Students from primary grades through high school can participate in this unit study curriculum. Each of the four volumes is a one-year program designed especially for home educators. However, the publisher suggests that families cycle through the four volumes twice, covering a total of eight years.
Volumes follow each other chronologically. Volume I, In The Beginning, God! covers from creation to the Middle Ages. Volume II, For God So Loved the World, studies various regions of the Eastern Hemisphere with special emphasis on Asia, Africa, and the Orient. Volume III, God Bless America, studies the Western Hemisphere plus American history from exploration through the revolution. Volume IV, Blessed to Be a Blessing, continues American history from 1800 up through the present day.
The curriculum was developed through actual use by homeschoolers in Christian Cottage Schools. Units were "initially taught to groups of 10-12 children ranging in level from kindergarten to eighth grade." To make it easier to teach various age levels, resources and activities are suggested for primary, elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels. Younger students do more hands-on activities and less book work, while older students do more book and written work and fewer hands-on activities. Overall, hands-on, experiential learning plays an important role in this curriculum as it does in many other unit studies.
Instructions and information for most subjects has been expanded with development of each new edition, making them similar to the most extensive unit studies in the amount of information and guidance provided.
Christian Cottage Unit Studies feature activities and studies designed around the theme of each lesson, buttressed by the use of texts and other resource materials. Three days a week are identified as "book days." On book days, students work primarily through workbooks, texts, and other learning materials, with unit study activity taking a 30 to 90 minute slot. One day is set aside for intensive unit study activity such as a project, art, field trip, or event. The fifth day is "writing day" for discussing, creating, and rewriting.
The publisher recommends that we purchase one history text and one science text for the year for the oldest student. Supplemental textbooks are optional for elementary students. These are used as resource books from which we make assignments, read aloud, and draw information as needed. Annotated lists of recommended texts at the beginning of each volume help us identify which textbooks will be most useful. (Note: Textbooks seem to be more and more optional with the development of newer editions.)
Each unit within a volume also includes annotated lists of historic fiction and classics, videos, and other resources. Each unit's activities are broken down into the four levels—primary, elementary, intermediate, and advanced—so that we can identify main points of study, vocabulary words, and daily activities appropriate for different learners. (The main points of study also serve as an aid for test preparation.) You will want to borrow or purchase a number of these other books and resources. Christian Cottage now sells some of the supplementary books and resources either individually or in packages appropriate for the four different "age" levels for each of the four volumes.
Typically, for the three "book days," there is one activity provided, with instructions added for the various levels when necessary. The activity for the fourth day of each week does not seem any more comprehensive than do the first three days' activities, which leaves us to determine what else we might do as a field trip, event, project, etc. for the rest of the day. (Perhaps this is a day to spend more time on math, language arts skills, foreign language, etc.)
The fifth day's "writing assignment" is often extensive. For example, on the tenth day of the "Roots and Relations" unit, students make stone soup, write up family recipes, and make a padded, fabric cover for a previously begun project, a Family Heritage Book.
Subjects covered in all volumes are Bible, astronomy, life science, physical science, geography, government, history, creative writing, literature, home economics, music, and art. History coverage in Volume I is selective, which is fine for elementary grades but inadequate for junior and senior high students. (The publisher expects that In the Beginning, God! will be serving as a supplement to most junior and senior high studies rather than as the main course, so it is not intended to be comprehensive for the upper grades in all subjects.)
The units are arranged to cover "history and the story of creation simultaneously," so emphasis shifts back and forth between the two subjects in alternate units. The publisher suggests two additional options for arranging the units, depending upon your purpose; one option arranges units in a chronological approach and the other arranges them according to the seasons.
Because history coverage is selective rather than comprehensive, supplementing with a text for continuous, thorough coverage for older students makes sense. However, you should not require students to read an entire textbook and also complete all of the unit study activities. Use texts as a resource to fill the historical gaps or flesh out a topic. This is especially important for older students.
Volume II, For God So Loved the World, is especially strong in geography, government, and cultural studies. It is arranged by Eastern Hemisphere geographical units: Mediterranean Region, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, African Safari, Southwest Asia, Central Asia, The Orient, and Oceania. It also covers wildlife, technology, weather, and other topics. Information on countries is up-to-date, more current than in most textbooks.
Volume III, God Bless America, studies North America, Central America, South America, explorers, missionaries to the New World, early settlers, and the establishment of the United States of America. For science it covers anatomy, wildlife, geology and weather. Even more polished than Volume II, it offers quite a bit of background information and teacher helps to make it easier to prepare lessons.
Volume IV, Blessed To Be A Blessing, continues American history and technology from 1800 up through the present day, focusing also on government and the Constitution. Science topics featured are horticulture, veterinary science, physics, electricity, disease prevention, and the senses. The last unit in this volume, "Christianity 2000," is a study of "end times." While the entire curriculum is non-denominationally Protestant, the fourth volume recommends resources like the Left Behind series (by La Haye and Jenkins) and books by Hal Lindsay that support a premillennial perspective. This volume retains the strong emphasis on activities and hands-on learning characteristic of the entire curriculum.
An encyclopedia such as World Book would be extremely useful. The recommended topical books and literature can be found at the library, although some families will find it easier to invest in books of their own.
The overall approach of the Christian Cottage Unit Studies is user-friendly. The authors have provided great activities balanced with textbooks and other easy-to-use resources so that the work involved is manageable. Suggestions for scheduling and some basic teaching tips are especially helpful to those who worry about how much is enough of each subject. I consider this an excellent way for families to try unit studies with fewer choices and less work than is required by some of the well-known unit studies.
Digital download versions of each volume offer a money-saving option that some families might find appealing.