There are three things that have become the backbone of our homeschool curriculum; Shurley English, Saxon Math, and the Bible. These are the things that get done every day, whether I’m sick or whether it’s grocery/piano/fencing day. It doesn’t matter. Spelling usually makes it on the list too. In any case, these are what hold down the fort. We spend a solid hour on English, two hours on math (one in the morning, one in the evening), one hour on Bible, and a half hour on spelling. Personally, I think the time allotments are excessive, but so far that’s what it takes. I’m hoping as they get older and have a little more personal responsibility they will spend more time actually doing math and less time picking their nose.
What excites me is that I’ve finally nailed down what we like to do for Bible time. English and math are a simple matter of doing what you’re told. But Bible was something I had to figure out through experience. Big things I knew I wanted to work on were memorizing large chunks of scripture and the Shorter Catechism. The hard part was breaking it down in such a way that the children weren’t bored out of their minds. The first thing we did was alternate between the boys doing the Shorter Catechism and the girls doing the children’s version. So on Monday, Jael will recite her whole catechism while the boys get the day off. I have a ream of Bible puzzles and crosswords that my mother had saved from VBS for the boys. The point is that they stay busy, but are still quietly in the same room. It turns out that often they can’t help but volunteer the answers to Jael’s questions, because they’ve heard them so many times themselves. Jael is currently on question 52 of 145 while Rahab is on question 13. When the girls finish I review the boys’ new question for that week. On Tuesday the scenario is reversed. The girls have the day off and the boys drill their questions, starting at the top. They are at question 32 of 107. The difference being that I let them work on a puzzle while they answer their questions. They actually concentrate better when they are working on something with their hands. The girls help. And when we finish, I turn to the girls and review their new question for the week.
I know a lot of people feel differently about catechisms but what I have found is that they are a good tool to have in your box. We’re not even reformed, we just like them. There is just something to be said for having a filing system of orthodoxy stowed away in your head. It happens every week when the kids will ask something, and I can turn and ask them the catechism question instead. They will stare at me for a second and then answer their own question. I like the idea that they can have this filter to run life through in a quick systematized way. It may be the cookie cutter answer, but it’s fast and it’s authoritative. You’re not left standing there with your mouth open when Satan throws you a curve ball. We don’t treat it with the same authority as the Bible, but I do teach want to teach them to respect and duly consider the wisdom that came before us. It’s good to know.
Wednesdays are more open. We cozy up on the couch and go over the new question for the week. We read the introduction to the question from “The Westminster Shorter Catechism For Study Groups.” It has illustrations and word pictures to go with each new concept. This is my favorite part. The kids ask such good questions and it’s fun to sit there and chat with them. They’re smart as whips. Then, like with every day, we finish by singing a hymn and praying for different people in our families or on missions. Rahab, however, always prays for triplet girls. The other thing I have found is that kids don’t need kid songs to be excited about singing. They just need volume and references to blood or swords. “There is a river filled with blood that flows from Immanuel’s veins! And sinner’s plunged beneath that flood loose all their guilty stains! Loose all their guilty stains!!” We try to outdo each other in being loud and making desperate attempts at the high notes. My voice cracking pleases them. What I didn’t expect was how much my singing has improved since I’ve been busting up with kids during the week. And people at church have commented that you can hear the boys from the other side of the building. I relish the idea that singing should be the sound of a victorious and advancing army, not something insipidly pious and weak, involving choruses or gardens and roses. I want my boys to see nothing childish or feminine in singing, but something triumphant and very, very loud.
The other thing we’re up to is memorizing the book of Galatians. I’m not keen on scripture memory in general. Just read the stuff enough and it starts to stick. Not because you memorized it, but because it is memorable. Also, I could never really see the good in memorizing a bunch of out of context passages, that no doubt turn into some kind of Bible omelet in your brain. I find that I don’t need to have a verse memorized, I just need to have read it enough to know it’s there, what it says, and be able to quote enough of it to ask Google for the reference. But there is a huge difference between that and memorizing a nice chunk of scripture. When you memorize a book you start to see how it fits together and soon it starts to take on new life. It’s like a deep well, as opposed to a fitful rain shower. Marc and I picked Galatians because it is the Magna Carta of Christian liberty. And I love hearing the boys recite in their theatrical voices, “If you though a Jew live like a Gentile, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews!?” They really start to get the feel of Paul’s indignation and how he opposed Cephas TO HIS FACE. Like, take that brother. Just try and get one past me. We are clocking at chapter 3 verse 5. My plan is to finish it and then move to Proverbs. And do it all over again. Fridays are our fun days. Again we go over our new questions and maybe the last verse we were digging into in Galatians, but the rest of the time we do Bible trivia. I have five decks of cards and the kids love it. Gideon cleans house though, so I’ve started asking the little kids first so they can have a fighting chance. Really it’s quite fun.
The two other things we do are individual Bible reading in the morning and sit-down time with daddy on Friday evenings. As I’ve mentioned before, the first things the boys do in the morning are their push-ups and crab-walks, to wake up their oxygen deprived brains. Then they set the timer for 15 minutes and read in front of the fire. Gideon is reading the ESV and Jehu is reading the New Living Translation. Both boys have read the Bible through at least once, minus the prophets. I like to have them come to Marc or I when they finish their reading, with something they learned or a verse they had a question about, but usually they can’t wait. I love sitting there with them while they ask questions about what they are reading, or I share something I think they would like from what I am reading, as they steal sips from my tea. Often Daddy is still doing his reading and it just feels good to be there together. “Personal private time” has nothing on it. I like them to be there with me along the way.
Another tactic is that I like to squeeze the last bit of order out of the week before it devolves into the weekend. I will rush around trying to get the house clean for my day off and daddy will sit with the kids on the couch reading, and having the kids look up scripture with their Bibles. Right now they are going through “Big Truth for Young Hearts.” I’ve noticed that Friday nights afford a kind of peace, and just recently I realized I should make the most of it. We’ve been trying to direct the kids towards quiet things in the evening, like reading together or games. The house is clean, the work is done, and it’s good to enjoy an evening that’s not rushed by math or soccer practice. But by Saturday it all hits the fan and the best we can do is feed them popcorn for dinner and put them in front of a movie. Fortunately, “There is a time for everything. And a season for every activity under the heavens.”