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Simply ... Stated! and Simply ... Presidential! Review by Dawn Peterson

Katie Campbell and Sidney Douglass
Kreative Simplicity

2400 Cedar Downs Lane
Wichita, KS 67223

I don't know about you, but I consider myself to be a very uncreative mom who likes to keep learning uncluttered (meaning, I consider myself "allergic" to making salt dough maps with my kids or constructing the solar system from 28 different materials). Frankly, I didn't even know you could be creative and keep it simple! So when I saw these products, I was immediately intrigued!

Simply…Stated! and Simply…Presidential! were born out the desire of two homeschool moms, Katie Campbell and Sidney Douglass, to teach their children about U.S. geography and the presidents by not creating a unit study. On the back cover of both guides, they state their desire for "simplifying the input (number of topics to cover) and realizing the output (excitement, enjoyment, and enthusiasm for learning)." Both books, in this reviewer's opinion, meet those goals beautifully.

Simply…Stated! is recommended for grades 1-6. One state is studied per week at 30 minutes a day for three days. It could be completed in the course of a regular school year plus summer or divided equally over the course of two years with breaks in between.

With the guide itself, there is a short list of recommended resources to purchase (available through Kreative Simplicity). Then, along with a library card and a few photocopies that you make, you're all set. All the planning is done for you. On Day 1, you introduce the state (whichever one you want to begin with), direct map work and coloring, and read from one of the resources, Don't Know Much About the 50 States. On Day 2, there is a bit of review; then the child learns the state abbreviation through a creative and simple manner (keeping with the theme), finds the state in the recommended kid's road atlas, learns about its directional location, and reads the appropriate library book(s), which are listed by state in the guide. On Day 3, there's more review, after which the child labels a U.S. map with the state abbreviation, writes a sentence or paragraph about the facts learned, does a bit more reading, and plays the Fact Pack card game (also available through Kreative Simplicity). That's it! There's an optional Day 4, on which you may want to do some fun cooking together or delve deeper into the state through your library books, but that's up to you. For those who want more, a brief section in the beginning of the book lists various ideas you can use as a springboard for further study. However, the study is certainly complete as is.

The authors state, "What happened when we began this study? First of all, we thought we weren't doing enough. Sound familiar? We wondered if we should seek other resources, buy more books, or just have more for our children to do. We decided, however, to stick to our original intent and keep it simple. Our kids would at least be able to recognize state names and where they were located. What happened as we continued with this simple study? We discovered that simple teaching does not mean simple learning. Through carefully selected library books (both children and moms) were exposed to historical events, prominent people, political issues that have helped shape the nation, animal behaviors, weather conditions, as well as character developments in overcoming adversity, working together as a family, and appreciation of special times with loved ones. In our attempt to keep it simple, we allowed our children to digest a little at a time, but the retention and delight in learning was magnified! They actually looked forward to their state study!" How much I appreciated this and have found it to be true of my own children!

Simply…Presidential!, which is recommended for grades 3-8, is organized with the same structure as Simply…Stated, with the added features of a "Presidential Song" on CD and sturdy, blank timeline cards and figures that include brief facts. The song is catchy (to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy) and even comes with instrumental and performance renditions for those so inclined! And the timeline with figures to cut out is a wonderful timesaver!

One of the differences, the authors point out, in putting together the Simply…Presidential! guide was that there was not as much information available on each president as there was on the states. In order to accommodate this and still stick with keeping the plan simple, the scope of the study was expanded to included events and happenings during each presidential period.

When using their study, the authors state, "Unexpectedly, we found ourselves longing to better understand our system of government along with the responsibilities of being an American citizen." They go on to say, "We could sit down with our children to read together (hug, too!). We could learn (or relearn) about the Presidents. We were actually able to enjoy the privilege of having school at home!"

What I like most about this study, besides the fact that it's simple and requires so little teacher prep, is that it utilizes living books and allows the child to be an active participant in what is learned. It fits in perfectly with what we are trying to achieve in our children's education--interaction with real books that foster a love for learning.

That said, however, I know that not every format or program fits every family or child. What works wonderfully for one family may not be ideal for another. While these two guides (which are purchased separately) are doable without a good library nearby (or one with an interlibrary system), I know that I would find it frustrating to try to do without it. One way around it is to purchase some of the recommended library books, but with 50 plus books for the States guide and 43 for the Presidents (at a minimum of 1 each), it would be a stretch for most budgets. And even for those who could swing it financially, it might not be very practical. It's possible to do the study without the extra library books; however, the full benefit of these guides wouldn't be utilized.

Katie Campbell and Sidney Douglass have done a fantastic job of putting together two complete, enjoyable guides for studying the states and the presidents. As a simple, creatively-challenged homeschool mom, I highly recommend them!

Product review by Dawn Peterson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2008