Out of the Wilderness: A Review of My Father's World
As I alluded to in my "homeschool testimony" a while ago, we finally emerged this past school year from "Curriculum Wilderness."
This wilderness - the place at the beginning of a homeschool journey where one sorts through the myriad of instructional possibilities - is a land in which almost every homeschool mom wanders for a time. In fact, I advise those contemplating or new to homeschooling to expect rather than fear the trip. So many options exist - first in terms of educational philosophy and then in specific programs matching each philosophy - that it's the rare bird indeed who will immediately hit on what works best for her family. And that's okay.
But our wilderness experience lasted three years - perhaps longer than most and longer than necessary, for very good reason - namely, that I didn't pay attention at first. I could see the progress as elements of our overall program came together step by step - handwriting (Handwriting without Tears) our first year, reading (Pathway Readers) and some art (Artistic Pursuits) our second, and both spelling (All About Spelling) and math (Math U See), as well as our organizational system (Our Do-It Door and workboxes), our third. But, with the exception of handwriting - which I managed to nail right away - each choice came after a good deal of rather stressful experimentation with a variety of choices. And up until last spring, I was still trying new things for our remaining content areas: Bible, history, science, art, music, and foreign language.
And then I found My Father's World. Or, more accurately, I rediscovered it and took a close look for the first time.
I use the term "Curriculum Wilderness" on purpose because I felt like the ancient Israelites in a sense (see Deuteronomy 1 and 2). After escaping Egypt, they journeyed through the wilderness for a few weeks and then reached the Promised Land, where the Lord directed them to send in scouts to spy out the territory. Of course, they saw that it was a land "flowing with milk and honey" and every other good thing. But the "giants" frightened 10 of the 12 spies, who then convinced the people that they couldn't conquer the land. As a result of their lack of faith, the Lord disciplined the people by making them wander for 40 years before being allowed to return.
So, too, with us, a couple of my friends told me about My Father's World when we first started out. I was intrigued and perused the website once or twice, but didn't take the time to really study what the program offered. And I got scared off by the "giant" prospect of thinking I had to attempt two different programs with the girls, who were then four and five (roughly old enough, I thought, for pre-K and kindergarten). So I ran away in search of "greener pastures" - trying a veritable who's-who of popular, well-known, pricey curricula - not realizing I'd just set myself up for a long, three years of desert wandering.
But, just as God kept his promise to the Israelites, he led me back to my My Father's World (MFW) a little over a year ago. This, after I'd pretty much - finally! - fruitlessly exhausted every other option among the programs designed around my preferred educational philosophy (a mix of the Charlotte Mason, unit studies, and classical approaches). When I looked again - this time in earnest - I couldn't believe I'd ever walked away in the first place. Maybe that's how the Israelites felt - befuddled that their parents could have questioned God's provision for them 40 years earlier. But, like them, I was mostly just grateful to have been led back.
Following MFW's recommendation, I purchased the Adventures program for this past year, which, according to the website, is "a 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." It seemed like the perfect fit for the girls, who'd turned seven and eight shortly before we started. I was nervous about trying yet another new program - what if it, too, didn't really work? But I had an inkling this might be right for us.
And, as it turns out, the past year was unquestionably our best homeschool year yet, thanks to MFW. The program enabled me to finally get a solid handle on all our remaining content areas in meaningful, enjoyable ways and to easily integrate the materials we'd previously come to use and trust. In fact, I'm so sold on MFW that I tell everyone I can about it and, at this point, I plan to continue using it all the way through to high school graduation.
Of course, each family has its own list of criteria when it comes to choosing curriculum. MFW works for us because it's:
This is my top priority. Any curriculum I consider must not only include Bible study as a key component, but must also approach every content area with a Biblically-based Christian worldview. And MFW does that. Children memorize Scripture and read and discuss various passages in light of important theological concepts (in Adventures, for example, we focused on the various "names" of Jesus - i.e., the Bread of Life, Living Water, Immanuel, etc.). And other content areas are studied in relation to God's Word as well, demonstrating for children that there really is no compartmentalization in school or life.
Some homeschoolers enjoy picking and choosing among the wide variety of available curricula. But I tried that and was incredibly stressed in the process because - being a concrete-sequential thinker - I needed everything laid out for me in one place. And every MFW core from second grade on up includes every content area - Bible, all the language arts subjects, math, history and geography, science, art, music, and even foreign language - so I don't have to worry that I'm forgetting something important along the way. Further, the main five-year elementary core covers world geography and all of history from creation through modern times, and incorporates every major field of science - a scope and sequence continued in greater depth through the high school program. Thus, I can be confident that my children are receiving a fully well-rounded education.
