American History, Anyone?

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I think I am searching for something that doesn’t exist. I mean, really, you’d think as long as I’ve been at this homeschooling thing, I’d know if it was out there…but there’s lots of stuff out there, so I thought I would ask.

I want an American History curriculum that:

  • Is literature-based
  • Has lots of great hands-on activities and projects, but not of the lapbook or History Pockets variety (not my kids’ thing)
  • Includes daily lesson plans – or at least some suggestions
  • Focuses on early-American explorers, such as Daniel Boone, through the American Revolution
  • Geared toward grades 4-6
  • Includes great text or suggests a great spine to tie everything together

I’ve looked at a bunch of stuff today. I think I’m going end up writing my own, but that sounds so daunting right now. Anybody know of anything that fits the bill? Anyone have any fantastic American History curriculum you want me to review?


Edited Feb. 21, 2013 to add: This post always gets a lot of traffic and it always surprises me because it was just a question – a desperate cry for help (though there are tons of great suggestions in the comments).

I just clicked on this post to re-read it because sometimes I wonder, “What did I say?”

I had to laugh reading it…because it’s like I was writing out my prescription for Trail Guide to Learning. It’s exactly what I was looking for! No wonder we love it so much.

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. I'm a historian and homeschooler, and I haven't found a U.S. history curriculum I'm 100% happy with yet either.  I'm continuing to look, but I'm also thinking of writing something myself.

      1. Yes, did you read the “edited to add” portion at the bottom? It includes the link to what we’re using now. We love it.

    1. Not sure if this really fits the bill for anyone, but I think I will try out Elemental History’s Adventures in America. My child will be in first grade next year and the curriculum says geared toward early elementary (doesn’t sound like it would be great for 4th grade, but perhaps approx. K-2nd?? based on the description). Wanted to share in case someone else wanted to consider it.

  2. This year will be my first year homeschooling, so I'm just going to throw this out there because I'm still trying to figure this whole homeschool thing out! Maybe David Barton of Wallbuilders would have some resourses you could use? I don't think they have a curriculum, but I know he has done a lot of videos, and I'm thinking maybe he has some things you could pick from to make lesson plans. Just a thought 🙂 Also, I am thankful to have found your blog as we start this homeschool journey!

  3. If you find it, please let me know. My middle child loves history. He needs more hands-on activities. This is not a curriculum, but my son loves the History Channel.

  4. Me too! We've just been winging it with Johnny Tremain for Rev War and Red Badge and Across Five Aprils for Cival War. And books that we've checked out from the library…. I'd like something a little more organized and accessible.

  5. I wish I could help you.  Have you looked at Story of the World?  I am trying that for the first time, but then again you want American history.  I hope you find something.

  6. Have you ever looked at Homeschool in the Woods' Time Travelers series?  They have several different ones starting with Explorers and going through the Depression.  They have lots of hands on projects and activities but unfortunately it isn't literature-based.  It has its own text pages, but you could easily supplement with literature.  It might even have recommended literature in the teacher's guide, I can't remember.  We used a couple of them a few years ago and enjoyed them.  Didn't you use History Odyssey last year?  Are you not using it again this year?  Just curious because we started using that last year and are continuing this year finishing up the Middle Ages one (Renaissance) and then moving into Early Modern.  And I'm bummed that they don't have the level 3 yet for the Early Modern so I'm going to have to improvise a bit for my  14 yo son.  I'll be interested to see what you end up using. 

  7. Have you tried the Notgrass America the Beautiful? Technically written for middle schoolers, but you can order just the first half of the curriculum at CBD, and I am using it with a middle and "pre"middler this year. . .lots of pictures, lots of beautiful maps, great timeline, and optional workbooks(the one geared toward younger kids really looks fun!). . . it also has lit tie-ins that are scheduled for you. I think you could slow it down if it was too much.

    They have extensive samples on their site.
    I'm quite excited about starting with it. (can you tell?) 🙂

  8. Have you looked at Tapestry of Grace? We are just starting to use year 1 but I know one of the older years has an American History units, I think I read it was Year 2, units 2 &3 AND Year 3, units 1&2.  Hope that's helpful.

  9. Have you looked at Tapestry of Grace?  It is literature based, lots of hands on activity choices and choices of spine as well.  The only thing it doesn't do is break it's weekly suggestions down in to a daily plan.  It's a history buffet to pick and choose from. It is flexible enough that it is almost like doing my own planning, but not entirely from scratch.  For the time period you are looking for You would do Year 2 Units2, 3, 4 and Year 3 Unit 1 – that would take a whole school year (36 weeks).

