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)
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.
Sometimes, I feel like people don’t talk enough about research papers or give them enough credit. They might just be one of the most valuable learning opportunities you can give your children. After all, isn’t learning about a topic, knowing how to gather reliable information about that topic, formulating an opinion about it, and logically supporting that opinion with facts exactly what you want your children to be able to do?
Unfortunately, we’ve all seen—or written—one of those research papers that was all fluff, no substance, and somehow still got a good grade. I will readily admit that I’ve written a few of those myself. Obviously, the writer didn’t really learn anything, so what’s the point of assigning it? Research papers shouldn’t be just busywork. Each research paper you present to your kids is a beautiful opportunity for them to apply all the lessons you’ve been working on this year. And for you, a research paper is an opportunity to see how well your children have learned.
The Opportunity for Application
Science courses don’t include labs just for fun. Math courses don’t give math problems just to make it hard. Students need a chance to apply what they’ve learned in a new way so that it really sticks. And that’s as true for writing and reasoning skills as it is for the water cycle or long division. In a research paper, students can use those grammar rules they’ve learned to clearly communicate what they’re thinking. And, as they practice formulating an argument, they can use what they’ve learned about logical fallacies to make their argument strong.
Now, perhaps you think that the application questions in your child’s grammar workbook are enough. But applying grammar or logic rules to a sentence you’re expecting to be wrong is different from using those rules while you’re writing. Writers don’t think about the rules as they’re writing; they’re thinking about the next point they need to make or how thoughts connect. When you see your children’s writing, you’ll be able to know whether they really understand the rule. A research paper is a real-life, low-stakes opportunity to apply the rules—good practice for a job application letter or college entrance exam.
The Opportunity to Practice Critical Thinking
When students do a research paper properly, a lot of thought goes into the process. What kinds of information will validly support their thesis? How will they address information that contradicts their thesis? In addition to shaping their argument, they’re going to have to find and address questions that they might not expect. If they’ve never written a longer paper, they will need to learn how to adjust their process to account for the greater detail they’ll need. But it goes beyond just crafting the argument and planning out the project.
Researching also demands critical thinking skills. Remember that old saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink? You can write book after book about research techniques and finding information, but it’s all useless if the students don’t read comprehensively and consider the meaning. To research any topic, students need to actually think about the information they’re reading—which is something you often try to have your children do in a literature course. When they’re looking for information that supports an argument, it demands a whole new level of reading comprehension. I’ve had countless students who cited inappropriate sources for support because they didn’t actually read what their sources said. A research paper will tell you whether your children have developed their reading comprehension well enough to read information critically and apply it to their argument.
The Opportunity for Excitement
Have you ever found that, after spending hours on a single topic, you develop a unique interest in that topic? Writing about anything will leave that kind of impact. No matter what your feelings were about a topic before you decided to write about it, once you’ve spent hours researching it, developing an opinion, and writing and rewriting your argument, you’re going to have an interest in it and—dare I say?—an excitement about it. The same thing happens for your children when they write a research paper. They might not admit it. They might not follow up on that interest. But in the process, they will come away knowing something new.
While it is important to allow your children to write about what they love, they also need to be able to embrace a new, unfamiliar subject. Research papers are a valuable way to introduce children to new topics—even though they may not want that introduction.
In your homeschool, every chapter, every lesson, and every assignment is another opportunity for your children. Research papers may be a more challenging opportunity, but clear communication, reasoning skills, and learning are worth the effort.
As a homeschool parent, you want your children to grow in discerning between good and evil. As you evaluate your curriculum for the year, it’s important to consider not just your children’s learning styles and preferences but also how their curriculum is shaping their worldview. Biblical integration within the curriculum is an integral part to developing a Christian worldview.
With so many secular voices in education, how can you determine the quality of the Christian education you’re giving your children? We’ve created a scale to help you evaluate the quality of biblical worldview integration in your curriculum. You should be able to use your curriculum to capture your children’s minds and hearts with a love for God and His Word.
Level 0 – No Biblical Integration
Level 0 does not mean that there is no mention of the Bible. Rather, there is no connection between the Bible and the lesson materials. Curriculum at this level include Bible reading and prayer separate from the lesson, and so claim to give your children a Christian education. Since a biblical worldview has no influence on the lesson itself, it’s not really a Christian education.
