Although the family-owned and operated Notgrass Company started small in 1999, their incredible teamwork and commitment to quality has led to tremendous growth in the last twenty years. Veteran home schooling parents themselves, Ray & Charlene are the primary authors of the history texts, while the rest of the family act as editors, illustrators, reviewers, guinea pigs, etc.
With a mission statement of "producing materials centered in God's Word that help parents train their children to honor God with heart, soul and mind," the Notgrass products focus on presenting an enjoyable, readable survey of the principal themes, people, and events of history. Their courses place an emphasis on using original source documents and speeches because these allow the participants in historical events to tell their story from their own unique perspective. They also promote reading novels about the period, bringing students closer, emotionally and intellectually, to the spirit of the period in which these personages moved. Their comprehensive, Bible-based textbooks attempt to build faith into the student by showing the influence that Christianity has had on the past and present, not only of our nation, but of the world.
How Do These Work?
We carry eight of the Notgrass courses, two for world history, three for American history, one for civics, one for American government, and one for Economics. All but government and economics are meant for thirty weeks of school, so they include two textbooks, but all of the texts have the same structure, each including 15 one-week (five-lesson) units. None of the texts include comprehension or thought questions; these are supplied in separate workbooks & lesson review books.
The eight courses are split: one for elementary students, three for intermediate/middle school and four for high school.
Meant for grades 1-4, Our Star-Spangled Story is a narrative approach to American history, the lessons supplementing the text with recommended literature, music (and dance!), and projects that include cooking, play-dough, Lego building, origami, basket weaving, and much more. The two beautifully formatted textbooks have 15 units each (like the later books), but include only 45 short lessons apiece, so to complete this course in a typical school year, you would need to complete about three lessons a week, with some wiggle room. Other than an answer key, there are three supplemental books. The Rhythms and Rhymes book offers 60 songs, poems and dances (with instructions!), accompanied by an Mp3 CD for your listening pleasure. The Timeline book is a very visual timeline which sets American history in context with world history and covers major dates from Leif Erickson's voyage circa 1000AD up to astronaut Peggy Whitson's retirement in 2018. The Student Workbook is the only consumable part of the curriculum and offers review and map work, as well as plenty of drawing and coloring pages. Finally, Notgrass recommends eight additional literature books that are well-worth considering.
From Adam to Us and America the Beautiful are both targeted towards 5th to 8th graders. Sort of textbook/unit study combos, these include timeline and map work along with hands-on activities and recommended book lists. All units in the textbooks include five lessons (usually 2-3 pages each): a historical event or period summary, a biography, a sketch of daily life, a major man-made landmark, and an element of God's creation relating to the time period. While the two main texts are the central pieces in the curriculum, six supplemental books round out each course: the source book (Our Creative World or We the People), a map book, a timeline book, and an answer key are needed; the student workbook (for 5th & 6th graders) and lesson review book (for 7th & 8th graders) is optional. Additional literature is highly recommended, through not required.
Uncle Sam and You is a middle school civics course. A little simpler, there are just four books needed in the course: the two textbooks, The Citizen's Handbook and answer key are necessary; the student workbook (grades 5 & 6) and lesson review book is optional. Additional literature brings concepts to life.
Like the middle school courses, Exploring World History and Exploring America are quite similar, but here there are no map and timeline projects or hands-on activities. Every unit begins with an introduction that outlines the material to be covered during the week and provides a memory verse, as well as suggested activities and writing assignments. The lessons that follow are typically three to five pages long, and contain additional material to read or questions to consider. The only other necessary book for each course is the source book (In Their Words and American Voices), but there is an optional Student Review book, Quiz & Exam book and answer key as well. (These optional books include all comprehension questions for the course.)
Notgrass suggests that students can earn up to three full credits for both of these courses: one in history, one in English, and one in Bible. To do this, students must read the text and complete the assignments for each of the 150 lessons. These include a weekly writing project, a weekly Bible study, and readings in literature (which includes speeches, essays, and a list of selected books which are to be read in their entirety). Questions for these books can be found in the Student Review books. The World History books offer Bible Study questions and grammar tips at the conclusion of the first four lessons of each unit, while Exploring America does not. To do the work in full, it is expected that students will need to spend two or three hours a day in reading and writing.
Exploring Government and Exploring Economics are the only one-semester courses in this list. Since they do not include the same volume of writing assignments, nor the additional literature, nor any of the Bible studies, students can earn one half credit for these courses. Both curriculums have three parts: a seventy-five lesson text; a volume of historic documents, essays, and speeches; and optional quiz and exam books, which also include comprehension questions for the texts.
Very little parent/teacher interaction is necessary for these courses. There is, of course, no reason why a parent cannot be involved anyway.
Our Honest Opinion:
The Notgrass courses combine an interesting lecture-style approach with a largely well-written, student-friendly text. Their strength rests in their concentrated effort to present historical and Biblical concepts in an engaging and accessible manner, though their perspective, especially as it relates to contemporary trends and events, is necessarily somewhat subjective. The books are well-organized, and we think quite easy to use. They offer a clear book list, understandable instructions, and encouragement. In short, they are very doable for home school families with middle and high school students.
This is our preferred Scope & Sequence:
6th grade: From Adam to Us
7th grade: America the Beautiful
8th grade: Uncle Sam and You
9th grade: a geography course from someone else (North Star Geography would fit well).
10th grade: Exploring World History
11th grade: Exploring America
12th grade: Exploring Government / Exploring Economics
Most of these incorporate some classic literature. So they are textbooks, but they are also, to a limited degree, a "literature approach" program. While we think some of the literature they've chosen is tame, we think they've improved their selection a lot in their revisions. And although some of their comprehension questions still fall into the "read and regurgitate" variety, it's obvious that Notgrass has worked at beefing these up. We offer more full opinions on each individual course's overview page.
With Exploring Government & Exploring Economics, we were very impressed with the way Mr. Notgrass incorporates a brief survey of the ideas and history of government and economics before he goes on to more in-depth studies of the Constitution, American government, and basic economic principles.
Finally, a note about book design:
Notgrass is one of very few companies devoted to making their home school products usable, long lasting and beautiful. While most companies have switched away from hardcover to soft, Notgrass is republishing all of their courses in full-color hardcover copies. And they've kept their prices very reasonable.
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