    Good luck!

  10. I’ve been home schooling for over 15 years, and still have not found an Am Hist. program that I like….
    let me know if you find something you like….

  11. Sonlight with the Hands and Hearts History Kits.   Sonlight literature is top notch.  It's easy to add to without much effort.

    Winter Promise is literature based with some hands on but I won't recommend them.   I've used some of their notebooking and other activities and found them to be riddled with glaring errors.  

    Thinking it was a fluke, I ordered a full package for our year off SL.  (Nothing wrong with SL, I just wanted to hold off the core 5 workload until middle school.)  Biggest mistake of my life.  It's been 5 months and my order still isn't complete.  And the IG is a hot mess of errors.  Most recent, I found a book scheduled for 5 weeks and I couldn't find it on my shelf.  I checked their website to see if it was another one they forgot to ship and it wasn't there either.  Turns out that they're not using it anymore but they didn't reprint their IGs to indicate that.

  12. I'm sure you've looked at it, but Core D from Sonlight seems to have everything you're looking for:
    Is literature-based [Check]
    Has lots of great hands-on activities and projects, but not of the lapbook or History Pockets variety (not my kids’ thing) [New Core Tips CD – Check]
    Includes daily lesson plans – or at least some suggestions [Check]
    Focuses on early-American explorers, such as Daniel Boone, through the American Revolution [The program is a bit broader than that, so perhaps it's not as focused on certain things as you're looking for, but… Check]
    Geared toward grades 4-6 [Check]
    Includes great text or suggests a great spine to tie everything together [Check]Granted, I'm biased when it comes to Sonlight, but it was a fantastic program when I used it [smile]. ~Luke

  13. We used Paths of Exploration last year, from Geography Matters.  It is part of their Trail Guide to Learning.  It might be just what you are looking for.  It is multi-grade, and they are working on a whole series that will go through high school.  The second one is out, also, and is called Paths of Settlement. 

  14. Have you looked at the A History of US books?  You could use those as a guide to pull your own curriculum.  Reading what you want from A History of US and adding extra novels/books and activities as you want.  It would not include daily lesson plans but you could figure out how many weeks you want to cover and decide upon that amount (or double if you want to do 2 each week) of  chapter, people, or events and there you go.

  15. We did American History last year for 4th grade and had to put it together ourselves. It worked out fine, but it was a lot of trial and error. We did find a good fictional history series (American Adventure). We did do a few lap books and did lots of field trips. Our best friends live in Boston so we went for a visit 🙂

  16. I hope you find something, Kris! I know what you mean. When we do American History it's mostly pieced together with odds and ends. Nothing specific. But ironically, the kids have learned a lot! I'm using The Complete Book of US History (Grades 3-5) with my younger two this coming year, reading it aloud to them while they do Draw Write Now: Sea-to-Shining-Sea (a drawing/handwriting book). We'll also watch American: The Story of Us videos from the History Channel and other videos we've recorded as well as read books from the library and perhaps do some notebooking.

  17. Have you looked at Winter Promise?  I so wanted to do it this year but being that it's our first year, I was a little overwhelmed by where we should start on history and ended up going with Story of the World.  I'm hoping it will be a good fit for us!  I think when it comes time for the period in history, we will definitely be doing Winter Promise.  It's a little pricey but it's cheaper if you buy all the books from Amazon, I checked it out.  Good luck and please keep us posted if you do write your own curriculum!!!

  18. You know from my America: The Story of Us post that I ended up building my own curriculum. I always start with a piece of literature and build from there. It's surprisingly easy to do because there are just so many ideas out there! I just couldn't find what I wanted, to fit our specific needs, so I had to build my own. Time consuming, but in the end we will enjoy it so much more! And, it was almost free.

  19. I'm considering WinterPromise's American Crossing for my 4th and 6th grade boys this fall.  It would appear we have similar hopes/expectations and WP just might be it.  I'm hoping so, anyway.

  20. First, I'm an avid reader of your blog. 🙂  Thought I'd better get my confession out of the way!  I just don't post comments that often (or ever).  Second, this post echoes my frustrations with finding an American History curriculum that works for K-3rd grade!   I want all of the same things you are looking for only I want the lessons to focus on PEOPLE rather than events.  I figure it's easier to relate to and remember history through people's lives…But most curriculums I've found for the younger grades start right up with Ancient History and cover the whole world at once — and talk about obscure peoples that my children cannot relate to at all.  I also wanted to add that I'm a Christian — I'm very religious — , but I felt like the history curriculums out there kind of force-feed religion in every single lesson.  I want to be the one to decide how we'll cover religion in our schooling….So, out of all of that frustration, I am creating my own American History curriculum for my young children. 

