Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thinking About Thanksgiving? Get Ready With Dayspring Academy's "The Pilgrim Story" Course


Sometimes these days it seems that everywhere you turn, you find someone (an individual, group, or organization) trying to take God out of our daily lives, our traditions, and even our history.

That's why it is refreshing to discover a valuable resource that seeks to set the record straight and show the clear influence and impact of God on the history of the United States.

Dayspring Academy, an actual Christian school in Massachusetts, has recently launched an online class called "The Pilgrim Story" that comprehensively covers the experiences of the pilgrims from the influences King Henry had on the later events all the way through to how they fared three years after landing. You and your students will be awed and inspired by the fascinating stories as the talented teacher, Mary Stauffer, weaves the tale of their pilgrimage using many primary source documents and artifacts.

Conducted as very well-prepared Power Point style presentations, the 17 lessons (5 units, 5 tests, one virtual field trip) last 30-45 minutes each (depending on the content and your child's preferred speed). Each lesson begins with the narrator (a male voice) explaining which resources to print up for use later and the objectives of the lesson. You and your child progress through the lesson at your own speed, clicking to the next slide only when ready. The narrator prompts you when you need to stop to complete an optional assignment. There is virtually no guess-work with this class and a lot of flexibility.

Each slide has a story to go with it. The slides often show pictures that support the content visually; other times they show the definitions of the vocabulary words or the content that needs to be copied onto your student's worksheet (important words are underlined to assist younger students). The content is broken down into very palatable bites so that it is simple for easier learners to process in small chunks. Older learners can easily progress faster by moving forward at their own speed.

The class is based upon the Principle Approach of learning which puts God at the focus of every story, not just the story of the Pilgrims or the Bible. It also places a huge focus on building character, such as perseverance, self-governance, and hard work. This class is an excellent introduction to the ideals of that approach, and it also does a great job of showing how notebooking (making learning notebooks) fits into this sort (or any sort) of homeschooling. 

You do NOT have to be a notebooker or a follower of the Principle Approach to use this class effectively or to enjoy it. It is versatile and allows the parent and students to choose which printed assignments and additional activities will be completed. There are essay challenges and craft suggestions, as well as the simpler vocabulary and fill-in-the-blank sheets, and mapping exercises. If you complete at least the basics, you will have an excellent resource for your children to refer to for years to come...and to show off to visiting relatives, as well, giving your kids a chance to help set the record straight about some of the information we were taught as fact in the public schools that is very far from the real truth.

The age range for this class is listed as 3rd through 6th. We viewed the videos together as a family, ages 5-15 (and me...Boo just played). All of the children were interested in the information and were engaged by the way it was presented. In my opinion, it is one of the best online classes I have used. I would recommend it to anyone. 

My younger kids did not do any of the activities. The activities are definitely specific to the 3rd grade and up range. Ladybug (age 8) managed the simpler printed activities like the mapping and fill in the blanks. I did not have her do any essays, though we extensively discussed what we all learned. Now that Tex is doing better and has completed his intense English course for the semester, (he's still moving slowly following his abdominal surgery), I plan to assign at least one of the essay topics this month, and one next month, as he goes through the course on his own. The classes give you plenty to think about and I do not doubt that we will all be more appreciative of the symbolism behind the Thanksgiving holiday by the time we are finished with it.


The Pilgrim Story costs $99 and will be available to you within 48 hours of payment. It is self-paced, and you will have six months to complete all of the assignments so your student to receive a grade. We only registered one student for a grade, but all of the kids (and mom) watched the material. Since Tex is the one who will do the most assignments, I will use the grade for him. The others are young enough that I don't really do grades, but we do grade on participation and effort, which has not been a problem for this course. One night we were even up until after nine-thirty watching a class because they were so interested.

The field trip that is the culminating activity was fascinating. It is exactly what a virtual field trip should be. You and your kids get to "visit" Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. We did a virtual trip to that state when we were studying the states one at a time (that is on hold for a while), and Plimoth was one of our "stops." You can get more links and printables to add to your Plimoth field trip at my Where in the World? Wednesday post on Massachusetts.

