The Good and the Beautiful History Curriculum (GBHC) is a multi-level, interactive curriculum that incorporates stories and hands-on activities. The curriculum is designed for the family to use together, covering grades 1 through 12. It is written from a Christian worldview, emphasizing both Christ-like character and patriotism.
GBHC draws its historical material from more than 40 history books that were written during the late 1800s and early 1900s. While older source material has been used, it has been rewritten somewhat for modern audiences and combined with additional, newly-written material.
Year 1 and Year 2 are available as I write this review, and two more years are planned. The curriculum for each year is presented in four units. The units cover some world history and some U.S. history each year. The first unit in Year 1 begins with biblical history and ancient Egyptian history. The second unit jumps up to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The third unit shifts to U.S. history covering The French and Indian War up through the Revolutionary War. The fourth unit broadens out to world history, covering selected events from the Victorian era up through the fall of communism.
In Year 2, students learn about ancient Greece and ancient Asia in the first unit. The second unit begins with the Vikings and Marco Polo and continues through some of the major explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. U.S. history in the third unit studies the colonial period and the U.S. Constitution. The fourth unit of Year 2 focuses primarily on U.S. history with selected topics such as Education in Early America, Noah Webster, Henry Ford, and the Great Depression, but it also has five lessons on World War I.
Years 3 and 4 are not yet available, but outlines for those courses are available. They show Year 3 covering ancient Israel in the first unit and Native Americans and the Bill of Rights in the second unit. The third unit addresses the Industrial Revolution in the U.S., westward expansion, and a few scientists such as George Washington Carver, Samuel Morse, and Thomas Edison. The final unit is on World War II. Year 4 begins with ancient Rome. Unit 2 covers the history of Islam, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and the history of the Bible. Lesson topics in this unit indicate that the Protestant perspective will likely dominate. Slavery and the Civil War are topics for the next unit, and the final unit covers a few selected topics from modern history post WWII plus some Canadian history.
As I’ve mentioned, coverage is selective since it is often told through expansive stories and biographies rather than in the “fact snippets” commonly related in history textbooks. History stories are presented along with instructions to make lessons more interactive. For example, in Year 1, Lesson 44 about the Battle of Trenton, the lesson begins with children observing and discussing the reproduction of a painting The Battle of Trenton. Then a simple activity has children stand barefoot on an ice cube as long as they can to experience the cold as did many of George Washington’s soldiers in that battle. The story is then read aloud to children from the Course Book. The story is interrupted twice for the parent to ask children to summarize the story up to that point, a form of narration. This happens again at the end. Four discussion questions follow the story. This is typical for the presentation of the stories throughout the program.
For Year 1 there is a Course Book, The Big Book of History Stories, Keys of History Board Game, Student Explorers, and dramatized audio recordings (accessed online).
There are Student Explorers for four different levels to help differentiate assignments and make them age appropriate. The levels for Student Explorers are grades 1-3, grades 4-6, grades 7-9, and grades 10-12. You will need to print out the Student Explorer for each student from a downloaded file and put it in a three-ring binder. Students in seventh grade and above will also compile a history notebook.
In addition to the Course Book and The Big Book of History Stories, you will be reading each day from a read-aloud book such as The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. A different read-aloud book, chosen from among a number of recommended titles, is used each quarter.
The Course Book is the heart of the course each year. It has bolded text with instructions for the parent, while normal text is to be read aloud to students. The Course Book shows when to use Student Explorers, play the game, participate in activities, work on long-term projects, etc.
Year 2 differs slightly from Year 1. The book Maps and Images is used rather than a book of history stories. While the Course Book refers to the Keys of History Board Game, another game, Explorers and Settlers, is added the second year. If you have Keys of History, it can be used at the suggested time to review material learned last year. You can order Keys of History separately if you don’t already have it, but it isn’t essential for Year 2. A timeline with stickers has been added beginning with Year 2. It includes some stickers for events from Year 1 that can be used as a form of review.
