Learning about the world around us should be fun! Nothing makes it more fun than visiting every location, but in the event that's not possible there's always Our 50 States from Notgrass. Functioning like a unit study but with the structure and ease of use of a textbook program, this course takes 1st-4th grade children on a tour of all fifty states, Washington, D.C., and the five major U.S. territories using everything from songs to recipes to virtual field trips.
Teachers should know at the outset that this is not anywhere close to being a student-directed course. While it isn't a full-on unit study in the sense that you don't have to mercilessly track down, hunt, and field-dress every resource on your own (a task only the most primal Homeschool Moms are licensed to attempt), considerable teacher prep and involvement is required. For elementary students, this will be sufficient for both history and geography, so you don't have to worry about history on top of this.
How Does This Work?
Our 50 States is a one-year course, consisting of 104 daily lessons divided into 26 units with four lessons each. Four books are available from Notgrass: a hardcover student textbook, one consumable Atlas Workbook per child, a lesson review book, and an answer key with literature guide. We recommend purchasing one Atlas Workbook per child; the lesson review book is intended to be consumable, but younger kids answer orally and older kids can easily just write their answers on a separate sheet of paper.
The textbook contains everything needed for each lesson (there is no separate teacher guide). Filled with full-color photographs and illustrations, it presents lessons, activities, and supplements in an intuitive format. The various United States regions (New England, Mid-Atlantic, South, etc.) are each covered in a separate unit. Each lesson is four pages long, and there are two lessons for every state, the District of Columbia, and each of the five major U.S. territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. At the end of every unit is a family activity.
Lessons include text to read (parents can read aloud to students not able to read it on their own), assignments and correlations to the consumable worktexts, and the text of the songs. The first lesson for each state presents basic information, and the second includes a song from that state's history along with a story about a real person, family or place important to the state's history. Authentic guitar and vocal renditions of each song can be streamed or downloaded from the Notgrass website. Also available from the Notgrass website are additional materials for download, like alternate literature titles and a blank U.S. map.
At the end of each unit there is a family activity that provides hands-on context for what students have learned. This can be anything from cooking a regional (always very non-vegan!) dish, to going on a walk, to building a model lighthouse; for fans of Our Star-Spangled Story, there are no Lego activities in this one, unfortunately. Additional vocabulary and coloring assignments are found in the Atlas Workbook, which is consumable—at $12 each, we recommend having one for every student.
Notgrass also describes the lesson review book as consumable, and it's inexpensive enough that it won't set you back too much, but it simply contains review questions students can answer orally or on a separate sheet of paper; there are also tests for each unit. The answer key contains answers to all lesson review questions and tests, as well as brief descriptions of the supplemental books with parental content guides.
There are seven literary works recommended to accompany the course, and each representing one of the regions studied. These are works of fiction, and serve to provide local color. There are no in-depth study guides to accompany these titles, which are as follows:
- Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (New England)
- The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz (Mid-Atlantic)
- Soft Rain by Cornelia Cornelissen (South)
- The Story of George Washington Carver by Eva Moore (Midwest)
- The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White (Rocky Mountains)
- Philip of Texas by James Otis (Southwest)
- The Adventures of Paddy the Beaver by Thornton Burgess (Pacific)
Our Honest Opinion
Like all Notgrass courses, this one is an excellent blend of hands-on exploration and textbook-based instruction. It does require a fair amount of teacher prep and interaction, but not nearly as much as a full-fledged unit study. Because it covers geography and aspects of history, you don't need to worry about another history program—Our 50 States is sufficient on its own. Probably due to the intended age range, the content is all pretty tame, but students will still learn plenty about the regions and their physical features.
The course is recommended for Grades 1-4. While first graders could certainly benefit from the program, we think it's probably ideal for Grades 2-3. Our 50 States is one of two offerings from Notgrass for Grades 1-4. The other is Our Star-Spangled Story which covers United States history, and while you can start with either course, we'd recommend starting with Our 50 States because the content isn't quite as challenging.
This isn't the last geography course your students will need, but it's a good introduction. The perspective is conservative Protestant Christian, but the text isn't preachy and avoids many of the pitfalls usually associated with "Christian history" textbooks. This is also a good chance to get your older kids involved in educating the younger ones: have your middle or high school students read the lessons to their younger siblings, and/or have them guide the family activities (when it makes sense).
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