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Winter Promise - American Story 1 Review by Michelle Gibson

Winter Promise

Have you ever created your own homeschool curriculum? If you have, you know it is a lot of work and takes time. If you are like me, you imagine what it will look like, but things don’t always go as planned. When I spend all my creative energy planning, I am often too tired to carry it out and disappointed if it doesn’t go as planned. I love offering fun hands-on activities, but it would be nice to focus my creative energy on actually doing the activities that will inspire my kids to love learning.

American Story 1 is part one of a two-year American History program from Winter Promise written for grades K through 7th. But it’s not your ordinary curriculum. It’s designed to help your learner experience American history through a variety of learning methods. Your student will read, look at, listen to, and experience American history in a new and exciting way. They will talk about what they are learning, examine period art, and do hands-on activities with the help of a well-written plan.

Built around Charlotte Mason’s ideals of learning with living books, geography lessons, narration, and good character habits, Winter Promise uses these methods and more to include reading, listening, discussing, and applying what you’ve learned with interactive notebook style pages, hands-on projects, paper crafts, games, history-based science experiments, and more. Your learner will experience history with crafts, online websites, games, and videos. Thus, Winter Promise presents American history in a Charlotte Mason-friendly way with plenty of ways for your student to experience what they are learning about.

The American Story Guide does not include specific notes for the books, so there are no comprehension questions, no vocabulary lists, and no tests. However, they don’t leave you hanging if you prefer a more traditional route with grades. They offer suggestions on how to grade Charlotte Mason-inspired work, including a sample grading checklist that I loved. Ever wonder why Charlotte Mason didn’t like grading systems? She wanted to encourage the love of learning to make kids want to learn, but Winter Promise gives some great suggestions that are smart and practical if this is for you.

Key components of American Story 1:

The printed American Story Guide is a 198-page, three-hole-punched guide that has a weekly schedule, teaching tips, suggested resources, answer keys, and more. It shows you how to teach multiple learning styles and gives you tips on how to stay organized and how to record keep, along with narration tips and ideas in the first 68 pages before you get to an overview of American Story 1 and the weekly schedule. There is a parent/family schedule as well as an independent-study schedule for students who like a checklist of their own. My son, Bo, who is six and in the 1st grade, was highly motivated by having his own checklist.

The American Story texts include “Discovery, Colonial, and Revolution” and “New Country, Lewis and Clark, and Westward Expansion.”“Discovery, Colonial, and Revolution” is 372 pages long and is gorgeous. It is in full color and beautifully designed and illustrated. It is a soft cover, spiral-bound textbook that is well done and very thorough in content. It starts out with what it was like in North America when it was first discovered, and we learn about Native Americans and their tribes. Then we learn about the Vikings; Christopher Columbus; and Spanish, French, and Dutch explorers. When we get to Colonization, we learn all about the towns, the colonies, and the people up through the American Revolution. We not only learn about colonial trades and who the colonists traded with, but also the everyday life of the colonists and their scientific discoveries. It is history at its finest for the little American who wants to know what his life may have looked like, if he was born during that time.

The American Story Journals are 224 and 234 pages long, are three-hole punched, and have a notebook feel to them; however, the journals also include interactive cut-and-paste activities, worksheets, ready-to-go activities, games, science experiments, and more. These are fun, engaging, and perfect for any homeschooler who loves the variety they offer.

The “Live the American Story” activity book is a 53-page, soft-cover, spiral-bound guide full of weekly activities, games, project ideas, and links to educational websites, online games, and virtual field trips. Your learner will experience what they’ve learned with crafts, recipes, projects, and more. We saw images of Christopher Columbus’ ships, visited a Viking village, and became captain of the Jamestown colony in Virginia to see if our colony would survive under our leadership. Not all sites were this interactive, but these were my son’s favorites. The e-book version is handy to have for clicking on hyperlinks, if you’d rather avoid typing in long web addresses, which can be tedious. I like having a book in my hand, but in this case, it was nice to have a PDF with hyperlinks. Furthermore, the Internet is dynamic, and links are always changing, so it was easier and quicker to click a link rather than type out a web address.

Build the American Story is a 261-page set of quality, printable cardstock crafts that you print, cut, and build. These projects require paper cardstock, a sharp knife, scissors, tape, and parental help. Children can set the scene for learning with these projects. They will build their own New England pier complete with fishing boats, a plantation, town square, a colonial home, shops, and more.

Flip & Fold Maps is a 65-page set of printable interactive paper maps to teach geography in a fun, hands-on way. The maps include ships, people, and other figures that you fold so they stand up. Your child can play with the maps before gluing them down.

Early American Artists is an interactive picture study resource for you to look at and discuss the works of John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, and Thomas Cole. If you have never done a picture study before, this book will walk you through step by step to show you how in a very relevant way. For example, when we studied John Trumbull’s Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, we studied the same painting for three weeks. It is an in-depth study that is gentle but challenging, and by the end of the study, it will ask your child to sketch their own version of the painting without looking.

The Bible study uses The Gospel Story Bible, Long Story Short, and Christian Character Traits for Kids. Native American Games which is a resource to learn about Native American Culture and the games they played is also scheduled in the guide, along with timeline cards for review, drill, and playing games.