Level 1 – Referencing the Bible
In this level, the Bible may be present in the lessons, but it doesn’t change or reshape learning. It primarily just reminds children that the Bible is there. It doesn’t help children to think more deeply about biblical principles or to consider how they can live out the Bible today.
1a – Biblical Analogies
Curriculums at this level look for areas where a biblical concept and a subject overlap. This desire for overlap creates analogies like a butterfly’s metamorphosis to illustrate a believer’s sanctification. Another example is using a plus sign to represent the cross because Jesus’ righteousness is added to our account. These analogies have no inherent connection to the materials. With only Bible analogies, children will never understand how Scripture is relevant to everyday life.
1b – Biblical Examples
Level 1b looks for instances of various subjects in the Bible. A curriculum might ask students to look for evidence of pi in the building of the temple during math class. They might even use the story of Joseph and Judah to study dramatic irony. Using this sublevel shows how the Bible is relevant in various areas of study. However, if a curriculum never goes deeper than this level, the Bible has not yet influenced your children’s real-world learning.
Level 2 – Responding with the Bible
This level involves using Scripture to shape the way your children interact with and study the world. The Bible becomes essential in their critical-thinking skills. Children will need to apply what they know about the Bible to their studies and their everyday choices.
2a – Serving with the Discipline
God issued a command in Genesis 1:28 to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” He also commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves in Matthew 22:39. Curriculums at level 2a show children how to follow these commands in each subject. Dominion Modeling segments in BJU Press math materials open doors for you to discuss how to live out God’s Creation Mandate. For example, in chapter 4 of our Algebra 1 textbook, these questions will prepare your children to be good stewards of money by teaching them to understand interest rates. To serve others, your children might also learn how to apply linear functions to build a wheelchair access ramp.
2b – Worshiping with the Discipline
This level turns learning opportunities into worship opportunities. You might implement worship during schoolwork time by having your children write poems praising God. They could follow the example of the authors of the Psalms, or practice a poetry form they learned recently. Teaching that God is creator of everything allows us to see His handiwork in every field of study. Once we can recognize His work, we must point the glory back to Him.
Level 3 – Rebuilding with the Bible
Level 3 is the deepest level of biblical integration. In this level, the Bible becomes the standard for how your children will study and understand every subject. Taking a secular curriculum and making it Christian by pointing out the errors can never be a level 3 biblically integrated curriculum. A secular curriculum begins with the premise that God and Scripture must be absent from education. In order to have a level 3 curriculum, the materials must be built on the premise that God is the ultimate standard for education. Materials designed with this level in mind help alleviate the burden on you to constantly help your children separate the lies from the truth while they are learning.
3a – Evaluating the Premises
A curriculum incorporating level 3a compares the content of each subject to the standard of the Bible. This process helps your children to question what is accepted as truth in secular thinking. For example, the Bible challenges the assumption that math is completely objective and certain. In science, the Bible also challenges modern scientists’ assumptions of uniformitarianism. When the Bible becomes the standard of the curriculum, your children will learn to reject the modern premise that humans are the ultimate standard for truth.
3b – Rebuilding the Discipline
The most important step of biblical integration is starting with the Bible as the foundation for learning. For example, by making the Bible the foundation, we can affirm the historicity of Genesis 1-11 as the beginning of our world and human culture. We then can build on the philosophical basis of Genesis as we study history and science. Because we begin with the truth about Creation, Fall, Redemption, we can place each subject your children study in its proper sphere, neither unduly elevating or neglecting them.
Many people in our culture want to downplay the relevance of Scripture in every sphere of life. They believe that religion is okay as long as it stays at home and at church on Sundays. At BJU Press we design our materials to show your children that the Bible is the foundation for all of life, from family devotions to playtime. Each product we produce is built from the premise of the truth of God’s Word in order to help you shape your children’s minds with a biblical worldview.
