Learning Adventures uses a unit study approach that builds lessons around chronological history. Three volumes are available thus far in a planned five-volume program. Each volume is a full-year program (180 school days) covering Bible, history/social studies, science, language arts, and fine arts for students in grades 4 through 8. Math, P.E., cursive writing and/or keyboarding will need to be covered separately. Science, social studies, and language arts occupy the bulk of study time.
The unique feature of this series is that quite a bit of read-aloud and background material is built into each volume so parents need to spend less time finding information books and selecting which information to present to their children. While you still need to use additional books, studies do not depend upon specific books to the extent many other programs do. The program also supplies more explicit directions for parents than do some others.
Each volume comes as packets of pre-punched pages. Binders are not included. You will want to purchase at least two or three large binders to hold each volume.
Daily lesson plans provide for a mixture of read aloud/together time and independent work, including discussion and a significant amount of writing.
Student Page packets include worksheets for grammar, spelling, science data recording, and other learning activities, although most of them pertain to language arts. Please note that the spelling and vocabulary lists might be a bit challenging for some fourth graders, so use your judgment as to what to require from your own children. There are 176 pages for the first volume, 395 for the second, and 386 for the third. As with the main volumes, pages are pre-punched for insertion in binders.
I mentioned that Learning Adventures supplies more of the lesson material than do some other unit studies. Lesson plans provide complete literature, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling lessons. For social studies, some material is included within lesson plans, but students will also be listening to or reading historical novels and biographies. Usually, discussions questions and activities relate directly to one required book while other activities allow for the choice of almost any book on the topic. (Extensive recommended reading lists are included.)
Science lessons explain various topics in language that can be read directly from this book. Then students do independent reading on topics. In the first volume, there are science activities or experiments, but there are many more in volumes two and three.
Fine arts lessons, likewise, provide material to be read aloud, sometimes followed by activities or reading. (The second and third volumes recommend resource books that you should use for visual examples of art, sculpture, and architecture.) In the first volume, coverage of fine arts relates more to history than actual art activity. The second and third volumes suggest many more hands-on art activities but do not teach art skills such as drawing. The author recommends Barry Stebbings’ art courses to round out art experience and instruction in skills. In music, hymns are the primary focus in the first volume, while the second and third volumes branch out further into classical, patriotic, and historical music.
Bible study includes reading passages from the Bible, reading and discussing the commentary supplied in the lesson plans, and work on scripture memorization. The perspective throughout the study, particularly evident in history and science lessons, is Christian (Protestant) and also supports a young-earth viewpoint.
Aside from the books to be read, there are many other required items—everything needed for each day’s lesson is listed at the beginning of each subsection. These items are not that difficult or expensive to obtain (e.g., eggshells, CD or tape of Handel’s Messiah, cooking ingredients). However, planning ahead is essential. You can plan unit by unit, but I think accumulating many items as you prepare during the summer, then leaving only library books and perishable items to worry about as you approach each section will help you be more relaxed when it's time to teach.
Most unit studies are weak on accountability—how do you know students are really learning anything? To solve this problem, Learning Adventures has included questions for students similar to those you typically find in textbooks. These are found within each volume along with answers. You will generally use them for oral discussion rather than written work.
Learning Adventures has come up with a great review and reinforcement tool for A World of Adventure, a companion game called Worlds of Adventure. The game set has six laminated game boards, each covering a major area (e.g., Ancient Egypt) studied in that volume. There are six corresponding comb-bound question booklets with a total of 3,300 multiple-choice questions. Questions are in order according to the units, so you can use any game board selecting only questions from units covered thus far. You can even combine game boards and questions from all the different units to have a marathon game. This type of review can be more effective and certainly more fun than quizzes or tests.
The first volume, titled A World of Adventure(AWOA), is a 790-page book covering Ancient Egypt through the Age of Exploration, dividing content into six subsections that also include study of ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and Reformation. Supplements are available for A World of Adventure for children in grades K through 3 for the first four of these subsections.
Required resources are a Bible, a hymnal, a dictionary, The Golden Goblet, Aesop’s Fables, Classic Myths to Read Aloud, The Bronze Bow, Adam of the Road, The Door in the Wall, The Swiss Family Robinson, and two biographies from a suggested list. Many additional books are recommended within each section, but extensive lists offer many choices. You can borrow these from the library or purchase them. Those available through homeschool catalog companies are listed separately. In addition, you will need student notebooks and/or folders for each subject, note cards and file boxes for the cards, a world map or atlas, a globe, and potting soil and herb seeds to grow chives, dill, parsley, mint, basil, oregano, and thyme.
The herbs highlight an unusual feature of this unit study. Students grow the herbs, which then come under study in the Middle Ages section. They also use them in a variety of recipes reflective of different geographical and chronological eras.
The second volume, A New World of Adventure(ANWOA), covers U.S. history for the years 1600-1800. At 1,613 pages, it is about twice as big as the first volume! It contains even more background and commentary as well more guidance for teaching writing and for covering science and fine arts. Other expanded areas are review and the practice exercises and activities--there are even more choices for children of different ages and abilities.
Students continue work on a timeline started in AWOA and they also begin to compile notebooks that will be continued through the remaining volumes.
Westward and Onward ((WAO) , the third volume, continues with U.S. history through the first half of the nineteenth century up to the Civil War. Its 1525 pages provide quite an in-depth study of this relatively brief but important period of time with extensive coverage of the westward movement, actions of the various presidents, political developments, the conflict with Mexico, the issue of slavery, studies of regions and states, and much more. Geography studies extend coverage beyond the U.S. to other parts of the world.
As you might have noticed, U.S. History is the primary focus, although the history of other countries after the age of exploration (in the first volume) is covered in relation to U.S. history. This unique approach covers world history to some extent. For example, study of the Gold Rush includes study of the Chinese people who came to America, which then leads to a side study of China itself. This is an unusual way to tackle world history, and it has its limitations. Also, I can see that the in-depth study of U.S. History absorbs more time than is typically allotted to it, so it will be interesting to see how world history plays out in the last two volumes. The last two volumes in the Learning Adventures series, which are not yet under development, will cover the following periods: Book 4, A Nation Torn and Mended - 1860-1900, and Book 5, Adventures in a Modern World - The 20th century.
I have one complaint about this series that I consider important—the lack of indexes. Indexes would allow parents to easily locate topics for review or reference or perhaps even to present them out of order. In books this size this is an important consideration.
Overall, the Learning Adventures series is a valuable entry into the unit study market, especially for parents who appreciate having much of the work done for them.