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How to Build a Homeschool U.S. History Curriculum from "America: The Story of Us"

FINAL UPDATE (JUNE 2012): We completed our entire U.S. History course last month using the America: The Story of Us video series and the resources I had planned. We officially covered Episodes 1-9 which got us through the 1920's. We plan to use the remaining three videos when we study the World Wars in a couple of years. I just want to go on record as saying that I believe whole-heartedly that the use of this series with my resources would more than qualify your child for a full credit of U.S. History. And, it was exciting and enriching. Feel free to follow all of my lesson plans. You can see them all at this link:
Update: America: The Story of Us is now available as an InstaStream through Netflix! We also had it available at our local library. If you didn't receive a complimentary copy, you won't have to pay the $30 for it!

Many of us received a complimentary copy of "America: The Story of Us" from The History Channel. What a treasure! As soon as I received my copy I knew that I wanted to do a full year of American History with Dawson, who will be in the 9th grade next year. Since Brynne is pretty advanced in her abilities, I decided that I would go ahead and do an American History unit with her, as well, toned down to her level. She will be in the 2nd grade.

I wanted this to be a full-functioning curriculum, with loads to read, see and do. Notebooking seems to be the way to go for us, so I knew I wanted to incorporate it into our regular work. Dawson also needs some work with his structural and creative writing, so somehow a writing program needed to be included, as well.

So, here are the materials and resources I am using:
These resources will complete the Social Studies, Writing and Literature components of Dawson's school year. The materials have cost me a total of $90 plus printing supplies. I will warn you, though, it has cost me lots of physical time! I usually put in about 4-5 hours on each 3-week unit. I figure I'll have about 50-60 hours in this project before I am done. But I have never had so much fun in my life! American History is so fun!

Why 3-week units?  There are 12 dvd episodes. We have 36 weeks of school. That gives us three weeks to do each unit. (The Westward unit was so expansive, however, that I decided to make it a 6-week unit and skip the last unit which is the Millenium.) This also gives us three weeks to read a Living Book from that era .. a good, substantial, interesting novel.

Here is how I plan a unit, specifically:
  1. I watch the "America: The Story of Us" episode for that unit. Each video is 45 minutes. While I am watching it, I jot down notes: events, people, dates, etc. I start to formulate in my mind the things we definitely want to cover in more detail. This also helps me when searching for the Living Book we will read.
  2. I then decide what topics we will cover each week and divide those into Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3.
  3. I go to the Episode Guide for that video and print the vocabulary words, discussion questions and any other pertinent activities for that episode.
  4. I pull out my Hold that Thought! cd and print any relevant notebooking pages: events, people, places, etc.
  5. I look through the America's Heritage cd and print any activities we will do with this unit.
  6. I choose a Living Book, and any supplemental dvds we might want to watch, and create a List through our library website, with the title of the unit (i.e. Dawson Westward 1) and dump all books and dvds onto that List. Then two weeks before each unit starts, I can pull up my list and request everything on it for use when we get to that unit.
  7. I finally go through the IEW U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons workbook and assign the writing lessons that correspond with that unit.
  8. Then I put everything in order, hole-punch it and place it in the U.S. History binder behind a tab for that particular unit. (When school starts in August, all I will have to do is pull out the unit we are on and write the specific daily assignments on our planner.)
  9. For Brynne, I basically do the same thing, although the majority of her assignments are reading Living Books at her level, watching dvds, doing copywork, notebook pages and supplemental fun activities (like cooking assignments, era paper dolls, craft projects, etc.) But she will be working on the same unit as Dawson, and I am hoping she will pick up some information from what he is doing, as well.
Here are some pictures of what I do. I do not like technology. I like things hand-written. My husband has offered to set me up some databases to use to create calendars, lists, daily plans, etc., but I have declined. I work best with a piece of paper and pencil. So, if it looks like a mess, and that it's unorganized, it's not (at least in my mind). I am sure there are pretty ways to compile all of this information. If you have the time for that, please feel free to do it. You could probably find a way to make a good income by selling what you have created. Me, I just hope that you find this information useful. If you want my hand-written notes, I would be thrilled to photocopy them and send them to you.

