A River of Voices Review
Updated: Jul 26, 2020
A review of the secular United States history curriculum by Blossom & Root
For most homeschoolers, history can be the trickiest subject to source curriculum for. If you are secular, and want to teach more than one perspective of events, it is even more so. Aside from just collecting your own books and materials, it was almost impossible to find anything put together that used diverse narratives written by, and in the perspective of, marginalized communities. Kristina, of Blossom & Root, has finally given us what was so greatly needed in the community!
As she states in the intro, it was important for her when teaching her own children that the subject of history not be the 'babbling stream of a single and dominant narrative, but a river of voices.' It is such an apt name and concept, and so important for those that want to teach our children more than what we learned in school... for those of us that want to both celebrate and honor ALL of the cultures that had a part in the history of our country.
History curriculums in the past have been problematic for many reasons. Crafts or activities are often culturally insensitive, they tend to talk only about other cultures' past contributions making them seem obsolete, and they lack a complete narrative of the people and events that aren't glossed over completely. A River of Voices has gone far in offering a completely different experience, by using books written by people of color and members of the marginalized communities they speak of. The projects and activities featured are chosen carefully, to ensure that they are culturally sensitive, and that they are only used if they enhance and deepen the lessons (in Kristina's words).
Before I get into the amazing way that the curriculum works, making it useful for MANY years and grade levels, including your own education as a parent (who is likely the product of a public school education that is now struggling to re-learn much of the history of the US, as I know I am) I want to get into a little bit more about the extensive work and effort that Kristina put into truly making this curriculum a voice for those who have been silenced in the past.
History books are written by the winners, as the saying goes. And the best and most logical way to hear the OTHER voices is to ask them. And that is precisely what Kristina did, in pulling together this curriculum. This is the first one that I know of that has used committees representative of people of color and other marginalized communities, to ensure that we are hearing THEIR voices and THEIR stories, and hearing them correctly. Consultants for the curriculum include a Native American rights activist, who is a citizen of the Lipan Apache Nation, an LGBTQ+ advocate and educator, and two educators who focus on introducing African American history and literature to students, as well as ensuring educational resources represent people of color. It is an impressive and diverse panel. And this team will actually be continuing to grow, and reviewing even more materials to develop a Volume 2, with even more diversity represented.
The committees made up of the above consultants combed through the material in their area of expertise, analyzing any material they felt didn't belong and recommending other resources to fill in gaps or represent a different side to an event (or to provide a more authentic voice for a certain group). In doing so, Kristina was able to present to us a curriculum with materials chosen by the actual groups we are learning about, and learning from (since they sourced materials written by authors in their communities) and that we are presenting accurate descriptions and events to our children from the beginning.
Honestly, regardless of the (also-amazing) layout or anything else about the curriculum itself, I personally think this is the most important aspect of the curriculum and the thing that really puts it so far above any other option currently out there for US History. I could stop there, and hopefully you would already feel as if you were making the best possible decision!
But wait, there's more! (said in the best infomercial voice... sorry! a little lightness since I'm making you read my longest review and post to date! But it's worth it, I promise!)
Aside from being historically and culturally accurate, the layout of A River of Voices is a key feature as well. If you're not familiar with other Blossom & Root curriculum, it is always broken down into lessons that are meant to be customized to fit your family or education style.
This is organized the same, with each lesson containing a Lesson Foundation (the minimum amount of reading or info,
to gain the concept of the lesson), extra options for the 'Book Basket' families, links to videos for Visual Learners, Activities or hands on pieces to add on, and the Student Notebook portion. As always, you are able to pick and choose between any and all of those options, to make each lesson your own.
Now, ordinarily, I'm a fan of digital curriculum staying on tablets or computers, to save paper. However, I will highly recommend that you do print out the Parent Guide to this one, and invest in a good highlighter! In addition to those options above, this particular curriculum is broken down into 'Pathways', or grade levels, essentially. This means you could purchase this curriculum and use it for multiple children at once, by using different pathways OR you could use it multiple times during your child's education, by using the different pathways as they grow. They use primarily different spines, so you would be effectively building on their knowledge each time, this way.
There is a Gentle Pathway, recommended for K-2 (or more sensitive learners), a Standard Pathway, recommended for 3-8 and then an Advanced Pathway for older learners, grades 7+. You have the freedom, of course, to mix and match resources from any and all of these recommendations, to truly customize the learning to fit exactly where your child is at. There are even optional Parent Spine reading recommendations, so that you can deepen your own education along with that of your child.
Those reasons are why I highly recommend the print/highlight method for this particular curriculum. There are a LOT of options within each lesson, so you'll want to plan by looking at the resources and books recommended for each pathway in each lesson, and then choosing what you will use for each.
You'll find many of the books at your local library, but I also like to make use of used bookstores like Better World Books to collect the spines that we will be using continuously throughout the year. I've also recently discovered a new source called Bookshop, for anything you are unable to find used! They're a B-corp, designed to support small, independent booksellers, and should be expanding to used books and other titles by the end of the year! It is a great alternative to Amazon.
I'm not sure I have ever felt more confident in the materials presented in a curriculum. I know SO many parents have spent so much valuable time and effort attempting to wade through misinformation and bad sources themselves, in order to present a balanced history to their children. I'm so grateful that Blossom & Root has fulfilled something that was so needed in the home education community and I cannot wait to see what is in store for Volume 2 in the future!