What do I smell? What was that noise? Why is the water so cold? Can we build a tall, tall tower? My toddler is full of questions about her world. You probably remember those days. So many questions! When we think about all these questions, science naturally comes to mind. But science is not about knowing the right answers. It’s about finding ways to answer the right questions. Children are naturally curious. One of the reasons you might homeschool is to focus attention on what your children find interesting. What better way to get hands-on experience answering questions than with labs?
It may be tempting to let your kids read about lab experiments. You may think that watching a video will teach them the answers just as well. But there are three main benefits to doing the labs.
1. We learn better by doing.
To learn any new skill, you have to try it yourself. Lab exercises in science class are not just teaching your children answers for a test. Labs are about building new skills. When I was a biology student, I didn’t particularly enjoy dissections. Why do I need to cut open a preserved animal to learn where all its parts are? I remember sitting in Human Anatomy and Physiology lab in college. We were dissecting cats. On this day we were trying to find blood vessels. I was stuck on one site where a branching vessel should be. It just wasn’t there. I finally sought help. My professor cut a little further down and found the branch. He was so excited that he called over every student in the lab to see it. I was learning how to think about three dimensional objects, or spatial reasoning. But I was also learning that not every specimen follows the rules. Imagine how useful that experience would be to a future surgeon. Spatial reasoning is also critical for engineers, athletes, artists, and more.
2. With labs, we learn to ask the right questions.
During my dissection, I was asking “Why isn’t the branch point where it’s supposed to be?” If I had asked, “Where is it?” I would likely have kept looking until I found it. When doing a lab exercise, your child may get stuck. Encourage her to ask a different question. Over time, and with experience, she will get better at asking the right questions. Questions are the inspiration of science. You can’t have a hypothesis without first having a question. If it’s a good one, it will motivate the pursuit of answers. When you use a lab manual, encourage your child to ask at least one question beyond the manual. Then see if you can find an answer together. A child pursuing his own question will retain more knowledge.
3. We learn to think critically about results of our labs.
The goal of a lab exercise should not merely be getting to the answer. If that were the goal, watching a video would be just as useful. It’s about the process leading up to the result. I recently saw an article on social media about a handwashing experiment. The headline said it was “just in time for flu season.” But the cover photo of several slices of moldy bread made me cringe. We can all agree that handwashing is important. The experiment seemed to support that idea. So why did I cringe? The headline implied that the experiment showed how to prevent the spread of the flu. But the flu is caused by a virus. In fact, most of what makes us sick is viral or bacterial. But a virus and bacteria won’t grow on bread. The experiment actually had nothing to do with the flu or any illness.
What does the experiment tell us? It tells us that there are organisms, including bacteria and mold spores, on our hands and other surfaces. And washing our hands is the best way to get rid of these. Though the headline and cover photo were misleading, mold was still an effective, even stunning and disgusting, way to get that point across. A lab exercise like this one gives students the opportunity to recognize limitations. With the right guided discussion about what an experiment actually reveals, those limitations can be a hidden strength. They teach valuable thinking skills that just watching a video may not be able to teach.
Getting started at home
Laboratory experiences don’t have to be expensive. Many chemicals needed for experiments are already in your home. For example, you probably already have containers of baking soda, vinegar, table salt, and hydrogen peroxide. It’s possible to extract DNA from a strawberry using dish soap, a coffee filter, and rubbing alcohol. An experiment like this is ripe for questions and critical thinking. Can I extract DNA from a different fruit? What about table salt? My cheek cells? Why do I get different amounts of DNA out of different fruits or the cheek cells? What if my DNA extraction from cheek cells is no more productive than the table salt? What might have gone wrong? Can I try a different technique to improve my results?
You may be surprised how long your children will keep going if they are asking the right questions. Personally, I love it when my toddler is just having fun, but I know she’s learning. If you pay attention to what your child is naturally curious about, you can reap the most benefits.
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Valerie is a wife and a mother to a very busy toddler. In her free time she enjoys reading all kinds of books. She earned a BS in Biology from Bob Jones University, minoring in Mathematics, and a PhD in Molecular Genetics from Ohio State University. Valerie has 15 years of experience working in research laboratories and has coauthored 8 original research articles. She has also taught several classes and laboratories at the high school and college levels. She currently works as a data analyst and a freelance writer.