A Curriculum Crisis of Faith: The Post I Never Thought I'd Write

Over the past two years, I've used three My Father's World cores - Adventures, Kindergarten, and Exploring Countries & Cultures (ECC) - and felt while doing Adventures in particular that I'd discovered the "holy grail" of curriculum. In fact, Adventures (which we used for the 2009-2010 academic term) was an amazing breath of fresh air for us after "wandering the curriculum wilderness" for the previous three years. And it still stands out as probably our best overall year ever...so far. So this past year - presuming that other MFW programs would be similarly wonderful - we moved on to ECC (and MFW Kindergarten for "K4" with the girls for whom I was babysitting).

I had to make my own grids for the Kindergarten program because MFW has not yet revised its K (or 1st grade) manual to include that trademark feature of its other teacher's guides. And I didn't use everything as written; most notably, I substituted Handwriting without Tears PK for MFW's suggested way of doing writing, which I didn't feel was developmentally appropriate for my four- (or even many five-) year olds. But the little girls I was babysitting really enjoyed the thematic units, and both mastered a lot of age-appropriate math and language skills from it. In fact, the older of the two was by December confidently reading all the MFW material I set before her, even though she didn't turn five until April...and I'm certain the only reason the younger did not follow suit was that she just wasn't quite ready yet. But the materials were certainly effective.

As for ECC with my daughters - who were eight and nine at the time - I was a bit surprised to find that I had to make some rather significant adjustments to both the geography and science portions of the course, a process I described in detail last fall. After having to do no more than a few "tweaks" with Adventures (most of which were not even necessary but just matters of preference), this was rather disappointing. But I chalked it up to the girls being on the very young end of the age spectrum for which ECC was created and buoyed myself with the knowledge that they could do the course as written in the year before they started high school - going deeper when they were older. And I really liked the alternate materials I found and so, using the ECC framework as my guide (and relying heavily on the manual's extensive "book basket" list), I made up my own weekly plans, and we had a very productive and enjoyable year.

Then, without hesitation, I purchased my materials for MFW's next core - Creation to the Greeks (CtG) - marveling again at how blessed I was to be "set for life" with MFW materials...all the way through to the girls' high school graduations. And I enthusiastically added to my "MFW cheerleader" credentials by working their convention booth at the end of May.

Though I bought my CtG materials in April, I didn't initially look at them much - I had to keep my focus on finishing ECC - but I unpacked everything and glanced through the manual, noting a few activities I thought we'd enjoy. As has been our (effective) custom the past few years, I'd planned to do a bit of light academics (mostly the "3Rs") through June and July and to start MFW work at the beginning of August. And so I looked forward to resting myself from academics, too, by waiting to really study CtG until the second half of July.

Curiously, though, I felt in early June an undeniable God-pull to change gears and start CtG in early July. I wasn't sure how that would work for the bigger picture of our family life - our lovely summers here are short so it seemed a shame to fill them with bookwork; we already had July vacation plans (and Vacation Bible Camp at church for the girls, too); and it has always been very nice for us all to enjoy an extended break from heavy studies (as we do in December as well). But the prompting didn't go away, and so I decided to follow it, a decision about which I wrote with enthusiasm.

Thus, on July 5, we leapt into our CtG studies. I was excited to begin a chronological walk through history from the very beginning (and to study various scientific topics from a creationist perspective in the order of the Days of Creation). And, from our experience with Adventures (an American history-based program that integrates science and Bible with history, just as CtG was intended to), I had no reason to doubt anything about this next MFW history core.

And we did enjoy most activities in the first two weeks. We started to read in Genesis - along with a wonderful supplemental book of my choosing (Adam and His Kin by Ruth Beechick) that fleshed out the biblical narrative. We were fascinated by Ken Ham's Dinosaurs of Eden, had fun with the narrations, and found the David C. Cook Journey through the Bible resource interesting. Celebrating the Sabbath on our first Friday was enlightening, and measuring out the size of The Ark during our vacation week blew us away.

But to say I was less than thrilled with both Genesis for Kids, MFW's science suggestion, and God and the History of Art is a vast understatement. Both books are wholly unappealing from an aesthetic perspective, which hardly motivated us to want to delve into them. In fact, with the art book, especially, I was actually appalled to see that someone thought it a good idea to produce a curriculum about art (of all things) that is extremely text-heavy and contains only bad black and white photocopies of artistic masterpieces! As for the science book (beyond its lackluster appearance), even short text passages caused my usually-curious girls' eyes to glaze over; the attempted humor was "lame;" and I was disturbed to see little rhyme or reason (or explanation) for the inclusion of the chosen experiments. Basically, it seemed like a random collection of rather silly experiments supposedly intended to illustrate various truths about aspects of God's world - but lacking any good pedagogy that would facilitate that process.

