Monday, May 12, 2014

Schoolhouse Crew Review: Golden Prairie Press

As you've probably noticed, history is a BIG part of homeschooling in our house, and something all of us, except Little Bit, enjoy thoroughly! After spending the last 3 years studying American History, we are currently learning about Ancient World History, but when we were asked to review Digital Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Curriculum from Golden Prairie Press, I figured we could take a few weeks and do some more American History.

Golden Prairie Press Review
Heroes and Heroines of the Past covers American History, from 1000 AD to Present in one year (30 week) for grades 1-6. This curriculum is a digital download consisting of the "textbook" (divided into 2 ebooks), additional materials downloads (printable worksheets, etc), a Historical Skits ebook, "Sing Some History" audio download (containing some of the songs mentioned in the curriculum), and "Listen to Some U.S.History" audio download (containing some original speeches, etc. mentioned in the curriculum).  It should be noted that in some cases, the songs and speeches mentioned in the textbook must be accessed through links on the vendor's website. This download package is available for $98.99.  There is also an optional literature package sold separately for 5th and 6th grade students. The curriculum can be used without this, and we did not receive it as part of our review. Some of the books included in the literature package can be found free for Kindle or other places online, however it is my understanding that the books included in the literature package have been re-edited to modernize some things and remove some possibly objectionable content, so the author recommends purchasing the literature package if you plan to include these optional books in your studies.

The curriculum is designed to be used 5 days a week. Accordingly, the textbooks are divided into 30 Sections, one for each week, with each Section divided into 5 lessons, one for each day.

Each day begins with a few pages of text to use either as a read aloud, or to assign the child to read. In some
lessons, the first page is a shorter, more summary level, read-aloud for 1st and 2nd graders, and the rest of the reading goes into more detail for 3rd-6th graders. Other lessons are the same reading for all students. After the reading, there are various activities, including timeline activities, map activities, copywork or dictation, artwork or music from the time period, famous speeches to listen to, cooking activities, writing topics or craft projects.

In addition to the curriculum package, and the optional literature package if you choose, you will need various basic craft supply and cooking supplies, in order to complete the end-of-lesson activities. While I didn't read through all the activities, in the section we were using, the author had made sure to keep things simple, using easy-to-find ingredients (for example, when the historic recipe called for barley flour, the author adapted the recipe to use regular flour, though in that case, my children insisted we needed to be more authentic and get barley flour LOL).

Since we had ended our American History studies, last year, at the start of World War I, when we were asked to review this curriculum, we decided to start up where we had left off, and study World War I and II during the review period. As I expected, this curriculum went into much less detail than what my children are used to (did I mention that we spent 3 years and only made it to the start of WWI, obviously a one year curriculum would need to summarize more).

I considered having the girls read the text independently, but in the end, decided it was easier to just read it to them, so that all 3 of us could hear it at once. The reading was short, and easy enough that they would have been able to read it independently without any problem. An advantage of having the child read the book on her own would be being able to see the pictures and captions throughout each chapter. After reading the day's assignment, we discussed any timeline, art, music, or map activities included in the end-of-lesson section. We also listened to any famous speeches, etc, that were assigned. For the more time consuming hands-on activities, such as cooking, skits, crafts, etc. I had the girls choose one or two per week instead of trying to do them all.

I realized, going into this review, that any curriculum that covers all of American history in one year, wouldn't provide enough detail and specifics for Lexie and Ashlyn. They LOVE history, they love the details, as do I. However, I liked the idea of at least giving them an overview of WWI and WWII since we haven't really covered that time period yet. I made it clear to them, going into the review, that this wasn't going to cover the time period in depth, we will spend much more time on this time period when we get to this point in World History, but this seems like a great way to get a general idea of what happened, and they were agreeable to the idea.  Unfortunately, the lessons that gave an overview seemed to take more of a "bullet point" approach, that left my 5th graders scratching their heads in confusion, instead of understanding the wars better. On a positive note, it's encouraged them to show more interest in other books on the topic, to better understand the things mentioned in the lessons.

We did enjoy the cooking, and other hands-on projects. I had to laugh, my children are very big into "everything must be authentic" so were horrified when the "Libherty Cake" recipe had been adapted to use easier to find ingredients. Conveniently (I think) the original recipe was also shown, so I humored them and hunted down barley flour and maple sugar to make it authentic. It WAS yummy!

Listening to the musical selections from the time period was fun, and interesting . . . and left my girls scratching their heads . . . people LIKED that music? WHY?!?! Hee hee.

I was excited to see that art from each time period was also included, and expected that to be something that Ashlyn would especially like. We were both disappointed to find that there was no information provided about artists or art techniques. The art for this time period were mostly war posters, which could still be interesting, but unfortunately, no real information about the artwork was provided and the "discussion questions" for the artwork were simply asking the children to find things, like the soldier's hat, in the pictures.

The skits, that were suggested for the lessons we covered during the review period, required more participants than my 2 girls, so, while I included them as a possible hands-on project each week, my girls always chose other options. I think the skits could be a fun aspect for larger families and/or a co-op group.

While the map and timeline activities were easy enough to do, my girls felt they were "boring" and didn't encourage them to want to dig more deeply into the topics. Nor did they feel these activities would help them remember much about the time period.

All 3 of us preferred the lessons where the reading focused on a single topic, such as the nurses who were at Pearl Harbor, or a short biography of Roy Rodgers. These were interesting, and provided information that my children could understand, though I don't think my children would have enjoyed them in 1st or 2nd grade.

I found the curriculum required very little pre-planning. I can also see being able to simply hand the book to a 3rd-6th grader and let them do it independently, either assigning specific end-of-chapter things, or letting the child pick and choose. The only prep-work required would be for the crafts and cooking projects, but for the most part the needed supplies were things we had on hand.  Answer keys are included at the back of the textbook, so you can easily check your child's work, or let them check their own work.

Golden Prairie Press Review
Overall, I have to admit, I was disappointed, I was hoping to find a great resource that summarized American History in a way that young children can understand, and I don't feel this curriculum does that. However, if you have very little time to spend on history on a day-to-day basic, and want a curriculum that includes hands-on elements, this could be a good choice.  It could also be a good resource if you're looking for a summary of American history for yourself or an older student, who's learned the information in the past.

However, I also realize that our family is much more eclectic than many homeschoolers, and because of that, we don't always look for the same things in a curriculum as others. I'd strongly encourage you to read other reviews, click on the banner at the bottom of this review) to see what other families thought about this curriculum. I also encourage you to read over the vendor's sample (on the product page) to decide for yourself if you feel the level of detail and explanation will be a good fit for your child(ren).

Visit Golden Prairie Press on facebook.

Click to read Crew Reviews

All prices and information are accurate at time of posting.

Crew Disclaimer


Pam said...

What would you think for boys ages 9, 11, and 13?

I am so torn between Heroes and Heroines of the Past and America the Beautiful for next year.

Maybe H&H next year and AtB in 2 or 3 years?


LaRee B said...

Personally I prefer America the Beautiful. When not reviewing other things, we do our own, living books, history, loosely following Story of the World as a "spine", but when we reviewed America the Beautiful, I was tempted to switch to it, my kids wanted to stick with the living books route though.