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 ten Notgrass courses, two for world history, three for American history, one for civics, two for geography, 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 courses are split: two for elementary students, three for intermediate/middle school and five for high school.
Our Star-Spangled Story is a one-year United States history course for Grades 1-4. It features two full-color student texts, along with a consumable workbook, an answer key with literature guide, a full-color timeline book, and the Star-Spangled Rhythms and Rhymes book which features period songs and dances for families to sing and dance together. Eight supplemental literature texts are used to fill out the program and provide some context for the names-and-dates facts in the textbooks.
There are 45 lessons per student text for a total of 90 lessons to be completed in the course of two semesters. Every three lessons comprise a unit centered on a particular theme or event. There are hands-on activities for every lesson, and more involved projects for each unit—lesson activities often involve structured play, building with blocks or Lego bricks, and imagination, while unit activities can be anything from basket-weaving to cooking.
Parents are intended to read each lesson to their children (the fact that it can be used for multiple grades makes this a good one-stop history for early elementary grades), discuss review questions with them, and supervise or lead activities. A strong effort is made to connect historical events and persons to a Protestant Christian worldview; often the topics included in the text are not particularly well-known, but were clearly chosen for their relationship to matters of faith.
Also for grades 1-4, Our 50 States covers all fifty U.S. states (surprise, surprise!), Washington, D.C., and the five major United States territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, etc.). Designed for one year of study, students will learn the basic information about each state, along with engaging stories about people, places, and things that played a large part in the history of that state. Like all Notgrass programs, this is a multi-sensory approach, incorporating outings, crafts and recipes, and even specially recorded folk songs.
104 daily lessons are divided into 26 units arranged according to geographical region. Students read text (or have it read to them), complete vocabulary and coloring assignments in the consumable Atlas Workbook, answer short answer questions from the lesson review book, and read children's classics that give a sense of the region being studied. There are also hands-on activities that can be completed as a family (parental supervision will certainly be required).
Our 50 States is a teacher-directed program. Much like a unit study, it draws on several resources to give children a sense of the history, physical geography, and climate of the United States. Unlike a unit study, much of the work is already done for you. You will, however, have to procure the materials for the activities, access the folk songs online, preview lessons beforehand, and guide kids through the lessons, assignments, and activities. We recommend completing Our 50 States before Our Star-Spangled Story.
From Adam to Us and America the Beautiful are both intended for 5th to 8th graders. Best described as textbook/unit study combos, they include timeline and map work, hands-on activities, workbooks, and recommended reading lists. All units in the textbooks include five lessons (usually 2-5 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 related 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 for From Adam to Us; We the People for America the Beautiful), a map book, a timeline book, and an answer key are needed; the student workbook (for 5th and 6th graders) and lesson review book (for 7th and 8th graders) is optional but adds reinforcement to ensure students retain what they learn. Additional literature is highly recommended, though not required.
From Adam to Us is a world history course covering creation through the 20th century, while America the Beautiful covers United States history from AD 1000 to President Joe Biden. The publishers recommend each for grades 5-8, but 7th and 8th graders may find them too young or not enough of a challenge. We'd recommend completing From Adam to Us before starting on America the Beautiful, but you can go in any order; following this order will give students more context for America's place in the world.
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.
There are currently three one-year courses for high school students: Exploring World Geography, Exploring World History, and Exploring America. They work much the same way the middle school programs work, but without the map and timeline projects or hands-on activities. Each course centers around a 2-volume hardcover student textbook divided into a total of 30 units with five daily lessons per unit. Every unit begins with an introduction to the week's material, with a memory verse, suggested activities, and writing assignments. Lessons are typically 3-6 pages long, and contain additional material to read or questions to consider.
Besides the textbook, the only necessary book for each course is the "source book." In the case of Exploring World History and Exploring America, this means a collection of primary source documents; for Exploring World Geography, it means vital facts for each country along with a handful of primary sources. The books for each level are: the Gazetteer for Exploring World Geography; In Their Words for Exlporing World History; and American Voices for Exploring America.
Optional student review books and quiz and exam books exist for each level, along with answer keys for each set. The student review books include comprehension questions for each course, and the quiz and exam books provide tests. The answer keys for each course include answers to the comprehension questions and the quizzes and exams, and notes for the teacher regarding the additional literature books.
Additional literature books are available as supplements for each course. They provide context and color to the information in the student texts. Titles range from classic literature (Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson) to biography and memoir (Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story) to philosophy (The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis). Students will likely enjoy these, but they aren't essential to the successful completion of any of these programs.
Notgrass suggests students can earn up to three full credits for each of these courses: one each in history, English, and Bible. To do so, 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 (including speeches, essays, and a list of selected books to be read in full). Questions for these books are found in the student review books. The fifth lesson of each unit in the student textbooks are Bible study or worldview focused. To do the work in full, students are expected to spend 2-3 hours a day in reading and writing.
Exploring Government and Exploring Economics are both one-semester courses. Since they don't include the same amount of writing assignments, the additional literature, or any of the Bible studies, students can earn one half-credit for these courses. Both courses have three parts: a 75-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. We recommend teachers do participate to some degree as many statements throughout the books will warrant discussion, and some parents will want to correct some of the perspectives as they may well not agree with everything the authors state.
You can technically use these courses in any order. We recommend the current sequence: Exploring World Geography for 9th grade; Exploring America for 10th grade; Exploring World History for 11th grade; and, Exploring Government and Exploring Economics for 12th grade. This is our evaluation based on the content in the student texts, the assignments, and the supplemental literature books for each course.
Our Honest Opinion:
The Notgrass courses combine student-friendly textbooks with a multi-sensory approach. Their strength is that the authors make a concentrated effort to present historical and Biblical concepts in an engaging and accessible manner; their weakness is that the authors's personal perspectives, especially as related to contemporary trends and events, are handled subjectively without being identified as opinion rather than fact. There is also a tendency to focus solely on Christian figures to the exclusion of other important people and events.
The books are well-organized and easy to use. They offer clear book lists, understandable instructions, and encouragement for both the student and the teacher. Because these courses were designed by home schoolers for home schoolers, they are very doable for families with few or many children.
This is our preferred Scope & Sequence:
2nd-3rd grade: Our 50 States
4th-5th grade: Our Star-Spangled Story
6th grade: From Adam to Us
7th grade: America the Beautiful
8th grade: Uncle Sam and You
9th grade: Exploring World Geography
10th grade: Exploring America
11th grade: Exploring World History
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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