    One website, though, that I used as a guide for myself that you might find very useful (and it's FREE!) is called Guest Hollow (  This woman has put together a free American History curriculum geared around 2nd-6th grade.  She has book suggestions, notebooking pages, hands-on activity suggestions, and other printables.   She does like some cut-and-paste activities, but because these are her suggestions, you can substitute those activities for whatever you like. 

    Oh, boy I rambled!!  Well, I hope something I said was helpful! 🙂

  21. The two I know of best are: from Bright Ideas Press: All American History.  I think Jolanthe used that last year.

    We're starting to use Homeschool in the Woods: Time Traveler.  But, it's not literature based, it does however have a lot of projects and some great lapbook and notebook features in it.

  22. I did look at the Time Traveler series, but it looked like most of the
    activities were lapbook-type things, which my kids don't enjoy. We did use
    History Odyssey last year but it, like Story of the World, is world history
    and I really want to delve into American history.

  23. We've used Story of the World extensively over the course of our homeschool
    journey. I enjoy it, but, like you said, I'm looking to really spend some
    time on American history.

  24. I've looked at Notgrass in the past, but it's always looked rather dry to
    me. I may have to look at it again at our upcoming curriculum fair since a
    couple of people have mentioned using and enjoying it.

  25. Aren't the Hands and Hearts things very lapbook-y? My kids don't enjoy
    lapbooks, history pockets, etc. I'll have to look again.

  26. Yes, it was another one I spent a lot of time looking at yesterday. I'm not
    sure that it's completely off the table yet.

  27. Yes, I spent some time looking at them yesterday. If I wind up winging it,
    those books will probably provide the spine for our study.

  28. I looked at it yesterday. I can't remember why right now, but it didn't look
    like a good fit for us. I may have to look again.

  29. Yes, I spent some time re-reading your post yesterday. That may be something
    I seriously consider. Right now it's the time consuming part on the planning
    that's holding me back. I want something that I'm fairly confident we'll
    stick with all year.

  30. I totally agree with you about focusing on people. The most memorable
    studies we've done have focused on historical fiction books about people who
    lived during the period studied or well-written, engaging biographies. I
    hear you, too, on some of the Christian-based studies. I was looking at one
    yesterday that sounded good until I started reading reviews of the spine
    book on Amazon.

    Of course, it appeared to primarily be non-Christians bashing the book, but
    they pointed out specific examples of errors in quotes. While I want my kids
    to have a strong faith and know that God didn't just drop out of history
    once the Old Testament ended, I also don't want them learning something as
    fact that is clearly an error historically. They'll have a hard enough time
    defending their faith as adults as it is without basing their defense on
    misquotes and errors. And, of course, there are people who will think that
    their entire faith is based on error, but that's a whole 'nother post. 🙂

    Anyone, somone else mentioned Guest Hollow and it's something that I hadn't
    heard of, so I'm going to check it out today. Thanks for mentioning it.

  31. Yes, All-American History is one I'm considering. Thanks for mentioning it.
    I figure if I can find a decent spine, I don't have any problem adding my
    own literature in.

  32. Have you looked at the free curriculum from  It has some great suggestions of fiction/non-fiction books.  It is geared to 3rd grade, but it easily adaptable.  It does use History Pockets, but you could just substitute with projects from the many project books available at the library (Jamestown projects, colonial projects, pioneer projects, etc.)  I will be using this next year and adding in the projects, but I have a 3rd grade girl who loves to cut and paste :).

  33. I pieced my own together from many different resources. Living books, a free lapbook here and there, books with activities, cooking and crafts, etc. If you would like me to email a list of all the resources I've used for American History so far, I'd be glad to send it to you. My email is lynns @ dslextreme(dot)com

  34. we enjoy tapestry of grace, but since we aren't on the american history section i really can't comment on that portion.  i hope you find something or at least find the time to write your own 😉

  35. I use Truthquest and design my own program.  She basically lists each event with books that go with it.  A Journey through learning has lapbook, notebook, and timelines etc to go with the younger kids version.  I use Truthquest's older version and gear it down for my little ones.  They all use the notebook pages, although because the notebook pages are geared for the little kids not every event has a page.  I also love History through the Ages by Christine Miller.  She lists every major event and pages and pages of books to with it.  The books are divided by age group and by type:fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.  Also for each major thing, like the Revolution, she gives a nice timeline.  Hope this helps!

