America the Beautiful is a one-year course in U.S. History for students in grades 5 through 8. There are a number of components to the course, most of which are essential. The core is the two-volume text, including America the Beautiful, Part 1: America from 1000 to 1877 and America the Beautiful, Part 2: America from the Late 1800s to the Present. Other components of the basic curriculum package are We the People: Words from the Makers of American History, Maps of America the Beautiful, Timeline of America the Beautiful, and an Answer Key. Optional materials you may wish to use are the America the Beautiful Student Workbook and America the Beautiful Lesson Review.
America the Beautiful covers from before 1492 into the 21st century. Lessons cover more than just historical events. Instead, there are five types of lessons: historical events, “God’s Wonders” that describe parts of God’s beautiful creation in America (e.g., Niagara Falls), stories of major landmarks (e.g., the National Cathedral or Route 66), biographies, and daily life in different eras in our history.
Both volumes of the texts together contain just over 1000 pages which sounds like a lot. However, the text also includes a list of the assignments for each lesson as well as instructions for Family Activities. Lessons are heavily illustrated in both black-and-white and full-color. The font is reasonably large so it should be easy for children who might have trouble with a smaller font to read. Still there is a lot of material to cover.
America the Beautiful covers some topics neglected in other courses and covers many topics in greater detail than is typical for these grade levels. For example, one entire lesson (just over seven pages of the text) is dedicated to the Civilian Conservation Corps, a topic that usually rates no more than a paragraph in other courses. Probably most noticable and unusual is the attention given to Middle America! Some significant religious events and people (primarily Protestant) are also covered.
We the People, edited by Bethany Poore, is a collection of literary pieces (including poetry and song lyrics) and primary source documents such as newspaper articles, presidential addresses, journals, first-person accounts, and letters.
Students will use Maps of America the Beautiful, also by Bethany Poore, to create their own historical atlas of the United States. This book includes thirty maps, which students use to complete an average of three to four map activities per week.” Map activities are assigned from the textbook, but they each have their own instructions included in the Maps book; students need a set of colored pencils for completing the map activities. These activities are fairly simple; for example, students circle names of places already labeled on the map, color in a region, or trace rivers with a blue pencil. Students should also have the Maps book handy as they read through some of the lessons so they can make geographical connections within the context of the history. The map activities might not be challenging enough for older students, so you might wish to have them construct their own maps or do additional map and geography activities.
Timeline of America the Beautiful, by Ray and Charlene Notgrass, presents events chronologically in a book, but only selected events. Boxes next to specific years have blank lines for students to fill in, but much of the timeline is already complete. Beginning in lesson 4, which is the first lesson with a specific date, the student adds a fact to his timeline each day. The daily fact to write is provided in the activities list at the end of each lesson.You could add some events of your own, but there is often not much room to do so since that wasn’t the authors’ intent. Black-and-white illustrations are scattered throughout the book but not on every single page, much less for every event. Younger students might enjoy coloring these.
Students might use one or both of the two workbooks, both authored by Mary Evelyn McCurdy. They are titled America the Beautiful Student Workbook and America the Beautiful Lesson Review. The Student Workbook is best for younger students and those who like the puzzles included there. Both books are designed to review lesson content. The Student Workbook does so with crossword puzzles, match-ups, fill-in-the-blank questions, code puzzles, word searches, multiple-choice questions, scrambled words, and more. The Lesson Review requires full sentence responses on most questions, although some require only a single word. This book also has quizzes for each unit, and these have multiple-choice, true/false, match-up and other type questions where students can select from possible answers along with some questions requiring one or a few word responses that the student must recall. You might use only the Student Workbook for younger students and either the Lesson Review or both books with older students.
Real books are “built into” the course. Books used are: 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), and Katy (by Mary Evelyn Notgrass). You can purchase these as a package from Notgrass Company or obtain them in some other fashion.
There are from four to six activities suggested at the end of each lesson. All fall within the following categories: Thinking Biblically (Scripture verses that relate to a lesson topic), Map Study, Timeline, Vocabulary, Literature (from We the People and/or the real books), Student Workbook or Lesson Review, Creative Writing, and Family Activity. Family Activities involve art, crafts, cooking/recipes, games and other ideas to be used as a family for one day or evening per week. Detailed instructions for Family Activities are at the end of the textbook.
Parents might have students complete all activities but will likely be more selective, especially with younger students. Parents might assign independent reading for some children or for some assignments and read aloud to some children or for some assignments. Parents need to determine what is best for each child in the way lessons are presented and the activities assigned. Students should maintain a three-ring-binder notebook for Bible study, creative writing, and vocabulary assignments. Each lesson might take from 45 minutes to an hour and a half to complete, with the family activities taking extra time; the family activities are the most involved and will require you to gather additional resources.
Though designed for grades 5 through 8,younger students might be included in at least part of the lessons so that you can keep the entire family working on the same topics. Within grades five through eight, you will still need to be selective about which assignments and activities you choose for students, making sure that younger students are not overwhelmed and that older students are appropriately challenged.
You should be able to use America the Beautiful much like you would a unit study, picking and choosing from activities for each child as everyone works on the same core content. Parents who like the structure of textbooks should still find this a comfortable way to work since it provides explicit instructions for activities and how they fit together, as well as providing almost everything you need. And America the Beautiful is certainly a more interesting approach than most textbooks.