With disappointment, I realized I'd have to again make significant adjustments to the course, as neither the science nor art would do. But I felt I could manage the changes. For art, we could simply continue with the curriculum that Jeff (who has always done most of our art lessons) and the girls have enjoyed for the past couple of years; it wouldn't be integrated with CtG's history studies, but it would provide art history along with applied art lessons so it would work. And for science, I remembered a resource I'd briefly used in my "wilderness wanderings" and quickly realized it would be a great fit for us now, accomplishing in much better fashion what Genesis for Kids claimed to do.

So I geared up for Week 3 in CtG, resigned to figuring out a workable way to use those alternate materials.

And then I opened up the program's main history resource, Streams of Civilization. Now, I'd heard of this book before and vaguely thought I remembered grumbling over it. But I had no pre-conceived notions; I simply thought that, being an MFW resource, it would be a comprehensive, engaging book that would serve as the foundation for the year's course of study.

However, I quickly realized that this book, too, was really wholly unusable for us. For one thing, it's admittedly written as a high school level text - even though CtG is meant for kids in just third or fourth through eighth grade. Secondly, though the content may be accurate, it is a textbook - not a "living book" by any stretch of the imagination - and a dry-as-dust one at that. If a textbook (as opposed to living books) were required for some reason, there are surely better (and more age-appropriate) ones than this, so it seems inconceivable to me that MFW thought of Streams as its "best" option. And the other main history book, Usborne's Ancient World, had its own problems; yes, it looks engaging, but it's written from an old-earth perspective, is far from comprehensive, and (as with all Usborne books) seems annoyingly ADHD-like in its presentation of the material.

I knew I couldn't use Streams at all - and I didn't want to use the Usborne book once I'd confirmed its similarity to Usborne titles I'd seen before. So I felt totally at-sea. I sought advice on MFW-oriented message boards, but didn't get much useful feedback. One well-meaning mom told me to simply read Streams on my own and then orally summarize relevant passages for my girls. However, I'm not looking to "lecture" my children; I want us to be engaged in reading well-written history together. Someone else told me to ignore Streams because it "isn't used that much" - but, as I perused the manual, I found references to it in all but a couple of the course's 34 weeks. Worst of all was the gal who queried, "Don't you think a good teacher can make even bad material interesting?" (Uh, in a word...no!...and you don't wanna even start down the "good teacher/bad teacher" road with me, Chickie-Poo!)

So, even as I tried to cobble together a meaningful third week of studies for the girls with the books I could justify using (thank goodness for Adam and His Kin!), I began investigating alternate history materials. And I found some, including some very intriguing titles (a couple of which I ultimately purchased for my own reference) from Nothing New Press. But I really dreaded the prospect of once again doing what I'd been forced to do for all of our ECC year: making up what would essentially be my own course of study using the CtG grids as a sort of skeleton without being able to comfortably use many of the recommended resources. In fact, matching history texts from other sources with the CtG activities and Bible study topics just seemed overwhelming, especially because I've been doing that with alternatives for math and language arts all along (due to never having preferred the MFW suggestions) and had, of course, realized the need to do that for science (and art) again, too. I felt depressed and overwhelmed.

I vented online with D., an online homeschooling friend very familiar with MFW; in fact, not only did D. "listen" to my frustrations and concerns, she picked up her phone and called me...from two time zones away even though we're "only" virtual friends who'd never before heard each other's voices!

And D. put into words what I was feeling - that, though the MFW philosophy of education is very much in line with what we personally feel is best for our kids, the reality is that, for whatever reason, MFW materials may not often measure up to that stated vision...especially after the courses meant for primary-aged children (i.e., Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and Adventures). In other words, something seems to get "lost in translation" when MFW seeks to line up materials to match its educational philosophy. And D. has used virtually all of the MFW elementary/middle school cores so she's seen that across multiple years.

Talking to D. freed me up to admit what I already knew was brewing in my mind: MFW is not a good fit for us right now, and it's okay if I move on.

