Sunday, February 26, 2012

Integrated Worldview

One of BJU's strong points is how integrated their curriculum is. Their classes sometimes cover the same theme at the same time, history tidbits are described in English class, science is mentioned in reading, Bible study is incorporated into most classes, and so on. Due to this, if you use all their classes together, your student will get more than the sum of the parts: extra cultural information is shared throughout their day, classes reinforce each other, and a broad spectrum of knowledge is imparted. It's like your student is attending a school where all the teachers are working together to provide a cohesive and complete learning experience throughout the whole year.

However, this is only wonderful primarily if you share the same worldview as BJU. With their worldview scattered throughout every class, your student will encounter those beliefs everywhere. I had known from the start that I disagreed with BJU in a few key points (young-earth beliefs being the primary one), but thought that if I just skipped the science classes and some of the history classes, I could avoid that belief. I'm finding more and more that this is not going to be the case. I've previewed some of the books for later grades at our local Mardel's store, and have seen young-earth aspects in 4th grade handwriting, 5th grade reading, etc. With the videos, I can never be sure if the teachers might mention something else I disagree with, without having to prescreen all the videos, which I don't have the time or inclination to do. I have been reading more and more issues that others have with BJU (race relationships, disapproval of Catholics, etc.), and find that I have some of these other issues too.

For many people, a few young-earth comments isn't a big deal, but it is to me. It's just like those who don't want their child to be taught that evolution is true (or fill in the blank with any other hot topic you think is wrong), especially in their early years. That's one of the reasons we homeschool instead of sending our children to an outside teacher, whose daily comments (as well as those of the other students) are out of our control and even knowledge. Of course, you can always use it as a teaching experience, discussing with your child why you don't agree with that teaching, but with the BJU videos, these year-long teachers are becoming very close to your student (even if the relationship is one-sided). They look up to these teachers, enjoy them, and trust that they are teaching them the truth. To have to say later that, yes, your teacher said that, but she was wrong - well, that just undermines that teacher's authority and your student may never trust them again (or might even side with the teacher and say that you - the parent - are wrong!). With a textbook or workbook, or a one-time teacher who has not created a relationship with your student, it is much easier to contradict it/them without any detrimental effects.

Now if you do agree with BJU's worldview, then their distance learning classes really are wonderful. I wish there were a company producing such high quality material where everything did agree with my own worldview! But alas, there isn't.

I will continue using the videos for the rest of 1st grade, pre-screening as we go and skipping a few things here and there, but after that, we will try something different, something more eclectic. I have thought of teaching the BJU material myself, just eliminating any aspects that I disagree with, but as I have noted earlier, their material is very teacher-intensive, and I need a more independent curriculum.

I struggled a lot with my oldest daughter for kindergarten and early 1st grade, as that is a time that needs a high level of teacher interaction. BJU 1st grade videos were a lifesaver for us at that time. But now that she can read so much better (BJU did do a wonderful job of teaching her to read - and I know she will just get better in the remaining months we have with 1st grade), we have many more options for independent learning. I think that was what made the biggest difference in her attitude - being able to do school on her own more, without me hovering over her continually. So I will look for material that will allow her to be somewhat independent for at least some of her classes - such as CLE for English, and Math Mammoth for math, perhaps adding in videos from Discovery Education to add interest and some of the "extra-curricular tidbits of interest" that we got from the BJU videos.

For my younger ones, I'm not sure what I'll do, since I do now have the teacher's manuals for BJU K5 and 1st grade. Maybe I'll just use them (we're still doing K5 videos with my middle child now), maybe we'll do a combination of things. I'll have to wait and see what their learning styles are like, I guess.

More to come later, on our continuing saga of curriculum choices!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Science: teeth and tomatoes

Last Sunday, my oldest daughter's top front tooth finally came out. It has been wiggly for at least 5 months. I had tried to pull it out a few times, but to no avail. But Sunday morning after church, as we were searching for my younger daughter's jacket in various rooms in the children's building, Rebekah suddenly exclaimed loudly. When I turned to her, she was holding out her tooth in the palm of her hand. After a moment of shock, staring at her tooth, she ran to go show it to all the teachers still in the building. Such excitement! And yes, we did find my other daughter's jacket too.

