Why a Literature-Based Approach?

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.

Core D+E History / Bible / Language Arts / Reading DECP

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!


8 thoughts on “Why a Literature-Based Approach?

  1. Dear Jessica,
    I’ve loved reading these last 2 posts about what you’re using to teach your children and your reasons behind using it. They have really challenged me to continue reading out loud with my children and to try to implement some new techniques into my teaching. My daughter and I enjoyed A Lantern In Her Hand, a book you had recommended in a previous post. It made me cry and made my daughter see what real life struggles homesteaders faced back in the 1800’s-1900’s. We also got the sequel out of the library and any books we could find by Beth Streeter Aldrich. Some were excellent, and some were so-so in our opinion. I’m EXCITED to show her some of your other recommendations! The Zion Books look really interesting, and a great way to study history. We use BJU Press which is very teacher/student focused. It’s old school, and a lot of people don’t like this anymore because it is so very structured. I have found over the years, that I can taylor this curriculum based on my child’s needs. I see what they’re struggling with and help in that area. I don’t get their distance learning material because it tends to be pricey, but I know others that have used their DVD material with great satisfaction. I also have used Apologia for Biology and Chemistry. This is more student driven with my part being going over reviews and giving the tests. I love the Christian perspective in both curriculum. My one son who went to college said that the Biology 101 he took there was just a review of the Biology that he took in high school. However, because he went to a secular college, it was taught from an evolutionary standpoint, so I’m very thankful for the Bible worldview to counteract that. When the boys were growing up, they played this computer game called “Age of Empires”. I had fits because I thought they were spending too much time playing this game. Come to find out that when they played a campaign in this game, they actually played as historical figures all throughout history. It was an excellent learning tool for them, and they knew much of what they needed to know when we came to it in their ‘structured’ history lessons.
    I have always loved being there to answer questions when needed, and to go over material one on one with them. Up into their college years, I thought that I would lose that connection with them, but they still came home everyday and shared the material they were learning. Granted, much was above my head at this point, but I think the habits we establish with them when young carry over into adulthood.
    I’m thankful that you decided to homeschool your children as a 2nd generation. I hope and pray that my children will decide to homeschool when the time comes. As a mom, I wouldn’t trade these years for anything. Homeschooling is a commitment and a sacrifice on so many levels, but it is SO worth it!
    I’ve gone on and on, (sorry about that) but it’s something near and dear to my heart 🙂
    – Ruthie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ruthie,
      Thank you for your reply! It was so interesting to read about what you are doing homeschooling-wise with your children.
      I do want to point out that the Zion Covenant books are intended mainly for adults (even though my mom let me read them at a pre-teen/early teen age). You will encounter some adult themes, including romance (though not graphic). You might want to read the books on your own first, or maybe read them out loud together with your daughter. I’ve already updated my post to include that note.
      Also, it wasn’t I who recommended the Lantern in Her Hand book, but it sounds interesting, so maybe I should check it out!
      I always love to get your comments!
      Your friend, Jessica


  2. Interesting article! I know that christian homeschooling is common in USA,but did’nt know how kids are learning.

    At school our kids learn evolutionary theory,and sexual minority. Before my son went to school,when he was a little boy,I told him creationism using kid’s bible telling the reality that many people in the world believe in evolution theory which we do not believe as truth. I have to be careful what he learns at school even now.

    Learning basic bible studies and knowing opposing views.Kids needs to know both,I also feel.
    Thank you for sharing your point of view on education.


    1. Thank you, Sanae, for your additional thoughts on this topic!
      Well, there are many different forms of teaching children at home; I told you a little about my own experience, which was only a small sampling of what’s out there.
      I agree with your comment that we have to have a basic knowledge of the Bible and know opposing views, with parents sharing their beliefs with their own children from an early age.
      Thanks for sharing!


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