  36. I've got the TQ American History guide sitting on my table. 😉 I love it
    for the book lists, but I'm looking for a bit more guidance/structure for
    the year. I've got the History Through the Ages timeline figures. Love

  37. Ok, trying not to duplicate other's recommendations and adjut my response to your other comment responses! 🙂 I haven't used but have seen recommended All American History by Bright Ideas Press. It is SUPPOSED to be set up similar to SOTW or MOH, with lessons to read through, recommended activities and literature. It's geared towards the "middles". I have read good reviews for it, they have a yahoo group if you want more info. See link.
    OR choose a literature based or spine curriculum and add Hands and Hearts History Kits I am wanting to use these this year (ancient hist for us). They come with supplies – read about them – they look amazing. Not the cheapest but I believe still a good deal for what you get. This gives a ready-to-go hands-on aspect, not lapbooking (but they do provide notebook pages to use if desired) and you don't have to hunt for supplies!
    OR you can choose a spine, then add literature and the activity kits. A spine I have heard good things about is A History of US by Joy Hakim (I have seen these for really cheap at Scholastic sales!). Kingfisher, Usborne and Dorling Kindersley also all publish books that could be wonderful spine books.
    I personally would choose a spine, then use Beautiful Feet for the literature and the history kits.:-) But if you find a good spine so you are comfortable that you won't miss any important events – then use the library to fill in literature for the main topics, and the history kits for hands-on.

  38. My other post was too long so I am doing this other idea separately! A while back History channel published "America: The Story of US". It was available free to all schools and homeschools. If you didn't get it you can buy, use netflix or library for it. There is a blog post on how one mom used it and built her curriculum around it!
    Haven't looked much into it so can't say what methods she uses. But I have the dvd from when they offered it free, so noticed the post topic!

  39. I just saw this after my other post. NO they are not lapbook at all! They are painting, collage, beading – they are craft projects. The ones I am looking at are ancient history so American kits have different activities. But we're talking making seneca game, painting dolls, etc. They provide notebook pages if you want them. But the activities are more like making arts and crafts that apply to the time period and location! Check it out!

  40. Guest Hollow has a free American History curriculum for free. It includes lots of living books and hands on activities. These include history pockets but you could skip those, there are plenty of other activities to chose from.

    Or Queen Homeschool supplies offers "A Living History Of Our World" that includes notebook pages and some crafts. In the books are suggestions for other living  books to go along with it.

  41. Kris, we used SonLight's curriculum for 3rd-4th. I'm sure you're familiar with it. My kids really enjoyed the readers and the read-a-louds. My 12yo enjoyed them so much, she's read some of these herself since. It also included The Story of the USA books. These were short lessons with tests. I remember a great lesson about housing during the rush out west and Whitney's inventions (not just the cotton gin).

  42. Did you look at Winter Promise? It sounds pretty close. Beautiful Feet has no hands-on. You'd have to add that in.
    I know what you mean about looking for the "perfect" curriculum. Doesn't exist. That's why 90% of us say we're "eclectic." That's just a way of saying we design our OWN!

  43. I would be more than happy to help in any way, if you end up going that route. I am planning for a 2nd grader and 9th grader, however. And we are doing LOTS of notebooking and hands-on stuff, memorization, writing assignments, etc.

  44. Sometimes the easiest thing is just to do your own thing. I would get a book list going and work off of that. I have a project book that would go well with this time period- I will see if I can find it so that I can share the name of the title.

  45. You might check out Hewitt Homeschooling and see if they might have what you are looking for. I have not used their History but I use their Literature and like it very much. I used Notgrass for Georgia history and felt "ripped" off because the book consisted of poorly made photo copies. I refuse to use their materials again. Check out Hewitt Homeschooling. 

  46. While it's a lower grade level than what you are seeking, Elemental History might give you some good ideas. 

  47. I haven't read all of the comments, but I felt like I was reading my own conundrum  with American History. I found the most beautiful and perfect curriculum with A Living History of Our World by Angela O'Dell. It's available at Queen and RR. Best to you! Erin @

  48. Would Winter Promise fit the bill. I haven't looked at it myself and (not being American or in America) have never focused on US history. But I seem to remember reading something about it that makes me think it might be of interest.

  49. Just took a look at that. It looks really good. It's definitely on my "to be
    strongly considered" list. Thanks for mentioning it. I'd never heard of it.

  50. Oh, please, please, please look at it again… WONDERFUL readers & read alouds & so RICH in all the places you can go to dig deeper with extra assignments. We actually did American History 1 & 2 with Sonlight over a 3 year period so that we could soak it all in. It sounds crazy to spend that much time on AH, but we are, after all, a very unique nation with a VERY unique background.

