Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Golden Prairie Press (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Jude adores American History.  He's been studying Colonial America and the Revolutionary War this year, and I think it's probably the highlight of the school day.   He's absolutely obsessed with the "George Washington and the Bluecoats," and Ben Franklin is his hero.  This coming summer, I'm planning to take the kids on a week-long Civil War battlefield tour.  At first he didn't want to go, but when he learned that we were going "where the Bluecoats beat the Graycoats," he was racing to pack his toothbrush.  (Please don't tell him the current Army uniforms are green!)  When the opportunity to study Heroes and Heroines of the Past American history curriculum from Golden Prairie Press by Amy Puetz came our way, I was thrilled.  Heroes and Heroines of the Past American History is a thirty week/full year history curriculum for 1st through 6th grades. It begins with the Native Americans and early explorers, and continues through to events of 2013.  To capitalize on Jude's current interests, we started with the American Revolution.

The lessons are adapted for the student's grade level.  First, there is a basic overview of the lesson written for younger students (about a page for 1st/2nd grade), followed by a more detailed text (2-3 pages) for those in grades 3 to 6.  However, not every lesson has two levels provided; depending on the topic, there may be a combined lesson text for all grades that may approach three pages.   Because Jude cannot read, I had to read everything to him.  This was a real struggle for him.  First, there was very little illustration of the story itself.  While there may have been an illustration with the text, it was a fairly static image, and not often something that helped explain the story.  Jude struggles to keep up with auditory learning when there isn't a detailed visual input, and this was no different.  Even when there was only one page to read, often we could only read a paragraph at a time, or repeat passages, for him to grasp the whole idea.  Even when he was familiar with the story (for example, Caesar Rodney's ride to cast a deciding vote for independence), he just couldn't remain focused long enough to hear it all.  Following the text, there is a set of comprehension questions that are appropriate for all levels.  I think these would be easier for a child who can read independently, because they would be able to refer back to the text and skim for the answer; Jude often struggled with them because he was dependent solely on memory.

Following each text, there was an activity to go along with the lesson.  The activities in this book include:  
  • Examining Historical Art
  • Games of the Past
  • Cook Up Some History
  • Sing Some History
  • Listen to Some History
  • Crafts
  • Experiments
Some of these were hits for us - examining art, cooking, and crafts are all among Jude's favorite activities.  Some were harder for him - singing and listening were not popular.  With nearly all of the lessons, there were writing activities, which we skipped over (I felt they were more appropriate for older students).  Many lessons also included map skills, which Jude really enjoyed.  I think what made some of this difficult is he is at the younger age (finishing first/beginning second grade).  I think a lot of these activities are really more appropriate for an older elementary student.  If we hadn't been asked to try out the activities, I would likely have skipped many of them because of his age.

To me, history is history, and I am admittedly suspicious when history is revised to reflect a particular viewpoint.  I didn't think there was too much revision in the sections we worked on, but noticed that there was a definite conservative and Christian viewpoint presenting the 20th century sections.   I don't have a problem with Christian viewpoint - in fact, the program Luke is using has a Biblical view. However, it presents historical events neutrally and not with any religious or political "spin." I feel there are several sections where there is a conservative political undertone, rather than a neutral facts presentation.

Included in the program are stories for further reading, with some of the literature edited by Amy Puetz to align it with her vision for this faith-based curriculum.  They were a bit above Jude's level,  so we looked at some books for younger students about the figures of the Revolution.  Had Jude been at a reading level that was more appropriate, or if we choose to use this for him in the future, I would definitely want to read and compare the original editions with the program edits.

This curriculum package costs $98.99 and is available as a digital download.  It includes three ebooks and three CD downloads:

Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 1 ebook
Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 2 ebook
Historical Skits ebook
Additional Materials Downloads CD
Sing Some History CD
Listen to Some U.S. History MP3 CD

    I really had hoped that this would be a program for Jude to move forward with as he finished his current course.  I think he did enjoy some of the activities, but the single-sensory presentation of the core lessons were a struggle for him.  The multisensory activities that went with the programs were easier for him, but they were really supplemental (cooking foods of the era) and not learning the actual historic events that shaped the United States.   If he was either a stronger reader or an auditory learner who could be read to, this would have been a more successful program for us.

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