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:
what makes sense
and what doesn't make sense
telling myself not to care
telling myself it's okay to cry
about the people i used to know
about the people i do know
and i seem to not be going anywhere.
by C. Almonde
- 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.
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/)