What do your children need to be able to do in order for them to be prepared for their future jobs? In a previous post, we explored some of the 21st century skills that educators have identified as key for students’ success and that we believe will help students be effective servants of Christ, their families, their communities, and their employers.
Do you know what one of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is? You have the freedom to be flexible and mobile and do whatever you need to do to ensure that your children will be equipped for their future lives. If you aren’t part of an online academy or a school with strict regulations, then you are free to buy curriculum directly from the curriculum creators. Which means, once those resources are in your home, you get to use them however you like. You can focus on the lessons and skills that you believe will be the most beneficial for your children’s future. You can choose resources that will help them become more effective servants of Christ, their family, their community, and their employer. [Read more…] about 21st Century Skills for 21st Century Homeschooling (Part 1)
In April, Renton Rathbun, a former college professor and current Biblical Worldview Specialist at BJU Press, joined Heidi St. John on her podcast. They came together to talk about the agenda of secular colleges and universities to undermine the faith of their students. While that agenda is very real, it may not manifest itself in the way you might expect. Christian young people are expecting to go into secular universities, trade schools, and work places and have their faith blatantly mocked or rejected. But what they encounter is something that Renton calls sophisticated unbelief.
Sophisticated unbelief is a tactic that university professors take towards students with faith-based backgrounds. They come alongside these students and appear to support and value faith while also emphasizing that that student’s faith does not apply in the classroom.
The Dangers of Sophisticated Unbelief
These professors will be genuine, likeable, intelligent, and approachable people. These men and women are not villains who will publically mock and condemn your children for their beliefs. In fact, they will see themselves as the heroes your children need. From their perspective, they’re there to rescue your children from a primitive and backwards worldview. The danger comes in when they divide what they’re teaching in the classroom from your children’s biblical worldview. They want your children to have a two-story view of the world, because if they can disconnect the secular world from the Christian world, your children won’t be able to argue about where their worldview applies. And if your children aren’t prepared to encounter sophisticated unbelief, it’s easy for them to see how this intelligent and friendly new authority in their lives might be right about some things.
As Renton points out, the best defense is to teach your children to truly study the Scriptures. Not just to know the Scriptures, but to see how they connect to all areas of their lives—math, science, history, and the English language arts. And to do that, they will need to be able to apply critical thinking skills to the Scriptures and to the subjects that they’re studying.
Studying the Bible and developing thinking skills will enable your children to defend their faith. Listen to the full discussion between Renton and Heidi for more!
If you love reading, you probably get excited about the idea of teaching reading and literature to your children. But literature can be one of the hardest subjects to teach well. The study of literature should open a student’s mind to new cultures, new perspectives, and new ideas. It should give students insight into experiences they aren’t likely to have. And it should challenge students to recognize biblical and unbiblical thinking in what they’re reading. It takes more than just a reading assignment and a list of comprehension questions to accomplish all that.
Teaching Literature with the Terms
Just like with poetry, you’ll need to build a foundation of terms you can use to talk about what your children are reading. Symbolism, satire, and allusion are all tools that writers use to tell their stories. Satire can help readers to reconsider the way they look at the world. Symbolism adds depth and meaning to stories. Allusion adds unity to a literary work by connecting different elements of the story.
Setting the Stage
You’ll also need to set the stage for your children. A writer’s history and family background has a huge influence on his or her literary work. Not only that, but the culture writers live in also affects how and what they write. Perhaps our children’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren will one day study the popularity of dystopian fiction in the late 20th century and early 21st century and what that says about how we think and believe as a culture.
Asking Thinking Questions
Once you’ve equipped your children with the relevant terminology and background, they should really think about what they’ve read. Those questions about who did what in a story are great for determining if your children understood what they read on a surface level, but they don’t get your child thinking about what’s below the surface. Asking what kind of creature Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is isn’t like asking what 499 ÷ 7 is. The math question requires a student to use and apply math skills to show understanding. The literature question only demonstrates recall. As your children progress in reading comprehension, questions should focus less on recall and more on critical thinking development. Focusing on critical thinking questions also helps make reading and literature lessons more interesting.
Confronting Unbiblical Thinking
Sadly, your children will not be able to go their whole lives without reading something that supports an unbiblical worldview. News articles, blogs, and even children’s books will support views you may not agree with—even something innocuous as “it’s ok to tell white lies to not hurt your friend’s feelings.” Those unbiblical concepts won’t be explicitly stated. Your children will need to learn to identify worldview implications so that they can respond appropriately. Studying literature can give your children the perfect opportunity to practice that kind of worldview discernment.
