In my post about Growing Up Homeschooled, I concluded that “engaging, well-written literature is what MOVES you,” after comparing it to textbooks or self-paced unit study booklets. Why is that so important?
Well, first of all, we tend to remember what we care about. Textbooks can often be dry and boring. One remembers the information to pass a test, and then mostly forgets about it, because the material didn’t make an emotional impression. But, when that same material undergirds the plot of an intriguing historical fiction novel, it becomes something we’ll probably remember forever.
Secondly, we remember what it makes sense for us to remember. Why should I learn this? Anyone is tempted to pose this question when told to learn a fat pile of facts. How is this going to be important to me later on? Why does it matter? However, the “real” book approach already contains the answer to that within itself; the books themselves describe to us why the events they describe matter, and how they are important to our lives as well. The information becomes useful to us as we see how the characters are impacted by what happens to them. We not only learn about them, we learn about ourselves, as we are prompted to look deeper into our own motivations and goals.
There is certainly a place for textbooks. They bind up the most important facts we need to know into one, neat, tidy package. However, why should we limit ourselves to only (or even mostly) that, when we can utilize the vast amounts of interesting literature available, to teach ourselves the same things, but in a more colorful and meaningful approach?
I remember discovering the complete collection of the Zion Covenant series (the original books 1-6), by Bodie and Brock Thoene, in our attic when I was around eleven or twelve. This series is based on the events of World War II in Europe. (Click on the photo to see a list of books and their cost on Amazon. Please note that you may want to read these books yourself before handing them off to your teen, or maybe read them out loud together. There are adult themes, including romance, though it is not graphic.)
Completely enthralled by the story, I read one book right after the other, often finishing a single novel in a few days. This was my first serious interaction with material on WWII. My mother didn’t sit me down and say, “Now, we’re going to talk about World War II. Open to page ___ of your textbook and read along with me,” or something like that. I don’t think my mom ever talked to me about this subject; I simply read about it on my own.
Afterwards, I found The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, in our attic, and read that, as well. I borrowed The Diary of Anne Frank from our library, and decided to read Night, and Dawn, by Elie Wiesel, with no supervision at all from my parents. On my own, I decided that Mr. Wiesel’s conclusion that God must be dead was erroneous, since having read Ms. Ten Boom’s account, I knew that even in the most dismal circumstances God’s hand of mercy can be seen; Mr. Wiesel simply did not have eyes to see it. Which leads me to another point: children need guidance, but are also smart enough to come to their own conclusions without being force-fed.
A broad range of literature not only enriches one’s education, but also sharpens one’s analytical sense. It seems to me, that being constantly force fed the “correct” material will not turn children into leaders and independent thinkers. Learning to think for ourselves necessitates being exposed to a variety of different viewpoints. Yes, guidance is important. I did receive plenty of instruction in the biblical worldview. Bible study was a central component of our education. However, encountering opposing views gave me an opportunity to use my brain, to sift truth from lie, good from bad. It helped me develop discernment. I don’t advise letting children read anything they want; we must use good sense in protecting them from truly harmful, evil influences. But, if they are ever to gain any sort of critical thinking ability, they must be allowed to know what other people think, even if it doesn’t agree with what their parents believe (this is most appropriate for the teen years, not necessarily for very young children). Then, there can be a meaningful discussion with their parents regarding that topic. It seems that here again, good books can be used to obtain this interaction, without actually exposing one’s children to the evils of our society while they are still tender and malleable.
For a good, literature-rich curriculum, you might want to check out the Robinson Curriculum, based on one scientist’s experience raising his six children on his own after his wife suddenly died.
I have decided to use Sonlight.
This is what I have purchased for my eleven- and nine-year-olds for this upcoming fall. I’m so excited to begin, and so are they! After using Sonlight for almost three years now (since the summer of 2013), I am still psyched about using this curriculum. We’ve had some great discussions on a variety of different topics, and I love that I get to be closely involved in my children’s learning. The Robinson Curriculum is mainly an independent learning approach, but I prefer to be more a part of my kid’s schooling. Even though I did read books about WWII on my own growing up, and was mostly self-taught on this subject (though I realize there is so much more that I have yet to learn, but it was a start), I do think it would have been nice if my mom had been more available to talk with about such topics. I think we need both: learning to research on our own, and being able to discuss crucial themes with other people, starting with our parents and siblings.
Sorry to disappoint if you thought my article “Growing up Homeschooled” was going to be more about my childhood experiences, and less about the curriculum my parents chose to use (maybe I should have called it “My Parents’ Choice of Homeschool Materials”). I do want to talk about what it was like to be a homeschooled child, so if you hang around for a bit, that will come soon. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts!