Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Curriculum (Schoolhouse Review)

History is one of those areas we have generally covered informally so far, mostly using living books and choosing topics as they applied to holidays or specific areas of interest.  However, I was recently asked to review a history program from Golden Prairie Press, and I realized this was a good opportunity for a broader exposure to history and to help determine if we had any new specific interests to explore.

Heroes and Heroines of the Past:  American History Curriculum (review)

Golden Prairie Press was started by Amy Puitz, a homeschool graduate and history enthusiast.  I was given access to her curriculum, Digital Heroes and Heroines of the Past:  American History Curriculum ($98.99), which is for 1st-6th graders and includes:
  • Heroes and Heroines of the Past:  American History Part 1 e-book
  • Heroes and Heroines of the Past:  American History Part 2 e-book
  • Additional Materials Download (timelines, coloring pages and other supplements)
  • Historical Skits e-book
  • Sing Some History Audio Download
  • Listen to Some U.S. History MP3 Audio Download

Heroes and Heroines of the Past:  American History Curriculum (review)

Note:  While I received the digital version, there is a physical version that sells for the same price--to my knowledge, the main difference is that the psychical version is only in black and white, while the digital version is in color.

The lessons begin with The Period of Discovery (Native Americans, Vikings, Columbus, etc) and end with a brief overview of modern American history and the last few Presidential Administrations.  There are 30 Sections, each with 5 Lessons, for a full year curriculum.

There are also supplemental items that can be used, such as a coloring book, Bible study and literature selections--the books are edited versions of public domain books.  Having these might help you round out the program if you're working with various ages at one time.

How Do We Use It?
This program is very adaptable to almost any homeschooling style or schedule.  There are two sets of lessons with the same information, but written towards different age groups.  The 1st-2nd Grade lessons are approximately one page each, which is the perfect length for this age range to follow along.  The 3rd-6th Grade lessons are two or three pages in length and cover more details.  Sometimes a lesson is for everyone, and those are usually biographical sketches.  Additional literature readings are written into the older lesson plans, and can be used as read-aloud material or assigned reading, depending on the age and abilities of your child.

Following the readings (which are written mostly in a pleasant "living-book" style) there are a variety of different activities that help round out this curriculum so that it is not just textbook reading.  Some things you might find after a lesson:
  • Questions
  • Writing Topics
  • Geography/Mapping
  • Historical Art and Music
  • Timeline Activities
  • Activities like crafts, skits, cooking, etc
  • Memory Verses
  • Recommended Resources (additional books to consider)
Elliott could easily follow along with the older lessons, but since Emory (4 years old) is tagging along I just stuck to the younger version.  It is enough for a simple overview, but I can skim the 3rd-6th grade material when I feel like I need to offer Elliott more.  It's designed to do one lesson per day, but we don't cover History every day, we prefer short lessons, and we're on the younger end of the age range, so I stretch it out.  Typically we do Heroes and Heroines three days a week, stretching one lesson over the whole week.

On the first day we read the lesson in the curriculum, cover the geography, and discuss any artwork.  On the second day we review with the questions and writing topics, although we do these as oral narrations.  If we are doing more than one of the other activities, we will do one here on the second day too.  On the third day we will do at least one activity and review what we've been learning.  I spread additional readings throughout the week.  The supplemental materials only list a few books for each section, but you can easily add your own living books to it for a more well-rounded perspective. 

Elliott loves geography, so we often spend a lot of time studying the maps and following the courses of explorers.  Emory just prefers to listen to the readings and do some of the hands-on activities, such as coloring Columbus' Coat of Arms.

Heroes and Heroines of the Past:  American History Curriculum (review)
He colored that castle pink/purple for his little sister!

I like when things just fall into place.  Shortly after we did the first lesson on Native Americans, we could hear some Native American music being played outdoors near our home, and we had another discussion about Native Americans and different cultures.  Recently among some family members there was a discussion about Columbus and the "discovery" of America, and Elliott interjected with things he had learned!  So it is memorable material for him. 

Final Thoughts
I like that the program focuses a lot on the stories of the people of the past, rather than just names and dates.  Although it's geared for 1st-6th grade students, you could include 7th and 8th graders if you add in more work like additional non-fiction reading, research assignments and historical documentaries.  I did feel like most of the lessons were a general overview--enough for the youngest, but just skimming the surface for older students; for instance, I glanced ahead and noticed more negative things like the Trail of Tears and Japanese Internment Camps were glossed over within one paragraph of a lesson that focused on something else, even in the older lesson plans.  This is probably enough for younger students, but I believe you would definitely need to add in supplemental resources and assignments for older students to give them a more thorough understanding of the hows and the whys of events like this.

The multitude of activities available not only help make the lessons come alive, but help make the curriculum appeal to all learning styles--the music, the mapping, the skits, the art study--there's something for everyone.  I love that it helps you understand many pieces of art and music in their historical context.  You can try to do everything from each lesson, but I love the pick-and-choose aspect of it.  We focused primarily on the geography and art, but some families might enjoy turning the writing topics into notebooking, and others will want to enjoy all of the artsy/crafty activities.  I like it is easily adaptable without compromising the integrity of the curriculum.

The dual lesson plans makes it ideal for families with multiple children working at different levels (or even co-ops!), however I think my family will get more use out of it in another year or two when both boys can work in it more thoroughly, so I think we'll be saving it for then!

Heroes and Heroines of the Past is certainly an interesting curriculum with a lot to offer, so check out Golden Prairie Press on Facebook, and be sure to read more crew reviews to find out what others thought of this American History Curriculum!

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