Of course, it about kills me to say that. After all, though I've always said (and have whole-heartedly believed) that there's no such thing as the "perfect" curriculum, I really did feel (after Adventures and even through our ECC experience) that MFW was the closest thing to that for us. And I loved the security of knowing I was basically "set" through high school - that I could trust MFW to help me deliver a complete and appropriate educational program for my girls without having to continually investigate the curricular options that seem to multiply like rabbits. Plus, I've advocated strongly for MFW for the past two years, and I know that my recommendations have caused a bunch of people to choose MFW....so that now, upon hearing of my changed plans, they might feel "betrayed" by me or question their decision to use MFW.

In fact, the poem that accompanied the photo I chose for this post sums it up well:

I'm thinking
about nothing
about everything
what makes sense
and what doesn't make sense
I'm thinking
telling myself not to care
telling myself it's okay to cry
I'm thinking
about the people i used to know
about the people i do know
I'm thinking
and i seem to not be going anywhere.

by C. Almonde

And those feelings are all understandable. But, thankfully, I ultimately realized they're not truth. What is true, though (among other things), is that:
  • MFW served some really useful purposes for my family, especially as it helped me out of the "curriculum wilderness" and enabled me to get a grip on what approaches are best for us;
  • there's no denying that MFW really was a great fit for us the first year (Adventures) and a good fit the second (Kindergarten and ECC)...and also that the Preschool Activities fit us well, too, and that 1st Grade would have likely been a really good fit if we'd been able to use it;
  • there comes a point when one must acknowledge that choosing to utilize virtually none of a curriculum package means one is no longer really using said curriculum at all;
  • acknowledging a need to make some changes doesn't make me "disloyal" to MFW or to those with whom I've advocated for MFW...but, instead, makes me "loyal" to God and my children by listening to the promptings of the Former for the sake of the latter rather than "going with the flow" in order to please others;
  • now that I've gained my bearings in terms of approach, I'm probably not a "boxed curriculum" kinda gal...but will, instead, be ultimately happier choosing what I (not even the most well-meaning company) believe to be best for us in each area;
  • just because it's not a good fit for my family right now doesn't mean MFW is a lousy curriculum;
  • "not a good fit" for us doesn't mean that's true for everyone...because MFW is a great fit for many families;
  • I wasn't wrong to "cheerlead" for something I believed in...because I was doing so with integrity based on my experiences at the time;
  • if some ultimately chose MFW after talking with me, that's hopefully because each subsequently "did her homework" and took responsibility for determining it to be a good fit for her own family...not just because "Tina said so";
  • just because I'm switching to other things doesn't mean that those I influenced toward MFW need question their well-researched choices or feel compelled to even think about following suit;
  • based on my understanding of the rest of the cores, I *think* our season with MFW has passed...but I'll never say, "Never," because it might be a good fit again at some point in the future;
  • in regards to home education curriculum - as with everything in life - each of us needs to be open and responsive to the Lord's promptings...even when what He says is unexpected, confusing, and hard.

Another truth is that I'm now on the road with new material choices for history, science, and Bible study/devotions - to accompany a return to a tried-and-true art program and the continuation of all the (non-MFW) resources we've discovered are currently best for us in the other curricular areas.

And I'm really thankful the Lord prompted me to begin what I thought would be the start of a new term in July - which makes total sense now. You see, by starting when I did, I was able to work through my "crisis of faith" before what I've always intended to be the start of a new term in August. Thus, I can now have a do-over with appropriate materials beginning next week...just when I first thought I would start in the first place! If, on the other hand, I'd waited, I'd have had curricular stress all through August and would have felt really behind the eight-ball by September - but I was able to avoid all of that by listening even when I didn't know why I should do so.

Oh, to apply that lesson to all areas of life every day...


Now, as for what my new choices are, I will write about that next time!

Photo Credit: Pesi (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pesi/377272695/)


Lisa said...

I read this entire post, and I am so grateful for your honesty and openness! We are going to do MFW this year for the very first time (I have a 5th and 8th grader) and we'll be using ECC. I'm excited about doing something totally different this year, but it was really good to hear your perspective about choosing what actually works best for your kids. I'm sure I'll be going back over your posts several times if I run into snags.

I'm looking forward to reading about what you are choosing to do instead!

Simply Taunya said...

I'm glad you wrote this. I loved the philosophy of MFW, but found that the resources are boring, don't fit with our particular thought of science & bible and my kids just didn't enjoy the activities.

Isn't it awesome that we have freedom to change what we need to and give our kids exactly what they need? It's so refreshing after years of PS and my kids learning whatever some school board decided!

Anonymous said...

