Teachers from the peripatetic philosophers of Ancient Greece to Victorian schoolmistress Charlotte Mason have understood that students learn best when they're fully engaged. Our Star-Spangled Story continues the tradition by using a variety of crafts, texts, song and dance (literally), and hands-on activities to teach young children about United States history.
The approach is similar to that used in every other Notgrass History course, designed for Grades 1-4. It makes a good lead-in or follow-up to Our 50 States, which is the Notgrass geography program for the same age range. Teachers will need to be directly involved, both for preparation and for instruction. You won't have to create lessons, but you will have to gather supplies, print map and activity sheets, and pre-read lessons (recommended but not mandatory).
How Does This Work?
At the center of Our Star-Spangled Story is a two-volume student textbook. Each volume includes 45 lessons divided into 15 units of three lessons each for a two-semester school year. This is fewer than typical lessons for an entire year, which provides families some flexibility in implementing the units. The authors suggest setting time aside for history five days a week, but only working through three lessons per week, which is a suitably relaxed pace for younger students.
Part 1 covers ancient America to the late 19th century, and Part 2 begins with the late 19th century and goes all the way to 2018. Both volumes are extensively illustrated in full-color with drawings, maps, and photographs, and the authors encourage families to spend time examining each image to help bring the text alive. Parents are expected to read each lesson aloud to their students (about 10-15 minutes per lesson), though if parents pre-read older elementary students could read the text on their own with a little help.
Each lesson focuses on an event or issue in American history, usually from the perspective of a specific person. There is a strong emphasis on America's Christian history and Christian figures, and all stories (whether specifically related to Christians or not) are told from a Christian perspective. At the end of each lesson there are lesson activities (map activities, student workbook assignments, and supplemental reading), three review questions for parents and students to discuss orally, and some hands-on history ideas.
The hands-on history ideas include just about everything: cooking, making stuff with play-dough, role-playing and dress-up, origami, building with Legos, and lots more. There are also unit projects which take more planning and time to execute, and include things like basket-weaving and making homemade games. You can do as many or as few of these activities as seems right for your family, but the authors encourage you to do as many as you reasonably can.
Four additional books accompany the student texts: Rhythms and Rhymes, Star-Spangled Timeline, a consumable My Star-Spangled Student Workbook, and an answer key / literature guide. Rhythms and Rhymes presents 60 period songs, poems and dances to give kids a feel of the era being studied. An accompanying Mp3 CD includes the songs and poems for you to listen to, while the book includes instructions for the dances (instructional videos can be found on the Notgrass website). The Timeline book is a full-color visual timeline of American history from the creation of the world to astronaut Peggy Whitson's retirement in 2018.
The full-color student workbook is the only consumable element of Our Star-Spangled History. It includes lesson and unit review work, mostly short answer questions, map work, and coloring and drawing activities. At only $9 per book, we recommend having a workbook for every student you're teaching. The answer key and literature guide includes answers to all questions, as well as some information and brief questions regarding the supplemental literature texts recommended by the authors.
There are eight literature books suggested as supplements to the main text. These provide cultural context and local color to the more straightforward history included in the student texts. Students have 3-5 weeks to finish each title. The list is as follows:
- Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry (Units 1-4)
- Toliver's Secret by Esther Wood Brady (Units 5-9
- Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark (Units 10-12)
- Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Units 13-15)
- Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates (Units 16-18)
- Emily’s Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary (Units 19-22)
- The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill (Units 23-26)
- Katy by Mary Evelyn Notgrass (Units 27-30)
The authors of Our Star-Spangled Story cover most of the big events and important people in United States history. They take a decidedly Protestant Christian and patriotic approach, pointing out wherever possible that individuals professed Christian faith, that this or that president asked the American people to pray, etc. Sometimes Christian aspects of our nation's history seem to take precedence over more mainstream aspects, but again, all the main points are here.
Many aspects of more recent events that are rarely covered in children's history texts are included here. Students will learn about the early space exploration program, the invention and expansion of the Internet, "Made in China" and trade wars, the birth of the home school movement, 9/11, and more. All of these are discussed in terms of their impact on the modern world and the ethical questions they present, so students and parents are confronted with possible moral and religious concerns.
Our Honest Opinion
Our Star-Spangled Story is a fun and immersive way to teach United States history. Students will enjoy all the hands-on elements (from what we've heard, especially the Lego activities and the dancing), and parents will appreciate that most of the work is taken out of preparation and instruction. We really like the fact that parents are to be directly involved, because it's important to build a solid worldview foundation at an early age in children.
The somewhat whitewashed history isn't our favorite, but it's not as pervasive or heavy-handed as in some other programs. It is important that students learn how to think about history from a Christian perspective, and we applaud the authors of Our Star-Spangled Story for crafting a curriculum around that principle, but in our opinion it's not necessary to find Christianity where it didn't exist, or where it was used for mere political purposes.
With that caveat, this is still a good place to begin your child's exploration of United States history. The approach is appealing to both students and parents, and the content will give them a solid (if somewhat one-sided) springboard for further study. We do recommend using this for Grades 3-4, as some of the content is likely over the heads of 1st and 2nd graders. However, as long as the parent is involved, you can feel free to tailor the content and the activities to your own family's needs.
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