So here is an example of what we will be doing for a 3-week unit:

Unit 3 ~ Westward 1
Living Book Daily Read-aloud: The Captain's Dog

Week 1
  • Day 1: Watch Episode 3, do vocabulary and video quiz
  • Day 2: Read Daniel Boone by Janet Riehecky, do Daniel Boone notebooking page
  • Day 3: Read The Lewis and Clark Expedition by Christin Ditchfield, cook something from Cooking on the Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Day 4: Watch "Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corp of Discovery", do Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea notebooking pages
  • Day 5: Do PBS Lewis and Clark Lesson 1, Section 2 (this I took from the PBS site, another great resource)
Week 2
  • Day 1: Do PBS Lewis and Clark Lesson 1, Section 3 and 4
  • Day 2: Complete Lewis and Clark's Expedition Map notebooking page
  • Day 3: IEW Lessons 27 and 28
  • Day 4: IEW Lessons 27 and 28
  • Day 5: IEW Lessons 27 and 28
Week 3
  • Day 1: Rewatch the Donner Party clip from "America: The Story of Us", read "The Diary of Patrick Breen", do the Donner Party notebooking page
  • Day 2: Do US Flag group activity and Flag Code, IEW Lesson 22
  • Day 3: Put dates on Flag worksheet, IEW Lesson 23
  • Day 4: The Star Spangled Banner vocabulary, Francis Scott Key notebooking page, IEW Lesson 23
  • Day 5: The Star Spangled Banner discussion questions, IEW Lesson 26
Everything above is either from one of the resources listed above, or from an internet search (like the PBS site and the Donner Party additional resources). I do look for other possible lessons by doing Google searches.

As you can see, I don't put dates on anything. There is a great likelihood that we will not be able to keep up with the IEW lessons as they are planned right now. I have Dawson doing the lessons that go with the subject matter we are covering. But it is a lot! If we need to slow down, we will.

I realize this looks like I am reinventing the wheel. I am certain there are great US History curriculum out there for purchase. But I am just one of those weirdos who likes to plan lessons. We used A World of Adventure last year, and although it was great on many levels, I found myself supplementing a lot anyway. I don't want to purchase a curriculum and then see holes that I feel need to be filled. This way I know we are covering everything that we want to cover. And this is also the only subject I am planning this year, other than Brynne's little science units. Everything else will be a purchased curriculum, and most of it will be independently completed by Dawson and Brynne.

I just like spending time with my kids, and this gives us a great way to do it. We all learn together and have a great time doing it.

The hard work is worth it.

Update: I realized I didn't post what Brynne (2nd grade) will be doing for this same unit. Here are the topics we will cover and the activities associated with each:

Brynne Unit 3 - Westward 1

Daniel Boone
Read: The Legend of Daniel Boone
Notebooking: Daniel Boone

James and Dolley Madison
Read: A Picture Book of Dolley and James Madison
Dolley Madison story - (from What Your Second Grader Needs to Know, Core Knowledge Foundation)
Notebooking: James Madison
Do: Three Branches of Government "Tree" craft/visual

Star Spangled Banner and The American Flag
Watch: "US Flag" on dvd
Read: Red, White and Blue: the story of the American Flag
Do: Make paper and star flag (as a review) and Make American Flag cake, do copywork of "The Star Spangled Banner", do "The Star Spangled Banner" puzzle
Notebooking: Francis Scott Key coloring page

Lewis and Clark
Read: Lewis and Clark, A Picture Book of Lewis and Clark, and A Picture Book of Sacagawea
Notebooking: Lewis and Clark coloring page, Sacagawea coloring page, Lewis and Clark map

Westward Pioneers
Read: Don't Know Much About the Pioneers
Watch: "Westward Expansion in the US" dvd


  1. this is FANTASTIC! i love what you are gives me great ideas for using our DVD. thank you so much!

    kate n.


  2. We have been doing kind of the same thing with How the states got their shapes (awesome series!) and awhile back there was a presidents series we liked, too.

    The one i am searching for is that cartoon from the '70's about the american revolution. Can't find it anywhere on the freebie sites.

