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You won’t find many bad reviews on this blog. When I review a product it is 99% of the time one I have sought out myself, rather than one a company has pitched to me. I’ve usually done enough research on forums, blogs, and social media to have an idea of how it will work and if I might like it. I don’t seek out products or companies that I know I’ll hate. It just wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone involved. Plus, I like talking about products I love.
That being said, sometimes a product just doesn’t work like I hoped it would. But you still won’t find mudslinging on this blog. The reason a product doesn’t work for us might be the very thing someone else is looking for so I try to keep an open mind.
I recently had the opportunity to review a curriculum that I had researched for some time and just KNEW I would love. I was so excited when Beautiful Feet Books agreed to let me review two of their guides. I received the guides for Early American History: A Literature Approach for Primary Grades and Teaching Character Through Literature for Primary and Intermediate Grades. I opened them right up, ready to lesson plan and get to work. I quickly found that I had issues. Issues with the product that would hinder me using it as is. I actually had a fundamental issue with some of the content in the history guide, which was a first for me. Sometimes I don’t love a product after a while because we grow out of it or we’re ready to move to a new thing. But an issue with content is a whole other animal.
I was taken aback. I didn’t want to NOT like it. I didn’t want to have issues with it because, a.) I had done my research and thought it would be the PERFECT curriculum and b.) I knew I had to tell the truth about our personal experience with the product and I was kind of dreading it.
That’s just the truth. I didn’t want to say, “I don’t like it.”
So I stalled. I’ve needed to write this review post for some time but I just kept putting it off. I even told friends over coffee what my issues were and got their input to see if I was being ridiculous. I mulled it over and wrung my hands and re-read the product a billion times. And here’s where I stand on the final review:
Early American History: A Literature Approach for Primary Grades
The guides from Beautiful Feet Books are meant to be used in conjunction with popular children’s books. Living books make up the bulk of the curriculum with the guides serving as a teacher’s jumping off point for teaching the material. The guides are gentle and flexible in nature, leaving a lot of room to adapt the material to the needs of the child.
“Our Early American History: A Literature Approach is a read-aloud program built upon the philosophy of Charlotte Mason. Thus, the living-books in this study have been chosen for their recognized place in the canon of children’s literature, their artistic beauty, and the sheer pleasure they bring children.”
Sounds right up my alley, right?
The guide is organized into individual lessons giving the teacher the option to complete the study in one or two years. Completing 3 lessons per week takes one full school year. One to two lessons per week completes the study in two years. So you can really get a lot out of one study guide.
The student keeps a notebook throughout the lessons that includes pictures, maps, reports, poetry, and copy work. As each work of literature is read, the student and the teacher discuss what they are learning through questions presented by the study guide.
Lesson 1 begins with a reading from d’Aulaire’s Leif the Lucky. It’s a beautiful book! I’ve wanted it for years. And it lived up to all my expectations and then some. (I get a little excited about good children’s books if you haven’t noticed.)
Lesson 1 is titled “We Are Made For A Unique Purpose” and includes scripture, Jeremiah 1:5 and Ephesians 2:10.
Now, let me go ahead and point out that I was aware beforehand that this is a christian focused company. There were no surprises there. And, in general, I do not have a problem with a christian slant as I am, in fact, a christian. But, as you know religion and theology can be very delicate subjects and there are a lot of perspectives.
The lesson begins by asking the teacher to introduce and discuss the belief of a unique purpose. Fairly benign, right? No big deal. But then it asks the teacher to discuss Leif Erikson’s uniqueness and the important task God called him to – the discovery of the North American continent about 1000 A.D.
This made me a little uneasy because “God’s calling” is something I’m personally very sensitive about. But I tried not to bring my own issues into the product. I simply passed over this part of the lesson and carried on with the rest of the material. I chalked it up as a difference of opinion. Without getting into a lengthy history debate here, while the viking sagas note that Leif converted to christianity after meeting with King Olaf of Norway, there are differing versions of the sagas and their facts are often a topic of hot debate. The sagas were passed down by word of mouth and much of written viking history was recorded after the time period it talks about. I just wasn’t sure about the “calling to discover the America’s” portion.
The lessons go on to discuss christian character and virtue and they are fairly consistent with incorporating scripture. No big deal really, as we often incorporate scripture into our copy work to give meaning to a mundane task.
But lesson 12 is where we stalled out. In lesson 11 Columbus is introduced through another book by the d’Aulaires. It is gorgeous just like the last one and I had no complaints about the picture book. Lesson 11 discusses the instruments Columbus used to navigate, how he read the stars, and the differences in the world of Columbus compared to the world in Leif Erikson’s time. All very business as usual history-wise.
But, in lesson 12 it reads:
“Reaching the east by sailing west, Columbus feels called by God to bring the Gospel and to find the vast riches of these new lands.”
