusting once our regular school year gets going, and I have yet to decide if that will mean a reduction in the activities used, a modification of how many days per week, or quite what that will look like.
But it *is* absolutely safe to say that we will be using America the Beautiful for our social studies program this year! We really like it. And we may just follow up with their government-for-middle-schoolers curriculum, Uncle Sam and You. It’s set up in nearly the same way as America the Beautiful. (Now, if there were just a world history curriculum… or maybe more state governments options that the two Ray Notgrass has already authored, Georgia and Tennessee…)
We did make one minor adaption to it – we took the workbooks apart, 3-hole-punched them, and put all four in one binder for each child. After last year, when it seemed like someone was always missing some essential piece of their work, I’m just not willing to play hide-and-seek all year long. This way, they have one binder each to keep track of for history, and the two textbooks, and that’s IT. (I guarantee you, we’re still going to be hunting for that binder sooner or later – but at least it won’t be four workbooks!)