The American Story text is the spine of the program, but Adventure Readings offer a variety of historical non-fiction books to bring history alive. They include options for younger students, older students, and a combination of both. Since I am using this with my six-year-old, we followed the plan for younger students and read The Birchbark House during the review period. The guide schedules NayaNuki for both the older students and a combination of both older and younger. Other Adventure Reading books scheduled include Pedro’s Journal, The Sign of the Beaver, Ben and Me, and many more. The program itself doesn’t require any more readings, but library suggestions are given for students who enjoy reading more about the topics presented. These are not scheduled, but the title of the book, author, and the week it correlates is given, so if you feel the need to beef up this program, you are given the tools to do so. You are not left on your own in any way with this program. In fact, there’s more. The guide also includes suggested videos and DVDs, field trips, books, and events to enhance your experience.

Winter Promise offers both e-book packages that start at $199 and printed packages that start at $349. All printed resources from Winter Promise are professionally printed on high-quality glossy paper. Though Winter Promise does offer all their exclusives as PDF downloads in their e-book packages, I could not print such high quality at home. The texts are spiral bound, but the journals are three-hole which is perfect for adding to a binder as you go.

This program is amazing when you look at all the components; consider all that it offers; and see how well thought out, scheduled, and full it is. However, it is a little overwhelming until you dig in and see how it all flows together and makes sense.

The biggest concern will be choosing what to do or not do, but you will figure this out as you go. You could try to do it all or take a relaxed approach. I would urge you to find a happy balance between the two. Even if you have the time, energy, and excitement, you will find that there are more options than you need. I loved the permission to scale back or to even schedule things in. The freedom and flexibility are nice.

While learning opportunities abound with active learning and open-and-go activities, many of the paper crafts involve a lot of cutting which was too much for my student, too much for me, and involved lots of glue. You will want to have a good pair of scissors, keep glue sticks on hand, and be willing to help. The guide does offer suggestions on how to recruit help to share the workload and join in the fun. It also encourages you to adapt the program to fit your needs. You can adapt and scale back, but you won’t need to add anything at all as far as activities go.

I love how the activities are all planned and scheduled. All I had to do was print the pages, and we were ready to create. Most of the activities are paper crafts that required coloring, cutting and pasting, or drawing. Some projects need more preparation or supplies, such as baking hardtack, but a recipe and full directions are given, and the go-along projects are scheduled in the guide.

The crafts all seem relevant to what we are learning. Just in our first week, we colored a map of Native American Tribes and learned about each one, made our own pictographs, decorated a paper Zuñi pot, made a paper Pueblo village, made a Ball and Triangle game, read about Eric the Red and his son Leif, cut and pasted a Viking house, traced the route of the Vikings with a Flip & Fold map, followed Christopher Columbus to the New World, baked hard tack, and read 4 chapters of The Birchbark House for our Adventure Reading.

We did all the activities the first week just to get a feel for the American Story schedule. The schedule is packed full of activities and projects that enrich the program. There are plenty of them to choose from. It is full, but flexible—you choose what you want to do.

During our second week, we did not do every activity. We did a Flip & Fold map of the Spanish Explorers and created a paper diorama of the Jamestown Settlement; picked out what 15 items we would take on a trip to America as a new colonist; and planned a Thanksgiving meal, which included similar foods native to our Western region, such as lake trout, venison, wheat flour for bread from a local farm, and local raw honey. But we did not do all the Flip & Fold maps this week. I printed them all, but Bo wanted to do the Jamestown Settlement activity from the journal since it was in full color. When we came to the Draw a Sea Monster page in the journal while learning about Christopher Columbus, we read that his men were afraid to travel the seas for fear of sea monsters, so I couldn’t resist watching 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Bo. He was excited when, at the beginning, it told the same story we just learned. We did not have access to the suggested DVDs, but that’s the beauty of this program—it’s adaptable to fit your family.

My son is 6 and in the 1st grade; however, he seemed a little young for this program. He’s a very active little boy, so the readings were long and boring for him. If he had his hands busy cutting out the paper crafts, I could read straight from the text, and he’d listen well. But he was prone to wiggle more often than not and needed my help to cut, so I would read the text myself and then give him an overview of the content, going into more detail on the concepts that interested him. In a family setting, I would have read the text to the older kids and then included him in the discussion as we recapped the information. I personally found the content interesting and thorough. This is just what I was looking for when we started studying American History two years ago.

At one point not too long ago in my homeschool journey, this would have been the perfect curriculum for me. I wanted all of this—the journals, the paper crafts, the historical fiction books, and all the hands-on activities and projects this program entails. I would have been happy to use this as is without any tweaking because there’s really no need to tweak it. The program offers so much flexibility and options already. However, after years of trying to do this on my own, all the planning has worn me out. Perhaps if I had found Winter Promise sooner, I wouldn’t have gotten so burnt out.

So, if asked if I would buy this program, I would say yes because it was just what I was looking for back then. I am not in a season full of time and energy now, but if I were, I would absolutely buy this. When my 5th and 7th graders study American History again in a few years, Bo will still be young enough to use this program. I want him to experience the joy that this type of learning offers without all the work I went through to do this with my other two. Elli, my 5th grader now, will be my helper when that time comes. I will recruit her to share the workload and join in the fun as the guide suggests.

Winter Promise’s American Story 1 offers a rich literature-based Charlotte Mason education with plenty of hands-on activities, picture study, living books, and notebook activities. It is rich, interactive, and fun. It is a well-organized, hands-on American History program that has done all the planning for you.

-Product review by Michelle Gibson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2017