Everyone loves a good story. I have spent hours with my children relating the adventures of Frog and Toad, Corduroy, and the Boxcar children. We have laughed at Amelia Bedelia’s mix-ups, cried at the death of Matthew Cuthbert, and cheered on the Narnians as they battled the White Witch.
Since so many homeschoolers are also great lovers of books, literature has always played a large role in homeschooling. Literature-based homeschool curriculum packages offer homeschoolers the opportunity to replace traditional textbooks with a variety of other books. Would such a curriculum be a good fit for your family? Here are some things to consider.
What is a literature-based homeschool curriculum?
A literature-based homeschool curriculum emphasizes learning through living books (books that engage the reader) instead of traditional textbooks. Living books are typically narratives; they tell a story. And they are written by subject-matter authorities.
Homeschoolers who follow the Charlotte Mason homeschooling style often choose to use a literature-based curriculum. Some homeschooling parents create their own literature-based curriculum. Others purchase a curriculum package from one of many homeschool publishers that specialize in a literature-based approach.
How does a literature-based curriculum work?
Some parents choose to use a literature-based curriculum for the entirety of their child’s educational experience. Others might use it only for certain subjects. Two popular subjects for literature-based instruction are history and language arts.
If you were using a literature-based homeschool curriculum for history, you would likely read a lot of biographies, historical fiction, published letters and journals, and narrative non-fiction books about a particular time period. For example, if you were studying early American history, you might read a biography of Ben Franklin, a book like Johnny Tremain, and some poetry by Phillis Wheatley.
For language arts, a literature-based homeschool curriculum usually will include phonics instruction in the early years and will reinforce that instruction through simple, developmentally appropriate books. As children grow in their reading skills, the books get more difficult. Some programs will focus on a particular genre of literature for a year (such as fairy tales and fables) or on the literature from a specific geographic region or country. Usually, vocabulary development occurs alongside reading, but spelling and grammar are often taught separately.
Pros & Cons of a Literature-Based Approach to Homeschooling
- Reading together builds family bonds.
As parents, we want to create meaningful connections with our children, and stories often help us do just that. Siblings can bond over books too. My daughters enjoy discussing books and acting out scenes from books that they have all read.
- Stories create emotional connections, making information memorable.
Stories are full of emotion. They may make us afraid or sad or excited, and when we have an emotional connection with them, we tend to remember them. Facts and information, on the other hand, don’t usually make us feel anything, so they may be easily forgotten.
- It’s easier to teach multiple ages together.
Homeschooling multiple ages is challenging. But a literature-based homeschool curriculum can make teaching multiple grades easier. You can read the books aloud for a topic to all your children so every child can learn something. This works best for subjects like history.
- Literature can connect learning across subjects
A literature-based homeschool curriculum can also help you connect learning across different subjects. For example, if you were reading Sarah, Plain and Tall, you could dive deeper and learn some history and geography (Maine vs. prairie). You can practice writing a personal letter, learn a lot of new vocabulary words, and perhaps even study weather patterns.
- Books may leave significant learning gaps.
No curriculum is perfect and educational gaps are almost inevitable. A literature-based curriculum often leaves significant learning gaps because it is not structured for systematic learning.
- Living history books may not distinguish between fact and fiction.
Since living books are by definition engaging books, students using a literature-based curriculum often read a great deal of fiction. Unless they are well guided, these students may not be able to discern what is fiction and what is true about the subjects they are reading about.
- A literature-based curriculum is very difficult to curate yourself, and the curriculum may not match family values.
Those who haven’t studied educational strategies might not know which books would help their children’s understanding and which wouldn’t. Additionally, when purchasing an already curated literature-based curriculum from a provider, you don’t pick your books. You may get books you wouldn’t choose for your children.
- Parents will have to read aloud any books that are too difficult for their children.
Not only is it difficult to find educationally appropriate books, but it is especially challenging to find ones on your children’s reading level. If your children are early readers or aren’t confident readers, expect to have to spend a lot of time either reading aloud to your children or monitoring their reading to ensure comprehension is taking place.
- Biblical worldview shaping is difficult.
If your children are using a literature-based curriculum, they will be reading a lot of books written from a lot of different worldviews. Combating these differing worldviews and shaping a biblical worldview in your children is going to require a lot of time and energy from you. As Mabe wrote in “Homeschooling Language Arts from a Biblical Worldview,” choosing a curriculum “that presented lessons with a foundation we could embrace rather than ideas we would have to overcome” was easier.
Alternatives to Literature-Based Homeschooling
Literature-based homeschooling may or may not be right for your family. If you want to explore other homeschooling options, you may want to check out Jennifer’s post “Popular Homeschooling Styles and How to Choose One.” She discusses several other homeschooling options such as traditional, classical, eclectic, and unit studies and points out the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
The BJU Press Approach to Learning through Literature
BJU Press is not a literature-based homeschool program, but it does value the use of literature as part of its homeschool curriculum.
Textbooks are at the core of BJU Press’s homeschool curriculum. These textbooks are written on grade level so your children can read them for themselves. Not only is the text itself engaging, but each textbook is also full of beautiful full-color photographs, illustrations, and diagrams to aid in your children’s understanding of the subject.
Written by subject-matter experts and skilled educators, the textbooks provide an efficient way of covering content. The textbooks don’t encourage students to learn ideas in isolation. Instead, the textbooks present ideas within a structured framework so students can understand how bits of information fit into a larger picture.
BJU Press’s Literature and Reading Programs
BJU Press believes that novels and other books should be used alongside its textbooks. Novel studies are core to the BJU Press elementary reading program and the new editions of literature 7 and 8. Students need to practice applying the reading strategies they have learned to longer works of literature, so every elementary reading course includes at least two novel studies, and the new editions of literature 7 and 8 each include a novel study. (Novel studies will be added to the new editions of other literature courses when they are released.)
Literature in Other BJU Press Courses
BJU Press also encourages students to read primary sources in many Heritage Studies courses. For example, the American Republic course (grade 8) requires students to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin when studying the Civil War period so they can understand how it changed people’s opinion of slavery.
BJU Press also believes that students should be free to choose to read books that interest them. When they choose their own reading material, students often choose books that are challenging to them but contain vocabulary that they know well. For example, one of my daughters went through a phase when she was obsessed with gymnastics. At the time, she was a fairly new reader, but she would check out every gymnastics-related book our library housed, even ones that were written way above her reading level. Since she was so interested in that subject matter, she would read those books over and over and over again. Those books helped her grow in her reading skills.
There are definite advantages of using both textbooks and stand-alone books in your homeschool. Both are good and valuable. And when used in combination, textbooks and books will allow you to be successful in your homeschooling journey.