  3. Great stuff here! I did get a copy of that DVD and haven't done a thing with it. I'll have to look into your ideas more thoroughly and see what will work for us. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Awesome Awesome! I just posted this on my FB page because I think it's fantabulous!
    Thanks for the hard work and for sharing it!

  5. I wish you would post the whole thing when your done. Great ideas and it seems like lots of fun. We did world history last year with a text book. It was so dry and boring there was know possible way to make it fun.

  6. Thank you so much for all the time you have put into these lessons and for sharing them with us!!!

    I was never able to find the vocabulary list or discussion questions for each episode ... could you please share where I could find them?

  7. Thank you so much for taking the time to describe all of the wonderful resources you're using to go with "America- the Story of Us". Great stuff! Like the commenter before me I went to the History Channel's website from the link you posted and I really searched everywhere, but wasn't able to find vocabulary or discussion questions under 'episode guides', or anywhere acutually : ( Any ideas?

    Again, thank you!!!

  8. Great planning! We too received the free DVDs. I really enjoyed them myself, but thought they were a bit graphic for young children. I think I'll hold off on showing the entire thing to my children for a few more years - maybe middle school-age, I'm thinking. Any others feel that way about them?

    1. I agree that the videos are over the head of a small child, much more suited for middle school and above. My daughter is 6, and she would kind of come in and out watching on parts that caught her interest. I will do this unit with my two younger children when they are in high school.

  9. Thank you so much for posting! I may be homeschooling my son this year and this would be absolutely perfect for him. We have done online schooling for a semester & it just wasn't exactly right for him. Currently exploring my options :)

  10. Thanks for this suggestion!! We need to change curriculum already since our textbook approach is draining the joy out of history! I'll definitely check out this video series on Netflix!

  11. Nicole, this is amazing!!! I'm looking for curriculum for next year and decided to use the America The Story of US DVD. You've already done all of the hard work! Kenzie will be in 8th and Kylan in 6th so I think it will be perfect.

    1. Jennifer ... Kylan and Kenzie will love it! Seriously, it was the greatest thing we have done in homeschooling so far! Dawson is back in public school this year and he even tells his friends (in my presence) how much better our history studies were. Go to my blog and copy away all of my ideas. You'll need to spend a couple of weeks printing and organizing, but you will be glad you did! So glad you can use my ideas. Have fun!! (Oh, and beware! It sparked a HUGE interest for me in history and now I am a historical fiction lunatic!!!!)

  12. Thank you so much! This is fantastic!!!

  13. I was just looking at that DVD on the History Channel and wondering if I could make a high school curriculum out of it. Great idea! thanks for all the tips!

  14. I love when a Google search leads me to a friend's blog. Love, love your ideas. Thanks for doing so much legwork on this. Hope you and yours are doing well.

  15. Hi there! I'm a brand-new homeschool mom and found your blog through Google. I was searching for an 8th grade history curriculum and I love what you've done with this series! The Study Guides page on the History Channel site is no longer working. I don't suppose you have all those study questions written down anywhere that you could share, do you? I've already emailed the History Channel site in hopes that they'll fix the link.

    I can't wait to spend more time reading through your blog. What an inspiration you are! Thank you for all your hard work!

    Kate in San Diego (

  16. Just found this resource and thought I'd post it here for all of you as excited about America: This History of US as I am! Scroll down and look for "America the Story of Us Idea Book".

    Have fun!


  17. WOW! Thank you for this resource! I have signed up for everything I can get and will be posting about this for all of my followers. Awesome!

  18. I would really love to have the pics of your lesson plans! :)))

  19. Looks like so much more fun than what we're doing now! I can't seem to find the Hold That Thought! Vol. 2 anywhere. Any ideas for how to find it?

    1. Looks like Hold that Thought! might be out of business now. You can still do all of this without those notebooking pages. Just have your child start notebook. I always had Dawson write the number of sentences about a topic that corresponded with his grade, so usually 9-10 sentences per topic.

  20. Do you have a list of the literature books you read along with your American History study? I am trying to put together an American History study for my kids ages 12 and 7. Your stuff looks great. I am terrible at getting organized.


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