Friday, August 9, 2013

Homeschool Review Crew: Notgrass Co. - America the Beautiful

When I saw the big, thick, heavy (all such negative words when it comes to textbooks) books for this review come in the mail, I must admit my first thought was, This is going to be so hard to get the kids on board - what in the world have I gotten myself into?? But as it turns out, we can throw out the negative words above because, although the America the Beautiful Curriculum by the Notgrass Company are big books, the program includes lessons that are engaging, pretty hands on, and enough to keep a range of ages (at least 8 - 13) occupied on various levels, while incorporating several study topics in together. 

What came in the box... The three books in the back are
full sized textbooks
But I'm getting ahead of myself and my review! I'll give warning now, this review might seem a little longer because I liked it so much, and included pictures, but if you're in a hurry scroll towards the bottom to where it talks about "The Good, The Bad, and the Not-Too-Ugly" to get the TLDR and skip my personal experience with it (*ahem*)... 

I am using these books with my oldest three: Maestro (13), Chef (11), and Bruiser (8). Bruiser is using it alongside us as he wants, but because there was is much reading involved, he chooses not to join us every time. Chef likes puzzles and is more of a right-brained, visual learner, so  he enjoys a lot of the puzzles and things that come in the Student Workbook (I snapped a few before he gets to them for the pictures below - by the time he is done with a book like that, it is no longer fresh and "pretty", it is covered in cartoon-y doodles, note-taking pictures, etc. It took me years to figure out that is what he needs to do to learn, but boy does it make a huge mess of a lesson page!)

Student workbook page samples - the one on the left is hard to see,
but it is a pen-based example of what a cross-stitch pattern would look like.
With as many books and workbooks that this program involves, you'd think adding more to the experience would be ill-advised, but kids - whether boys or girls - like to get into things with their hands, where they are creating and doing something. We're just getting to the lesson seen at right, so I'll be adding in a real cross stitch sampler for them to work and enjoy as we do read-alouds or other such activities (gives them a chance to make a good handmade Christmas gift that way too!)

A student workbook page next to the reference page from the book.
One of the things I think is great is the way it shows an example of something - in the pic at left, it is old WWII ooh-rah posters - and then has the kids make a modern version of their own design. It puts a good hands-on twist to the program that I don't remember getting in my brick-and-mortar school activities of not-so-old. We haven't reached this lesson yet, but I know that they will be all-in for it when we get there!

Sample stories found in the textbook
With multiple story-tellers in the house (Maestro and Chef), the kids like taking turns reading the various stories from other cultures - so much so that when they saw these in the books, they began to skip ahead to read just the stories! 

Well, I won't hold good enthusiasm down, but we won't be skipping the other stuff either, Boys... Boys?? Hey! Come back here!!

So, what does this all say for my review? 
What is the "Good, bad, and not-too-ugly"?  The TLDR?

Newspaper article reproduced from 1881
The Good: There is lots of "good" about America the Beautiful

More than any other text-book-based Social Studies type program that I've seen, I like this one! My initial fears (see above!) were totally unfounded. 
  • The kids are engaged, skipping ahead (always a good sign!), and trying to sneak the books away from one another.  
  • The books are designed for kids ages 10 - 14 (junior high level) to work through them independently and without requiring involvement from Mom. That is something I really like to find in a course with so many younger kids who need tending to. The instructions for each section and chapter are clearly spelled out and easy to understand, and they don't require a lot of "grading" or "set up" time.
  • Though the youngest kids don't understand the lessons really (and who would expect them to?) they sit and listen to the stories sometimes, and when I am really on my game, I am able to get them hands-on work appropriate to their levels that allow them to be involved in some way (i.e.: the cross-stitch above.) There is even a weekly "family activity" to do that tries to bring everyone to the table to learn a bit!
  • One additional text covers so many of the important writings of our government - the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, etc. These are documents we all acknowledge as important, but few of us actually ever bother to read them. Because we are reading so much of these lessons aloud (for Bruiser to follow), it is a chance for Mom to read back over them as well - and even read certain docs for the first time ever. A program that helps Mom continue to learn alongside her children is truly worth keeping around! 

The Bad: 
  • While it wasn't much of a problem for me, it might be seen as such for others: this is a program written by a Christian family that strives to incorporate their faith into the lessons. Normally, such Christian-centered texts requires us to adjust here and there or to have more involved discussions because of our Orthodox Christian faith/theology not always matching up well with what more Protestant-based groups follow. So far (knock on wood), I have not found this to be a problem with America the Beautiful. But it is part of the reason we do a lot of it out loud and together, in case I need to say something or we need to discuss.
  • While it is not required that they do each of the related activities at the end of the various chapters and sections, requiring each of them would require a pretty good time investment every day. The whole shebang takes about 60 - 90 minutes to complete if you throw it all-in and require every piece. This is mitigated by the cross-study that can be accounted for with regard to things like - reading comprehension, writing, art, geography, etc. It's not quite comprehensive enough to be an all-in-one boxed curriculum (minus the math) like other programs might be, but it makes a good run at it and does a great job incorporating a LOT of different study areas.
The Not-Too-Ugly: 
  • There were several books involved in the program as we received it. Then there are other books that are optional to pick up. These include:
    • the student workbook and lesson review book are optional consumable books that you can buy. The workbook is geared towards the younger end of the age group and has much of the hands-on puzzles and things that my right-brain-er enjoys so much (and I'll be buying more of those because the other boys were almost jealous at not getting to use them!) 
    • The lesson review book has about five questions per lesson for a student to answer, and is aimed at the older kids. The questions are not very difficult, and simply serve to reiterate various points made in the lessons. I do not have a problem with my kids using either one of these books, but they are an extra expense at $11.95 and $9.95 each, respectively.
  • There are additional literary books required throughout the course that one can get at the library or purchase in various venues (including through the Notgrass website.) These books do lend themselves well to the program and allow Mom and Dad to include Literature in with the list of courses that the 60-90 minutes of class time covers, but they also require a possible extra step of acquiring the books. Titles include: 
    • Sign of the Beaver, 
    • Amos Fortune: Free Man
    • Brady
    • Bound for Oregon
    • Across Five Aprils
    • Little Town on the Prairie
    • All-of-a-Kind Family
    • Blue Willow
    • Homer Price and
    • Katy
  • The titles above can be purchased through Notgrass for a package price of $59.95, or if you're like us and already own several of the titles from when you were a kid (*cough*), individually for around $5 or $6 each.
  • The main curriculum package, without consumables or additional reading books, is actually a fairly reasonable price - conceivably even one that you can afford if you've already blown through your homeschool education budget for the year. (Drumroll, please.... D'BRRRRRRR...) The package costs only $99.00, plus shipping - which is a steal for all that's included! I know this is one of my longer reviews but it is worth the blog-space to put it out there. I am truly enjoying this alongside the kids, and that makes it every bit worthwhile!

Mr. Magoo (now 2 years) is ready to go with new supplies in hand!
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these homeschooling years!


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  1. I enjoyed your review. Your icons look beautiful. I'm trying to get a closer look! I'm Roman Catholic, but have gone to many Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgies (Ruthenian), and my uncle writes icons. Anyway, we often have the same problem you do with Protestant curriculum, but we loved this one, too.

    1. Yes, these icons were particularly small and I was taking the picture from a bit of a distance! They are beautiful though and in most of our churches we are surrounded by them. I have seen some Catholic curriculum that works a little better, but yes, even there, it is woefully scarce! Thank you for stopping by! I hope you'll come again!


I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


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