(((Hugs))) It's so hard to make curricula choices to fit an individual family. I've used many of MFW cores, and as I've learned with all packages, there is always something that I changed. With CtG, I did change the Streams book and some science, but we had probably the best year of MFW. We loved learning the Old Testament.

Thank you for sharing your heart. I'm back to MFW after a few years break, but I needed the break for many of these reasons.

Erika said...

Great, honest post! I'm glad you wrote it. Your enthusiasm about MFW had me really looking into it. I thought that the idea sounded great, but the more I looked into it I saw that it didn't really seem to fit. I'm glad that I followed my heart and opted NOT to dive into it. You are right, you need to do what fits and sometimes it just means trying something new! Kudos to you!

Jennifer said...

I had a similar experience when I stopped using A Beka several years ago and starting what I'll call our more "eclectic" period. It hasn't always been easy, but I think it is working better.

Edie said...

So much of what you loved and didn't love about MFW is where we stood last January. I had used ADV, ECC and got 19 weeks into CTG. I loved the first two years of MFW and even worked their convention booths too. Then as we went along in CTG started to feel like I needed to consider a change. The Lord led me to something new and it is such a good fit for us in this season. I too thought MFW would be "it" for the rest of our homeschooling years and felt horrified when I started to discover that it wasn't. I can so relate to so many of the emotions of having been such a MFW cheerleader and so excited about it for those years and then to suddenly realize that MFW wasn't working for us any more. So glad that the Lord is faithful to show us each what is right for our family at each season and I am so glad that we have all the wonderful choices to pick from. Thanks for your candid post about all of this. Know that you are not the only one to come to a similar conclusion after going down a similar road.

Sweetpetunia said...

This is a great post Tina. I've talked to you a few times on THL in the MFW group. I've used K twice- about to use it for a third time this year- I've used ECC, CtG, and AHL & WHL. So far we've liked everything but I agree, CtG got pretty dry in the middle there. We studied ancient Rome but we did it without the MFW TM because we couldn't afford it. It went okay but my DD said she liked following the grid.lol. I bought Adventures for my son who has language delays and we just started it. I think we're in week 3 or 4. It's going okay but my son has trouble following anything that's more geared toward his age and he's 9. So are you using Diana Waring curriculum now? I've been curious about that one for a while now. I think my DH would flip on me if I changed direction because I convinced him that MFW was the way to go some years ago. I'm a little afraid MFW won't work for us either but I also love their philosophy.

I'm glad you were able to move forward. I need to decide if it'll work for us too.

Good post. Thanks for writing it.

Tina Hollenbeck said...

Hi, Sweetpetunia!
I wanted to reply and let you know that we've been using The Mystery of History for almost two years now, and it has been a very good fit for us. I'm happy to answer questions about MOH if you have any.

I am considering Diana Waring for high school, but the writing seemed a bit to textbookish for my tastes under the high school level.

Melanie Robinson said...

I know this is an old post, but it is where I am now. I have used all years of MFW except CtoG. As I am looking to purchase it I can't help but to be pulled toward MOH. I love MFW and have lot invested in it, but I DO NOT like Streams at all. I am going to be using this for my two little ones and I just can't do dry history. I want history to flow like a story for them. I am just so torn....

Tina Hollenbeck said...

FWIW, Melanie, I have not ever regretted my choice to "go eclectic" since we made the switch. MOH is one of my favorite resources and my girls will be using it again (as one spine of several) in our high school endeavors.

Melanie Robinson said...

Thanks, Tina. I have decided to order MOH and am very excited about it!

Christie said...

Thanks for this post. We are just about to start MFW 1st, but I've had a nagging feeling about MFW in general since we started (and honestly I went with it again this year b/c it seemed easier to just go with it). I like the theory, too, and some of it looks great... but I just have this feeling.... Thanks for putting some of this into words. It's overwhelming to think of trying to figure out the next step, but at least I've got a year to do it!

Jackie in TN said...

Tina, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, although it has been a few years since you initially posted this. I have gone back and forth with MFW, especially since we've come to the high school level with my 2 eldest daughters. Through the past 2-3 years while using MFW, we've always added in MOH readings here and there and my children have loved it. I struggled with leaving MFW because since we left PS back in 2011, our 1st homeschooling year with ECC was so wonderful. I felt like I devoted so much time, effort, and encouragement to other families about MFW that it would be wrong for us to use something else. We are finally making the full change, and my children are so excited! Reading your post this morning has truly encouraged me. God bless you!

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