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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

BrimWood Press: Helping Kids Piece Together the Past (a review)

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BrimWood Press is dedicated to building historical literacy while engaging the whole child.  Their middle school curriculum, What Every Child Needs to Know about Western Civilization, fits that description to a T.

When we started homeschooling 6 years ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted to study history on a classical 4-year cycle.  It simply made sense to us to start at the beginning and follow the flow of time…but then that 4 year cycle turned into a 6-year cycle… and, well, even if it hadn’t, we had already discovered a little problem…

By the time you get to the here and now, you’ve lost your grasp on the beginning and how it influenced today’s reality.

It’s hard to hold together thousands of years of human history in your mind all at once!

So as we prepared to embark on our next trek through the past, I was happy when this review opportunity came up.  BrimWood Press is dedicated to building historical literacy while engaging the whole child.  Their middle school curriculum, What Every Child Needs to Know about Western Civilization, fits that description to a T.

What Every Child Needs to Know About Western Civilization by BrimWood Press

We received for review:

What Every Child Needs to Know about Western Civilization (WECN)

Teaches 5000 years of human history through the development of the calendar and includes lesson plans, activities, history readings, Hats of History Cards (1 for each era), and mapping activities.

Calendar Quest

Father Time (S. Kronos) takes 2 kids and their pet guinea pig on a whirlwind trip through the history of the calendar---in a time-traveling refrigerator box!  This fictional account is a necessary component of WECN.

Color the Western World

Young children will enjoy coloring their way through the 14 eras of history that Lindsie, Evan, and Father Time travel to in Calendar Quest.  This spiral-bound, over-sized (11” x 17”) coloring book features both original artwork as well as elements inspired by historical masterpieces.

What Every Child Needs to Know is an overview of all of Western Civilization

And, it can be completed in about a month.  I would describe this as a somewhat intensive pace, but it could be slowed down a bit (and it’s been working great as a summer study---we’re nearly finished).

You will be introduced to 14 different historical eras (from Ancient Sumer to the 20th century) and meet people from each time period, including (among others):

  • Hammurabi in Babylon
  • Moses in the desert
  • Julius Caesar during the Roman Republic
  • Constantine the Great during the Decline in the West/Rise in the East
  • Pope Gregory XIII during the Italian Renaissance
  • George Washington in Early America
  • President Eisenhower in the 20th Century

My mistake!

When I first started with WECN, I tried to do it with just my oldest son, 13-year-old David, because the study really is designed for grades 5-8.  My next oldest child is a rising 4th grader. 

That was a mistake! 

While the lessons themselves are packed with a lot of information, the Calendar Quest story really is very accessible to my younger children. 

Plus, those huge coloring pages were begging to be colored.

And my big kid wasn’t interested in coloring them.  Not even a little bit.

As you can see, there’s a lot of information contained on these pages.

Color the Western World by BrimWood Press

What I discovered was that if I read Calendar Quest aloud to everyone, my 3 youngest children (ages 4-9) will sit quietly …um ok, let’s be honest, they do fight a bit over who’s going to color what (sometimes we have to draw lots or threaten to banish someone from the room)… and color the corresponding page from Color the Western World.

Color the Western World by BrimWood Press

I’m thinking that when we’re done with this study, I’m going to remove the spiral binding and use the coloring pages as a timeline on our living room wall.  It’s a great visual for “pinning” more historical learning onto.

About the Story

Calendar Quest is a lively story and I’ve been impressed with how much information all the kids have retained from this narrative.  The chapters are just about the right length (they don’t run out of coloring too soon and get bored and run off, ahem) and have just the right amount of depth---the younger kids get it and my oldest is not bored with it.

What Every Child Needs to Know about Western Civilization by Brimwood Press

Now, my kids are not docile creatures who sit by and listen as the sound of my voice conjures up images of the mythical past.  Oh no.

Calendar Quest by BrimWood PressInstead, they argue with the text.  Don’t ask me where they get that from {wink}. 

