All American History (AAH) is a two-year, two-volume course in U.S. history. It can be used by students in grades five through twelve, by either one student or multiple students working at one or more grade levels. The AAH Junior edition allows you to include students in kindergarten through fourth grade to learn along with their older siblings. The two volumes are titled Volume 1, The Explorers to the Jacksonians and Volume 2: The Civil War to the 21st Century.
AAH is distinctly different from traditional textbooks with its multi-age approach as well as its use of real books and hands-on activities. It should work very well in homeschool settings. Developed through use in co-op classes, it easily adapts for use with individual children. Each volume stands alone, but you need both for complete coverage of U.S. history.
AAH purposely emphasizes social and cultural aspects of history as we often find in mainstream history texts for the elementary grades. The content should be acceptable to almost all home educators since it is presented objectively and without editorializing in comparison to some other options used by home educators. While it includes religious developments often ignored by other texts, these receive far less mention than one finds in history books from Christian publishers such as BJU Press, A Beka Book, and Christian Liberty Press. Those wanting a secular text should be comfortable with the minimal treatment of religion in this book. However, the student activity book’s “For Further Study” suggestions and “Family Activity Ideas” in the teacher’s guide occasionally offer some more overtly Christian topics. For example, one For Further Study question directs students to “Find out about John Eliot, the Puritan missionary who was known as the Apostle to the Indians” (AAH Student Activity Book, p. 81). With few exceptions, assignments and suggestions are not specifically Christian. This arrangement allows the parent who prefers a secular approach to skip any topics with which they are uncomfortable. While Christian parents have occasional opportunities in AAH to make faith connections, they might want to supplement with more faith-based resources or raise questions about biblical principles and historical characters and events.
There are three essential components to the course for each volume: the student reader, student activity book, and teacher's guide. The core book is the hardcover student reader. Similar to textbooks, student readers present historical information accompanied by black-and-white illustrations. A brief summary of key points concludes each chapter. The text of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are included in an appendix in both volumes. These are substantial books with 442 pages in the first volume and 557 in the second.
Questions and assignments are all found in the consumable student activity books. Here you find activity pages, map forms, review questions, For Further Study assignments, and Images for Required Forms. The last item is a collection of illustrations (primarily of people) and flags to be used on activity pages. The illustrations in the student activity book are intended to be beneficial to both visual learners as well as kinesthetic learners, providing cut-and-paste activities to keep their hands engaged.
The required forms used with the images are one or more worksheets per chapter for students to complete that summarize key information from each chapter. The student activity book forms are intended to be filled in as the student is either reading the text or listening to the text being read. This is training in note-taking skills, and it encourages them to be active readers and listeners.
Activity book pages are perforated and three-hole-punched so they can be easily removed and put into a binder. At the end of the activity book are Optional Forms for Further Study. These forms require students to do more in-depth research on topics such as a Native American tribe, a Revolutionary War or World War battle, or a United States President. Some forms might be used more than once. While these are great for students in grades five through eight, high school students should probably be working at a more challenging level than is posed by these forms.
The course for each volume is broken down into four units, with eight lessons (chapters) per unit. The activity book has review questions for each lesson, but it also has a test at the end of each unit. An additional set of high school level tests are available.
The teacher’s guides include reduced reproductions of all student activity book pages with completed answers and information to serve as your answer key for all but the For Further Study assignments. (Suggested answers for those are included in the instruction pages for each lesson.) Answer keys include lengthy suggested responses for open-ended questions which are very helpful for parents who cannot keep up with the student reading themselves.
The teacher’s guides have additional activity suggestions and recommended reading lists for three levels: kindergarten through fourth grade, grades five through eight, and grades nine through twelve. They also have checklists at the end of each unit to help you plan, showing which activities are required and which are optional. In addition, the teacher’s guides include masters of the optional forms and all of the images. These images might also be used for a timeline as well as for a game as described in the teacher’s guides.
Part of the reason this course is so suitable for homeschooling is that while the ideal audience is probably junior high, it easily expands for use with younger and older students. Younger students listen to highlights and key ideas from the chapter presented by the parent. They read real books related to the time period. (Annotated lists of age-appropriate books for each chapter are in the teacher’s guide.) Younger students also participate in creating timelines, map work, and other hands-on learning activities. Bright Ideas Press has also come out with optional All American History Junior courses for both volumes that give students smaller amounts of material to read, add age-appropriate literature study guides, and provide alternative map work, activity pages, folder book projects, puzzles, and notebooking and coloring pages. The Junior program substitutes for the student activity books, but you still need the student readers and the teacher’s guides.
It’s even easier with high school students. While you choose from among the optional activities for students in elementary grades, older students complete most of the optional activities, especially the For Further Study questions and the optional forms. The student readers cover most topics very briefly, so it is essential that high school students delve deeper into some topics. They need to read at least one book per unit from the recommended reading lists. Optional test packets for high school students are also available as a download from the publisher’s website for $7 each. The biggest drawback for high school students is that they might need to complete both volumes in one year because of other credit requirements.
Another plus regarding this course for homeschoolers is that the components are very reasonably priced, especially the teacher’s guide. To teach an additional student in the same family, you might share the student reader and purchase only an extra student activity book.
The books are very professional in appearance and presentation, but other than the covers, they are printed in black-and-white throughout. This should not be a big issue for most students.
Note that Year 4 of Bright Ideas Press' Illuminations is a wrap-around program that uses All American History as a spine. Illuminations integrates history, Bible, language arts, literature, science, fine arts, geography, and life skills. You might want to consider using AAH within the Illuminations Year 4 program.