The reason I mention this in relation to science is that we just so happened to have scheduled a study of teeth for the following week for science! Really! Perfect timing. 5 months, and then the day before we start to study teeth, it falls out. She was very attentive during her science lessons, I have to say.

On another, seemingly unrelated note, I was recently drying off my son in the bathroom after his bath, when he suddenly peered into the draining bathtub and pointed, exclaiming, "Tomato!" I frowned, and then leaned over to look, since we do have some plastic tomato slices that came with our kitchen play set. I didn't remember him bringing one into bath time to play, but I never know what he might sneak in without my notice. I was hoping it wasn't a real tomato.

I saw nothing, however, but after a moment, Ryan again exclaimed, "Tomato!" and pointed right at the drain. I looked again, more closely, and then I finally figured out what he was saying. Not "tomato," but "tornado." He saw a little waterspout that had formed as the bath water drained out.

I was quite impressed. A few weeks earlier, we had studied tornadoes, and did the experiment with the 2 2-liter coke bottles, where you attach them together, and have one drain into the other, swirling the water around to start a little "tornado" motion. I couldn't get it to work too well, since our connection was leaky, but we got it to work a little, and then we all watched a more professional demonstration on YouTube. Ryan was attentive most of the time, but I didn't think he really understood that much - after all, he's only 3. I really just talked to the girls as I explained things, letting Ryan hover in the background. He didn't even have a very good view. But he apparently paid more attention than I had thought. He remembered it a week or so later, plus applied it to a totally different activity - draining the bathtub.

I guess I should include him more often in our science lessons!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Combining Math and Exercise

As I sit here finishing my breakfast, my oldest daughter is doing math and P.E.  At the same time.  She has a balloon and is tossing it up in the air, trying to catch it before it hits the floor. Each time she catches it, she counts. She's on 76 right now. Now, if I had suggested she do something like this, I don't know if she would have, but since she came up with the "game" on her own, she's going at it full power. It's a bit noisy, but hey, at least I have time to finish my breakfast and write a short blog post!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

NPH and the Soul

I haven't written for a while, as my father has been going through some very serious health issues. He was diagnosed with a somewhat uncommon ailment called NPH, which is a form of hydrocephalus that causes symptoms mimicking Parkinson's Disease and dementia. His health started declining very rapidly, but he's doing much better now, after shunt surgery. I think my parents' lifestyle will still be changing somewhat, due to lingering effects of NPH. Fortunately, they live very close to us, so we are trying to help as much as possible.

I have found that it is difficult having small children to care for at the same time as your parents begin to need additional help as well. One of the drawbacks of having children late in life.... It is not very fun to have to choose between spending time caring for your preschoolers and spending time caring for your parents.

My dad's illness has also made me contemplate how much reliance we place on our minds. We tend to assume that our thoughts are our own, and that we are in charge of how cleverly we can think about things. We may accept that God (or "nature") gave us our inborn level of intelligence, but claim that we have taken over from there. (This is especially true for those who really are quite clever, or who are of above-average intelligence, and tends to lead toward a sense of superiority.) We take pride in our logic. Perhaps to the point of idolizing it?

I think we sometimes equate our minds and thoughts with our soul, and perhaps that is (one reason) why it can be so terrifying to begin to lose control of your mind (and perhaps why we shy away from those with mental disabilities?). But our souls are not quite the same as our physical brains and conscious thoughts. Our souls are more than that. Our souls will outlast our brains. Also, we may trust that God is in control of large events - things we can't control - like the weather, and distant wars, but we rarely think of Him as being in control of our own minds.  Yes, He gives us plenty of chances to make our own decisions, but ultimately, He is in control of our minds just as much as the rest of our health. I have thought often lately of the temporary insanity of King Nebuchadnezzar described in Daniel 4.

So what conclusion can I draw from all this, as a homeschooler? No conclusion, really, but just a reminder that in educating our children, we must keep in mind the bigger picture of educating, or growing, the souls of our children, and not just their intellects. Our minds, the intellectual towers of this world, our philosophies, and even our hermeneutics, apologetics, and theologies, will fade away, but God will remain.