As much as I want to be sure every area is covered, I also want the various subjects to connect with each other as much as possible, and MFW does that, too. Thus, in Adventures, the science topics tied in with either the Bible or history concepts, the music study was fully integrated with history, and some of the language arts coordinated with Bible, history, and science. In our next year of study, Exploring Countries and Cultures, we will focus on world geography and, along with that, learn all about the various biomes and habitats in our science lessons; in addition, music and art will flow from our study of various cultures, and our Christian education studies will include reading missionary biographies and learning about different people groups' spiritual needs.
Among the many curricula I tried in the wilderness, I discovered a problem in terms of academic rigor. On the one hand, some were simply too easy and "light," failing to provide adequate academic "stretch" over time. Others, though, were too difficult, demanding from young children more than I felt was necessary or developmentally appropriate. But with MFW I've found the balance for us. In looking at the MFW programs we missed - kindergarten and first grade - I can see that they provide a very "gentle" introduction to formal academics, an approach I think is correct at that age - doing just enough to solidify a foundation of literacy and math skills without being overwhelming. Similarly, Adventures offers what I see as a "transition" between that appropriate introduction and the more academically rigorous five-year MFW core programs and beyond. There is nothing "light" about the MFW years that follow Adventures; yet even those programs offer appropriate balance.
Anyone who knows me realizes rather quickly that I like organization; in fact, there's a reason my husband's appropo nickname for me is "Rou-Tina." So, given the time, I could probably create a very workable organizational structure for almost any curriculum out there. But I don't have the kind of time that would take. And with MFW, that work has been done for me, in the form of weekly planning grids and teaching notes in the wonderful teacher's guides. In fact, though I do put in planning time ahead of teaching, the guides are so well organized that they're almost open-and-go...which is a very important tool for typical (sometimes too-busy and overwhelmed) homeschool moms.
MFW is designed for family learning. Children in kindergarten and first grade have their own, separate programs to insure that they build solid foundations in terms especially of reading and basic math. But they can also be included with a family's older children and, starting in second grade, every child in a family up through eighth grade studies the same core content during the same year. Every child will study the various language arts topics and math at his own level, and the teacher's guides provide plans for helpful, age-appropriate modifications to the Bible, history/geography, and science as necessary. But the family is basically together in terms of what is being studied, and I don't think I can overstate the beauty of that concept. After all, part of why I homeschool is to build family unity - a goal that is much more likely to be met if we're all thinking about and discussing the same ideas at the same time.
It's just a fact that math and some language arts topics - spelling, grammar (for those who choose to teach it formally in elementary school), some reading, and some composition - are not easy to fully integrate into a unit studies approach such as this, primarily because each child will be at a different place in those subjects, depending on age and ability. MFW provides useful resource recommendations for math and all language arts content for every grade - but does not require (as some similar programs do) that a family use those suggestions to make the overall program work. That was key for me, since we'd previously discovered what works for us in terms of math and spelling (and because I don't teach grammar at all as a separate subject right now). I didn't want to have to change course yet again. So we use different resources than what MFW suggests for those areas, but that hasn't negatively affected our overall experience at all.
The school-at-home, textbook approach works well for some families, but I knew right from the start that would not resonate with us. In fact, that knowledge is the main reason I was led to the Charlotte Mason approach with its emphasis on the use of "living books" whenever possible. And MFW does a beautiful job with this. For example, both history books we used for Adventures were not in any way typical textbooks - the stories were actually quite interesting! - and the science also utilized very well-written resources (Usborne books) that did not not read like typical, "dry" texts. Similarly, the appendix of every MFW teacher's guide contains an extensive list of recommended resources - content-related literature at various reading levels to meet the needs of every child in a family. Thus as we studied American history and geography through Adventures, we enjoyed a multitude of wonderful picture books - and had access to more advanced chapter books as well - about important figures in U.S. history and every state in the Union. And I know that pattern of utilizing living books continues throughout the MFW courses.
As I said, I'm sold on MFW - it will be our core curriculum next year and for the long-haul as far as I can tell now. And I am thrilled to now begin using the kindergarten and first grade programs with my young daycare children.
As with any homeschool curriculum, it's not for everyone. But I highly recommend it to almost every homeschool mom who feels lost in terms of curriculum and wonders what to do. For many, I believe it's their ticket out of the wilderness.
Sinai Desert Photo Credit: Sonysan (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonysan/2562372505/)
Promised Land Photo Credit: cngodles' photostream (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cngodles/2689461078/)