    At the time we were studying civil war info, my husband had a conference in Charleston so we did a week of school/vacay because of all we saw when we were there with the battleships & battlefields. It was amazing.

    Good Luck with whatever you decide to use!

  51. You're welcome. 🙂 🙂  I hope whatever you end up doing works well for you and your family! 

  52. Have you looked at All American History? I loveMystery of  History however when I look at American History next school year I am hoping to use this! Timberdoodle has it! 

  53. have you checked out easy classical?  Sonlight D that was mentioned is a good choice too!  Hope you find what your looking for.

  54. I know I used to love the 'Dear America' and 'My America' series of books. (If you haven't heard of them, they are fictional, written as if they were diaries of people living during specific time periods. Some of the things you could do with this are: Compare the character's life with own (Use compare/contrast charts)… Cook foods mentioned in the books, using the methods they would have had available (this gives you the chance to incorporate science as well!)… When books mention major historical events, you can have your kids research these events and find primary sources… Lots of on the fly activities… This would give you the literature base, you would be able to pick what time periods you study, and you could do as many activities as you would like… I don't want this post ti be too long, but let me know if you want more idea… I may also be able to remember some of the other historical children's series that I know are good…


    Here is a link for a literure based/biography centered U.S. History curriculum.  My soon to be 11 year old daughter actually drooled and dragged me over to the set at a CHAP homeschool conference when she was 9.  They are well-written, memorable and give a nice picture of the different time periods in U.S History while focusing on the life of a particular notable historical figure.  Also includes CD Roms and has maps to enhance your unit study experience.  They haven't disappointed us!  Maybe this will fit your needs as well.  Blessings,  deb e.

  56. Have you checked out My Father's World?  It sounds like exactly what you are looking for, and the daily activities and suggestions are very flexible. 

  57. My girls love learning about history if it is presented right.  Matter of fact I know when we are at the dinner table and they start talking about their history lesson it must have been fun for them.  Take a look at Time4Learning's social studies curriculum to see if it is what you are looking for.

  58. The curriculum I use is by Heart of Dakota Publishing. It is a Christ-centered curriculum, with NO planning and very little prep time for mom, and it is very Charlotte Mason-ish 🙂 thus very literature based. My kids have LOVED learning history with this curriculum (and so have I!!!). My kids are younger than yours so I'm not sure what it's like for older kids but I imagine it probably only gets better!!! Seriously I highly recommend Heart of Dakota. If you visit their website at you can print out an entire weeks worth of lesson plans to see if you like it or not. Check it out…I don't think you'll be disappointed.
    PS The history activities are always hands-on and so much fun and the author of the curriculum always has great recommendations for additional related reading!

  59. Have you looked at My Father's World, particularly Years 4 and/or 5 in their elementary core? MFW meets all your criteria above except for, perhaps, the literature-based one and (for some reason) they tend to choose kind of icky books as main spines. However, each teacher's manual has an AWESOME book list (hundreds of books for all reading abilities and read-alouds), and I have relied heavily on those to make MFW much more literature-based than it otherwise would be. 

  60. I came across a website called  The teacher has assembled her own literature based curriculum that of course could be adjusted to your needs.  It is free and completely viewable online.  There is a PDF version also!  Good luck.  We begin this journey this year, too.

  61. I know this was a while back, but have you ever looked at Learning Adventures?  I don't have that volume, so I'm not sure how thorough it is, but I like  vol I.  It  would actually cover more than you are actually looking for, since it it an unit study including science, Bible ect…

  62. Thanks for the suggestion, but I'm not looking any longer. We've found a new curriculum that we're crazy about…Trail Guide to Learning. We've *loving* it! (I have looked at Learning Adventures in the past, though.)

  63. Not sure if you are still looking and/or if this has been brought up, but we have been using Learning Adventures for 3 years and it sounds like it might be what you are looking for. The first year is World/Ancient History but the next two are American History based.

  64. Thanks. I've looked at Learning Adventures before, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. We are now head-over-heels for Trail Guide to Learning, though. Love it!

  65. I do not homeschool, but I am a public school teacher as well as children’s church teacher, and I’ve also been looking for interactive history lessons that showcase our nation’s Christian heritage for our kiddos at church. You may try looking at Answers in Genesis curriculum. It’s put out by the creators of the creation museum. ALL their curricula is amazing! They have a very engaging American history curriculum with map activates, timeline activities and simple hands-on projects for 3rd-8th graders. It’s also currently on sale. 🙂 Hope this helps!

  66. Hi Kris, so happy to have found this thread. So, a year later do you still love Trail Guide to Learning?

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