What we loved about this course:
  • The format was very well thought out and easy to use.
  • The sources from which information was gathered were reliable, and many were primary source documents.
  • The images/pictures were perfect for supporting the information given. Each one added to the story.
  • The narrator was well-spoken. His voice was soothing, but not dull. He used good inflection and seemed to have a good command of the knowledge he was sharing.
  • Some of the slides in each lesson are interactive, and this provided a nice change of pace for the kids.
  • The kids liked the interactive timeline. It is one of the few slides in the lessons that does not allow you to progress past it until you have completed every part of it.
  • I liked that they provided quizzes. Between the quizzes and the interactive exercises, it was easy to see that the kids were learning from the lessons.
  • The optional resources were useful and provided extra learning opportunities. I did appreciate that they were optional. We are, after all, homeschoolers, and we value flexibility.
  • The amount of content was comprehensive and extensive, but not overwhelming.
  • I liked how I could stop partway through a lesson and then pick up later where I left off using a pull-up menu. That helped us several times when the younger ones had had enough and needed a recess.
  • It's the kind of course you could do as a unit study, in addition to other history work, or you could use it to supplement your current history program (and do fewer of the optional activities).
  • You could also use it as a stand-alone study by doing all of the activities and adding a few period-appropriate novels or biographies.
  • The kids and I now feel like we have the "real" story of Thanksgiving. We all really liked the course and look forward to finishing the last units later this month.
Concerns we had:
  • Some folks will find the $99 price to be prohibitive, especially for a one semester course (one lesson a week).I would not have tried it if I'd had to pay for it...and that would have been sad because this course is high-quality and very interesting. I do believe that the information is worth having, and the course is definitely worth doing, but it's a lot of money for just one topic out of a whole semester's worth of history.
  • It would have been nice to have multiple levels of the written work. If they had a more "primary" choice, it would have been easier for my younger ones to join in and get the whole experience (only leave one word blank instead of a seven word phrase in the fill-in exercise, for example).
  • I had to print up the sheets for each lesson at the beginning of the lesson and this took time in our already crowded day. Yes, I could print them up ahead of time by accessing each lesson at a different time, and yes, I did like that the narrator instructed us which ones to print, but it would have been nice to have an option to print up the whole "pack" of vocabulary sheets, fill in sheets, maps, etc. at one time so I could just print what I wanted from one screen (perhaps let the parent check a box indicating which sheet types they want from the available options), punch the holes, and add them to the notebooks at one time. This would have helped, especially with the younger students. It wasn't as much of a concern with my HS student, but then the course wasn't intended for his grade...I do feel the course was appropriate for Jr. High and HS students, though. I learned something!
  • The addition of links to a few simpler activities would make this more "family" friendly (some simple hands-on activities, easy copy work, coloring pages). By this I mean that as homeschoolers, we often want to do things together, with many grades, and offering ideas for all levels (to be adjusted by the parent) would be ideal. Obviously, I could find these sorts of things on my own, but for the price, it would be preferred to have it available...If they do another course, I'd be more likely to purchase it if it covered more levels and had more options for additional activities for many ages.

This is an excellent product. I look forward to Tex working through it on his own during the rest of October and November (the Amigos and I watched the lessons for this review...he only joined us a few times) and I know he will enjoy it, too. I wish Dayspring had other similar courses, and I am hoping that they will decide to add a few more on other American history topics down the road. I'd love to see one about Colonial America...they could go to Williamsburg for their field trip. Or how about the Jamestown settlement as the next class? There are a lot of myths that need dispelling surrounding that story.

If online courses interest you or you are looking for something to make your Thanksgiving more focused on God and less on the turkey, taking this course as a family unit study during November may be just what you've been looking for. Or if you have an older student (I'd say 5th grade and up) who works well independently who wants to do something different for a while for history, I am pretty sure he or she would really enjoy this class and find it not only challenging, but fascinating.

You can check out Dayspring Academy's website, The Pilgrim Story class, and watch a video explaining the course below.

To find what other reviewers had to say about The Pilgrim Story, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received a six-month subscription to Pilgrim Story for the purposes for reviewing this product. All opinions you read here are my own. No other compensation was received.

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