That’s ok.  I welcome arguments!  They prove to me that the kiddos are really listening and digesting what they are hearing.

One of the things they’ve been arguing about is the characterization of the critter they consider to be the star of Calendar Quest…Pinky the guinea pig.

Pinky is a real hit, by the way.

We have two guinea pigs of our own (that one to the right is Alex). The kids say Pinky does things in the story that guineas don’t (or at least shouldn’t) do, though.   Most of those things have to do with dietary and physical limitations (there are some things piggies really shouldn’t eat).   I’m going to chalk this one up to the kids getting to show off knowledge they’ve acquired through research {grin}.

Another thing they took issue with was the characterization of some of the historical characters.  It’s a short book that covers a lot of ground, so I wouldn’t expect really in-depth, realistic representations. 

I thought most of them were just fine, but a few were a little over the top.  Cleopatra, for instance, was a ditz who called her kitty “poopsie-woopsie”. 

Now, this sort of thing is common in modern children’s literature.  It can be hard to find the right balance of vocabulary, tone, humor, and information in a work of fiction aimed at kids.  You want it to be readable and enjoyable, but also accessible.  Characterizations tend to not be subtle or multi-faceted.

I think that Calendar Quest succeeds for the most part in striking the right balance, with just a few hiccups.  When we disagree with a book it’s an opportunity for thoughtful discussion, not a bad thing, so I’m willing to brave the kids’ criticisms.

The Curriculum

While Calendar Quest provides a narrative thread to the whole program, the real meat is in the lessons contained within What Every Child Needs to Know About Western Civilization.

Each of the lessons in here is packed with info.  It might be a “jet plane” ride through history (quick and just briefly touching on things), but in comparing it with some history texts aimed at the middle school age group, I’m finding that there’s often just as much meat in this book.

Engage a 13-year-old in Western Civilization with BrimWoodPress

My 13-year-old reads the lesson independently, does the mapping activity, fills out the corresponding Hats of History card (these are included in the book)and adds its stickers.  The stickers correspond to illustrations in the book that can be colored---they are like visual reminders of what he read.

Cards of History, part of Western Civilization by BrimWood Press

The following day, before moving onto the next chapter in Calendar Quest, I read aloud some of the key points from the previous lesson to everyone and we use the Hats of History cards to talk about each of the civilizations and their contributions to the development of the calendar and Western civilization.

What I Love:

I love the visual and hands-on aspects of this program.  It keeps busy hands occupied without a real mess.  A couple of my kids are highly visual and really don’t learn well when they only hear something. 

Using multiple methods is going to help the information stick…and having a colorful visual to refer back to is going to make it so much easier to review---I can just pull out a stack of cards and have them put them into order and talk about them.  Easy Peasy.

Prep is minimal, aside from the cutting out the fiddly stickers---otherwise, this is very close to “open and go”. 

Bonus:  Mom is learning a lot.  And without having to burn the midnight oil while reading tomes.  Can’t beat that.  My own history education left a lot to be desired, so this has been a great course for me.

I think this is just about the perfect prep for us before we dive into Ancient World in a couple of months.

BrimWood Press history and worldview curriculum for homeschool

Where can I get it?

Visit the product pages at BrimWood Press for more info and samples:

What Every Child Needs to Know about Western Civilization ($35)

Calendar Quest ($14)

Color the Western World ($18)

Additional products to complement this study are also available, as well as a bundle.  Check the site for details.

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6 comments:

  1. Looks like a great program! I always looking for the next best thing in history programs.

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  2. I think this company is one to keep an eye on---they also have historical novels for ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern history.

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  3. Thanks for the review. I bought this at convention to do with my 2 kids. I am looking forward to learning more myself!

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  4. This is a fantastic review! I am working on one for the worldview curriculum myself. I love your pictures!

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  5. Thanks, Lisa, I'm glad you found it helpful. I hope you enjoy your journey through Western Civilization. ;)

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  6. Thank you, tikvah. The worldview curriculum looks good. I'm looking forward to reading the reviews on it.

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