However, God is good...all the time. He sustained me through all the angst of trying out curriculum after curriculum. He allowed the girls to make regular cognitive progress despite our fits and starts. And He led us back to MFW.
We adored Adventures, the MFW core we used this past year, which the MFW website accurately describes as a complete "one-year program for 2nd or 3rd graders who are the oldest in the family...[to] explore U.S. history and patriotic symbols from a Christian perspective with fascinating stories, hands-on activities, a timeline, and a student created history notebook[; also] includes U.S. geography, Bible, science, art, music and more." In fact, being designed specifically for seven- to nine-year olds as a transition from MFW's gentle, foundational kindergarten and first grade programs to its more academically challenging five-year core, it seemed tailor-made for us.
Through Adventures, we were able to study:
1. Christian Education
As I explained in my review of MFW as a whole, my top priority in choosing curriculum has always been that it must "include Bible study as a key component...[and] also approach every content area with a Biblically-based Christian worldview." And, indeed, every content area in Adventures embraces an explicitly Christian perspective so that the girls could absorb the idea that we don't compartmentalize our faith into one small "box" of our lives. Then, in terms of actual Bible study, we spent the year learning some of the various "names" of Jesus: Bread of Life, the Rock, Immanuel, Alpha and Omega, to name a few. We memorized a relevant verse for each name and read and discussed Bible passages in order to understand the symbolism contained within each title. And we often talked about how to apply the ideas to our real-life circumstances in order to try to become more and more like Jesus ourselves.
Besides Bible/Christian Education, MFW uses history/geography as its main content anchor. Thus, with Adventures we enjoyed an age-appropriate walk through American history, beginning with the Viking explorers and original Native inhabitants and journeying through to the early 20th century. And along the way, we learned U.S. geography by briefly studying each of the 50 states in the order in which they joined the Union. To do all this, we read engaging texts and many wonderful "living books" recommended in the appendix of the teacher's guide. We also made crafts, watched related videos, and enjoyed a representative food from each and every state. And the girls each created a beautiful history/geography notebook to demonstrate much of what they learned.
Using some Usborne books and various library resources, our Adventures science was an introduction to key scientific concepts as related to either our Bible study or history. Thus, when we learned that Jesus is the Light of the world, we learned about light and studied our solar system and stars. When we read about how the pioneers made bread and discussed how Jesus is the Bread of Life, we studied how yeast works and then made homemade butter. And when we studied John 15.5, we learned about what plants need to grow and did experiments with corn seeds. This overview gave the girls important "hooks" onto which they can hang more in-depth scientific knowledge they'll learn throughout their school years and beyond.
4. Language Arts
The Adventures program covers each of the necessary language arts skills in a variety of ways. We used some of the MFW suggestions and some other resources with which we had become familiar and comfortable before finding MFW, as noted.
- Handwriting: Adventures suggests a review of manuscript writing during the first few weeks and then incorporates almost daily, content-driven practice through various copywork and narration tasks. In our case, I had used our favorite handwriting program, Handwriting without Tears, to introduce the girls to cursive last summer. So we used the copywork and narration assignments to practice that all year.
- Narration: Adventures incorporates this Charlotte Mason-inspired idea through the regular use of both oral and written narration, based primarily on the history/geography content. So, after each history lesson and geography study, the girls orally narrated several things they had learned. And then for almost every topic, they also dictated some of those facts to me, which I wrote for them using perfect spelling and grammar, and they then copied to create their illustrated history/geography notebooks. MFW waits until its main five-year core to introduce composition in a more formal way, but written narrations serve as a gentle introduction to the concept.
- Copywork: As a transitional year, Adventures includes regular copywork activities in order to provide for handwriting practice and to help young children informally internalize aspects of English spelling, composition, and grammar. In our case, we primarily used the memory verses and history/geography narrations for copywork; those who choose to study grammar in a more formal sense at this age would also get more practice through various tasks in the MFW-recommended grammar book.
- Spelling: MFW recommends either Spelling by Sound and Structure or Spelling Power at this level, both of which I'm sure are fine spelling resources. However, we had previously discovered All About Spelling (AAS), a curriculum that has been a God-send for us and which I was unwilling to change. So we continued on with AAS, seamlessly incorporating it into our daily MFW-designed lesson plans. And, through AAS, the girls had regular dictation practice as well.
- Reading: Each MFW teacher's guide contains an appendix listing literally hundreds of content-related supplemental books (obtainable at the library) and dozens of recommendations for age-appropriate general reading. The girls continued to read aloud to me daily, using some of those books, books from our own home library, and the Amish Pathway Readers we've enjoyed for the past couple of years. In addition, several more difficult books were included as read-alouds in the Adventures deluxe package we used; I read from those wonderful titles almost every day at lunch.
- Grammar: I am unusual amongst homeschoolers in that I don't believe it necessary or even particularly good to teach grammar in a formal sense before the middle school years; if interested, you can read more on my rationale behind that decision here. So we discussed grammar informally through our spelling dictations and written narrations, but didn't address it as a separate subject area. However, if I were to teach grammar at this age, I would have used - and recommend as the only acceptable resource on the topic I've yet seen - the MFW suggestion, Primary Language Lessons, a gentle Charlotte Mason-style resource.
6. Art: For the past couple of years, the girls have used a program called Artistic Pursuits to do weekly art study in the evenings with my husband. They continued these lessons independent of MFW, and - because both are very picture-smart - we also added in the wonderful MFW suggestion, Barry Stebbing's I Can Do All Things program, during the day. They really enjoyed their once- or twice-weekly opportunities to practice drawing, coloring with colored pencils or markers, and painting, and they learned basic art theory and techniques along the way.
7. Foreign Language: MFW does not require but rightly recommends introducing the study of a foreign language beginning with Adventures. I was more than ready to incorporate this into our days because I've wanted the girls to start learning Spanish since the beginning of our official homeschooling days four years ago. I couldn't find appropriate materials back then so I was happy to start them on MFW's suggestion, Rosetta Stone, this past year. They have already absorbed a lot through the program's "natural approach," a legitimate language-learning technique particularly useful with young children. And the curriculum has served the dual-purpose of also introducing them to some basic computer skills.
8. Math: As with some of the language arts skills, math is not directly incorporated into the core Adventures materials; in fact, I daresay it would be pretty difficult to fully integrate math into any unit study and still insure that each child mastered age-appropriate mathematical concepts. So math is an "add-on" with every MFW core, and MFW recommends Singapore Math at the elementary level. However, as with spelling, we had previously discovered a math curriculum - Math U See (MUS) - that works well for us and which I was unwilling to give up. And, in fact, I had tried Singapore when the girls were younger and found it didn't suit their needs. So we simply substituted MUS as we did our alternate spelling program, no problem.
From all of this, you can see that MFW Adventures is obviously a complete curriculum! If you use it, you need never fret that your children might "miss out" on any age-appropriate content. And, in fact, you can feel confident that they will be engaged in a comprehensive, academically balanced course of study during what would typically be a 2nd or 3rd grade year. In addition, the wonderful teacher's guide will provide you with organized lesson plans and helpful hints, all of which will make your job as teacher much more manageable than it would be with some other, similar programs. So I believe that you and your children will thoroughly enjoy the year as we did and may even feel a little sad when it's done. In fact, the only good thing for us about finishing Adventures is knowing we have several more years of wonderful MFW curriculum yet to enjoy together.
Enjoying time in the longhouse while on our MFW-related field trip
to the Oneida Nation Museum