Recognizing God’s Design in Literature
Have you ever read about themes and symbolism in a certain piece of literature and thought “Maybe the author wasn’t thinking that at all”? It’s a tempting—and realistic—thought. As a writer myself, I enjoy using literary tools, but in general, my first priority is telling a good, cohesive story, not burying hidden meanings in what colors I use. But it’s undeniable that there is a unity of design in every work of literature—even if that unity is unintentional or accidental. You can find meaningful symbolism in seemingly random works, and you can trace themes in even the most chaotic literature. No matter how random a work of literature may seem, the image of God in the author—however marred—will come through in the writing. As we’re teaching literature, we can study man’s creative designs, and we can grow to appreciate God’s grand design as the ultimate Creator.
For most of us, by the time we reach adulthood, reading comes naturally. We don’t have to think about which letters make what sounds or the rules for making different sounds. We just read. But then you look at your young children who have only been talking for a short while. How do you even begin to teach them to read? Naturally, the ABCs are a great place to start, but what comes after that? What is phonics and how are you supposed to teach it?
BJU Press’s approach to phonics in early learning and Grade 1—and even beyond to Grade 3—is fairly straightforward. If your children can talk, then they already know most of the words that they’ll be reading. You just need to give them the tools to read them.
Laying the Groundwork with Fun and Games
As a homeschool parent, you might hear a lot about sneaky learning—the idea of hiding learning opportunities in games and activities that your kids enjoy. But when your kids are just learning to read, there’s no point in hiding learning because all they do is learn, and most of the things they do are fun and games. All you need to do is direct them towards fun that will prepare them for future learning. Songs that teach rhymes, alphabet games, tracing activities, even reading to them while they look over your shoulder all help prepare your kids for the next step in learning to read. And it sets up a strong foundation to build on.
That’s why each of BJU Press’s early learning programs—Pathways for Preschool, Footsteps for Fours, and Focus on Fives—focuses heavily on activities, games, and characters that will keep children engaged and prepare them for learning.
Why do you spend so much time laying the groundwork? You’re helping your children associate the sounds they hear and use to communicate with the letters and words they see on the page. It’s a big step from auditory and oral functions to visual functions.
Letter Sound Associations
Before they can read words, they’ll need to identify the sounds they hear. And that requires phonemic awareness—the ability to hear and recognize the individual sounds, or phonemes, that make up words. The s sound, the i sound, and the t sound in sit, for example. In Focus on Fives, Phonics 1, and English 1, we use numerous strategies for building phonemic awareness, including phonics stories and characters, phonics songs, rhyming songs, and read-alouds.
But phonemic awareness goes beyond just recognizing sounds. It’s also about being able to use and manipulate them. If your child knows the letter sounds for sit, as well as other consonant sounds, he or she can manipulate those consonant sounds into other members of the _it word family. With phonemic awareness and word families, children can learn proper pronunciation and find meaning rapidly. For children learning phonics, the words they’re starting with are usually words they already know. They need to be able to associate the letters they don’t know with the sounds they do know, so it’s less about building vocabulary and more about being able to decode sounds from letters. As they learn new sounds, they can practice combining letters and sounds into real words, and even find new words by looking for familiar patterns.
Keeping It Fun
Instead of teaching one word at a time, you’re equipping your children with the tools they need for reading all kinds of words. Tools like short and long vowels, consonant blends, r-influenced words, special vowel sounds, silent consonants, suffixes, and syllable division. Of course, most of these tools don’t have much meaning to a 5- or a 6-year-old who’s learning to read. That’s where we bring the fun back in with characters and games. Mr. Short, Miss Long, Marker E, Bossy R, and Miss Silent all give engaging visual cues that help your children learn and remember.
The goal of phonics instruction is for your children to be ready to read with comprehension and confidence. But teaching phonics alone can’t get you all the way there. Your children will also need opportunities to apply phonics principles in reading lessons. One key to that will be a phonics and reading program that supports them as they develop their skills. In Focus on Fives, we teach phonics and reading together, but in Grade 1, phonics and reading are two correlated subjects, and children practice and apply their skills separately. We continue to support phonics through Reading 3. Additionally, your children will need regular opportunities to read silently to develop reading comprehension, and to read orally to develop fluency. When children practice reading aloud, they learn to apply speaking rules (pauses, emphasis, and pacing) to their reading, adding depth and meaning. This kind of practice also improves their ability to communicate verbally.
Ultimately, you are preparing your children to read the Bible with confidence and clarity so that they can build their worldview on its principles. The way there is just one step after another. Your kids will be life-long readers before you know it!