And then I was stuck. I had to stop and ask myself how I would teach this. It left a bitter taste in my mouth to think about Columbus “being called by God.” All I could think was, this guy was the worst! He was greedy and treated people badly and had a terrible sense of direction and I’m not even sure why we celebrate him! (We’ve never really wanted to teach “the beaten path” of history as you can tell. It’s one of the many benefits we see in homeschooling.)
I did not like this at all. I felt uneasy about calling getting lost and enslaving people a “calling from God.”
But I took a step back and re-read the sentence,
“…Columbus feels called by God…”
The author of the guide isn’t saying that SHE feels Columbus was called by God. She’s just asking the teacher and student to discuss the fact that Columbus might’ve spun it this way.
It took me several readings through the lesson on Columbus and a lot of outside research before I could look at the material objectively. The author of the guide goes on to ask other questions like,
“During the voyage was Columbus completely honest with his men?”
“Did the men of this expedition use their opportunity for spreading the Gospel? Or did they pursue other ventures?”
“What was Columbus’ greatest weakness?”
All very valid questions. All very thought-provoking, really. Because the truth is, a lot of history involves religion. And all of history involves people. And a lot of times those people bent their religion to their will and desire. It’s an ugly truth and it’s hard to talk about sometimes. And it’s what made me so defensive when I saw the words “Columbus” and “called by God” in the same sentence.
But, what the guide offered up was an opportunity to discuss prejudice and greed and personal gain at the expense of others. It provided an opportunity to discuss how people often use God to justify their bad decisions. More importantly it opened up a line of discussion on how history can be shaped by the storytellers. And it all depends on if the storyteller is the winner, the loser, or an outsider looking in. And that it’s important to get information from a lot of different sources.
Whoa. The author of this guide is a sneaky genius!
That’s a lot of learning we did in just 12 short lessons!
There are 106 lessons in all. And while I was ready to toss it aside very quickly after those first 12 lessons, I have grown to love it again and we will continue to use it throughout the year as a compliment to our other history curriculum. I’m glad that I took the time to stop and really observe closely what we were learning. It’s so easy sometimes to crack open a curriculum and read it verbatim, just going through the motions. This history guide commanded my attention. I’m glad I kept an open mind.
Teaching Character Through Literature
Now, I know you just sat through a whole review bit on the history study guide, but bear with me here, I’m on a roll.
The Teaching Character Through Literature guide includes a book list of about 22 books for primary readers (or read-alouds if your child is not reading yet) and about 16 books for intermediate readers. There is a favorite authors list with suggested titles at the beginning of the primary and intermediate sections as well. The books are suggestions for “opening your child’s eyes to the wonderful worlds that await them in literature” and include characters meant to model good behavior or warn of the dangers of bad decisions, hence the title “Teaching Character Through Literature.” The study guide portion with talking points and questions however is not a comprehensive guide for each title listed within the guide. The author of the guide has selected some of the titles for the lessons. Those titles are the 12 books included in the package you see online. The other books not included in the study notes are meant to be read and enjoyed but you must come up with your own talking points should you desire them. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, just one that you should be aware of when considering how little or how much planning you want to incorporate after buying this guide. The good news is that it introduces you to many more titles beyond the 12 included in the package, allowing you to do as much or as little as you like. I like products that give me flexibility and open-ended options. Sometimes we breeze right through a curriculum because one or both of the kids decides to have a developmental growth spurt right after ordering. So, it’s nice when a product says, “Hey, here’s some more stuff you can do if you decide you want to. No pressure.”
The format is similar to that of the history guide with each lesson including a book to read, a discussion question, a scripture verse or quote, and a follow-up book suggestion if the author has included one.
We do not own all the books on the list but many are popular titles so they have been easy to find at the library. I’ve even stumbled upon some of them at Goodwill!
Keep an eye out for more reviews of their many guides here. I’ve got my eye on their science and geography guides as well. They’ve even collaborated with Institute for Excellence in Writing for one of their geography products! We’ve been huge IEW fans since we started homeschooling and still use them every single day! I’m sure I’ll end up telling you about both of these guides at some point.
And, just FYI, I’m a Thriftbooks/Amazon/Goodwill guru when it comes to finding deals on books. I’ve put many hours into researching the cheapest ways to get my hands on the classic titles that go along with Beautiful Feet Books study guides. While I have found single titles cheaper in various places at different times, I have not been able to put together a complete literature package + shipping for less than the packages offered at Beautiful Feet Books. Taking into consideration the condition of the book, shipping, taxes, and the ridiculous amount of time invested to hunt them all down, only to save mere pennies (and sometimes not saving at all), it’s worth it to get them from Beautiful Feet Books. I just haven’t found complete packages cheaper anywhere else.
Have you used Beautiful Feet Books before? I’d love to hear your experiences.