Uncle Sam and You is unusual in that it is a one-year civics course targeted at grades five through eight. While it covers some elements of a government course, it is not intended to fill that niche since government is usually required at high school level. Instead, the goal of this civics course is "to teach students about citizenship, national symbols, patriotism, the basics of the American economics system, and how our communities, states, and nation work." It's also about developing positive attitudes toward citizenship and public service as well as learning to implement the golden rule in our relationships.
Uncle Sam and You is intended to be used by individual students. Separate student workbooks for younger and older students within the grades five through eight span help target lessons assignments more closely to each student's age and abilities.
The study includes lessons on national holidays with suggestions for family activities for each one. Family activities fit a wide age span so the entire family can participate.
While this is a civics course, historical events and contexts serve as the backdrops for many lessons. It teaches students about our Founding Documents, the three branches of government, presidents, how a bill becomes law, the president’s cabinet, voting and elections, political parties, Washington D.C., Congress, international relations, the military, state and local governments, Native American tribal government, national security, the justice system, the creation of money, and citizenship. But it also branches beyond such topics generally taught in government courses to patriotic holidays, the work of private charities, First Ladies, the Wright brothers and the invention of the airplane, the Secret Service, the role of American ambassadors, education and the arts, border protection (non-controversial), the history and workings of the postal system, and much more.
Two, large (about 500 pages each), hardcover textbooks are the centerpiece of the course; one book is used each semester. Even though the books have a large style font and many illustrations, there’s still a lot of text.
"Civics" is a broad umbrella that can encompass an endless list of topics, so the authors have a huge amount of material from which to choose. Since their goal is to give students a broad understanding of American government and culture and also to inspire them to become involved in civic life, some unusual topics are included. Brief biographical sketches of former White House residence staffers, potential tourism jobs, and a lesson portraying a family’s visits to performing arts experiences are examples of such topics.
The study is patriotic but it strives for political neutrality. There’s a small-town, wholesome feel to the study; aside from more current historical events, the tone is similar to books students might have read in the mid-1900s—positive and optimistic for the most part.
At the beginning of Uncle Sam and You Part 1, an introduction explains what you need, how to use the curriculum, and suggested activities for students at different grade levels. With younger students, you will probably use the Uncle Sam and You Student Workbook with its puzzles, fill-in-the-blanks and matching activities, drawing, and brief writing assignments. Older students might complete the Student Workbook activities, but they should concentrate on the Uncle Sam and You Lesson Review. This workbook presents five questions for each lesson, most of which require lengthier written answers. Unit tests are at the back of both the Student Workbook and the Lesson Review. The Uncle Sam and You Answer Key has answers for both workbooks.
Students will need a three-ring binder, notebook paper, blank paper, and colored pencils to complete lesson assignments. Family activities require additional resources, but those are optional.
At the end of each lesson is a list of activities. Student will compile these written and art activities in their binders. Not all of the following activities are included for each lesson, but there are generally five or six of them per lesson.
Thinking Biblically activities challenge students to make connections to scriptural principles. For example, one assignment on p. 348 refers to a few paragraphs in the lesson regarding young Israelites during the Babylonian captivity and how some of them were chosen to serve in the king’s court. It directs students: “In your notebook write a paragraph about why it was important for the young men serving in the king’s court to have the attributes listed in Daniel 1:4.”
Vocabulary assignments direct students to write in their notebook with the style of the assignments varying from lesson to lesson—some vocabulary activities require a minimal amount of writing and others a bit more.
Literature assignments list pages to be read in The Citizen’s Handbook and/or one of the eight “real books” used along with the study. Children younger than fifth grade might participate in some activities and listen to read alouds. Readings in The Citizen’s Handbook are an eclectic mixture of letters, speeches, personal memoirs, songs, newspaper articles and advertisements, poetry, “Civics Questions for the Naturalization Test,” historical writings, excerpts from the Constitution, and stories. The eight books to be read are Lincoln: A Photobiography, A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Basher Five-Two, Misty of Chincoteague, The Long Winter, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane, and Lost on a Mountain in Maine. These books can be read aloud or independently.
Creative Writing activities might vary greatly in the amount of time required depending upon the assignment and the writing ability of each student.
Find Out! activities might direct students to ask questions of parents or other people, or they might direct students to research for information.
Picture This! generally involve taking a photograph or drawing a picture.
The list of activities concludes with a reminder to complete the appropriate lesson pages in one or both workbooks.
Holiday lessons are presented at the back of each textbook in order of their appearance beginning with July 4 through Inauguration Day on January 20 in Part 1 and Martin Luther King Day (third Monday of January) through Father’s Day (third Sunday in June) in Part 2. These are not scheduled with the rest of the course so you can use them whenever you like or skip them. Lessons provide explanations of the holidays and examples of how they are celebrated. A family activity suggestion for each holiday follows. These vary from arts-and-crafts activities, to tree planting (Arbor Day), games (e.g., Easter Egg Roll game), to writing biographical sketches for Father’s Day.
The course has a total of 30 units with four lessons per unit to be completed each week. The holiday lessons can be incorporated as lessons for the fifth day each week if you wish. Lessons might take from 45 to 90 minutes per day. Holiday family activities will take more time.
The course package includes the two core textbooks, The Citizen’s Handbook, and the answer key. These items are not consumable, and one set should suffice for the family. You will need the appropriate workbook(s) for each student since these are consumable, so these are purchased separately. You will also need the set of literature books, but those might be borrowed from the library.
Many parents never consider including a civics course in the elementary grades, so they have trouble envisioning how Uncle Sam and You fits into their curriculum. However, the Notgrasses have a four-year plan for social studies for grades five through eight into which Uncle Sam and You fits nicely. They suggest beginning with their America the Beautiful course followed by Uncle Sam and You. The other two courses in the sequence will be one-year courses in world history and geography, but they are not yet available. While they suggest using America the Beautiful before Uncle Sam and You, the other two courses can be used in any order before or after them. Meanwhile, you could use world history or geography courses from other publishers.