With students up through fifth grade level, you should be completing about two lessons per week, and one course per year. With older students, you should plan to complete about three lessons per week, which means that you would complete each course in about 20 weeks. Course work for each lesson also increases at each level. For example, the Student Explorer for the youngest level has only 29 pages with many simple activities such as coloring and drawing while the oldest level has 63 pages and requires additional reading, research, and writing.
Lesson structure varies from day to day. On some days you will read aloud a history story directly from the Course Book as described above. You might listen to audio dramatizations or read the script of the audio drama. Discussion questions in the Course Book often follow the reading and listening activities. On some days you might be reading from one of the stories in The Big Book of History Stories or identifying locations on a map in that book. Children will frequently work on Student Explorer activities. The Course Book advises you when children should be doing additional research and preparing to make oral presentations.
Children will also work on memorization activities in Year 1. Craft activities are generally fairly simple and often use reproducible pages in the Course Book. For example, some lessons have sentences or paragraphs on pages that are to be cut out then read aloud by children.
The audio dramatizations are very well done. They teach the same topics in the rest of the course, but they do so within the context of a different story. These audio stories vary in length from about seven to eleven minutes each, so they are just the right length to hold students’ attention. These should not be skipped since they add additional course content.
The Keys of History game is nicely constructed with a sturdy 10-inch game board, playing pieces, and a deck of cards. The cards each have information from a key topic covered in the course. Instructions include various ways to play the game to make it suitable for different ability levels. This is a great way to review key information although the game by itself would provide inadequate review for older students. The Explorers and Settlers game used in Year 2 is a card game that plays like a sophisticated form of the Memory card matching game. Players supply the identities for descriptions of famous explorers or settlers, but play is made more challenging by a requirement to find the matching card as well.
There are no tests for The Good and the Beautiful History Curriculum. Older students will be completing their history notebooks and other work that can be used for evaluation and grading purposes, but parents will need to figure out how to do this on their own.
The Course Books explain that students should cycle through the four courses again as they get older. They will encounter different assignments in their Student Explorers each time through. While I like the story approach to history, I think that more comprehensive coverage is vital somewhere along the line. Repetition is certainly useful, but I think it might be more productive to expand into other topics rather than repeat so extensively.
While biblical and Christian history is included, GBHC does not promote any single denomination. Protestants and Catholics are both treated with respect although information leans slightly in a Protestant direction as evidenced, for example, by Lessons 51 and 52 that treat foreign missionary work during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as an exclusively Protestant endeavor. But at the same time, there are entire lessons on Catholic historical figures such as St. Patrick and Joan of Arc. Mormon families can add a free PDF supplement if they wish. One more thing to note is that when quotations from the Bible are used, they are from the KJV. This seems a little odd when it occurs within the context of one of the audio dramatizations or one of the stories in The Big Book of History Stories since both are presented in a normal, modern-day voice.
GBHC also reflects a conservative political outlook that shows up from time to time. On the publisher’s website it explains: “These history courses teach conservative principles such as limited government, keeping the power as close to the people as possible, self-reliance, avoiding entitlements, and the role of government as providing protection and not goods.”
GBHC is relatively easy to use given the variety of learning methods involved. Course Books clearly show what to do when, making it easy for even new homeschoolers to use. While it includes multi-sensory activities, these are not extremely time-consuming.
My biggest concern is with history coverage over many grades. I’m not satisfied that the four-year program, even repeated two or more times, will provide sufficient coverage of important history topics for twelve years of schooling. It might be difficult to jump off into a different program because of the way this program combines World and U.S. History each year without following a continuous timeline. Even though I think activities in Student Explorers for the upper grades are well-designed and academically challenging, I’d be most likely to use GBHC for grades one through eight, then switch to something else for high school.
All components except the games are available as PDF downloads. You can also buy printed copies of the Course Books. These are printed in black and white, and you will need to copy or print out some activity pages; a PDF of a Course Book should work well. The Big Book of History Stories and Maps and Images are both also available as PDFs, but these are lovely, full-color books. If you can easily view them on a device such as tablet, that will work, but printing them out is not likely to be economical. I would also purchase a printed set of the timeline and stickers. Course samples are available at http://www.jennyphillips.com/history/ so you can check it out before buying.