All American History

Many history textbooks are as dead as the people in them. They're like gigantic name and date connect-the-dots, and if kids learn anything it's that they don't like history. Celeste Rakes has written a fun and interesting history text adaptable for all ages that doesn't sacrifice information for entertainment. A variety of activities help students retain what they've learned. The course is good for two years and covers United States history and nothing else.

How Do These Work?

There are two levels, with three books per level: a hardcover student book is the main text, along with a Student Activity Book and Teacher's Guide and Answer Key. Hundreds of black and white pictures and maps accompany highly readable text in the main book. There are no in-text questions or exercises, so if you want your kids to do more than just read history you'll need the activity book. The author stresses this element is necessary, and what makes the program unique.

Each level has four units in 32 lessons (8 lessons per unit). Lessons should take one week. In each lesson students read a chapter in the student text and complete the correct exercises in the activity book; each unit ends with a review test. Activity book exercises include essay questions and reports. There are forms for the reports in which students record information and paste portraits of important figures (included in cut-out form at the back of both the activity book and the teacher's guide).

Both teacher guides include all activity pages in reduced form with answers, teaching tips, ideas for further study, extensive book lists for further reading, and ideas for field trips and extra activities. (The field trips might not work depending on where you live.) This course was designed for home school co-op use, but ideas for adapting the material for single-family and Christian school use are included. Teacher guides can seem unnecessary, but this course is incomplete without them.

Volume One covers early exploration to pre-Civil War; Volume Two covers the Civil War to ca. 2000. This is a survey course—kids get a good, comprehensive overview of U. S. history, but if you want them to pick up details you'll need to supplement with outside material. Fortunately the reading lists are long, though not as helpful for high school students as for younger students. Author Rakes takes time to discuss developments in culture and the arts, including literature, fashion and family life.

All American History is intended to adapt to any age group, but it's best for grades 5-8. High school students will need more, and will have already encountered most of the material. Younger kids probably won't be up for reading the text, and though clear it wasn't intended to be read aloud word-for-word. Rakes suggests reading the text yourself and telling the pertinent information to your kids in your own words. Though they may benefit from this, there are plenty of good history texts for younger kids, and it's probably worth your while to save this program until they can read it themselves.

Our Honest Opinion:

By itself, this isn't a sufficient U. S. history course for high school students. For junior high, All American History is excellent, more thorough than other middle school texts without being overwhelming. Younger students can benefit, but it will take more work than you probably want to devote to a single subject. We recommend using it for two years consecutively between grades 5-8, and doing two years of world history in high school, followed by a year each of U. S. history and government/economics. Overall this course offers fairly balanced coverage of a subject often tainted with personal opinion.

Additional Information:

  • To see samples of the materials, click on the kits below.
  • Bright Ideas Press has an area for Updates, Corrections and Clarifications on their website's FAQ page.

You are invited to join the online discussion group for users of (and those interested in) the All American History series. This site is filled with ideas and tips and is a great place to share teaching experiences or receive input to your questions.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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