Why I Don’t Agree With The Good and the Beautiful

The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts Level 2 Course Materials

Having used The Good and the Beautiful (TGTB) Language Arts Level 2 for over one semester now with my second grader, and Pre-K with my three-year old, I feel there are some things in its methodology and its basic principle that I need to talk about. It’s a popular curriculum and I’ll readily admit that one of the main reasons that got me to try it out is because of its rave reviews from other homeschooling moms. Not to mention its beautiful art, which I feel will always captivate a homeschooling mom…or any mom, for that matter.

Anyway, I wanted to try it out because I believe in teaching good and beautiful things to my children (of course), though I will never try to mask or pretend something is good and beautiful when it isn’t. In our family, we acknowledge the truth about evil, temptations and shame.  These things exist and we teach our children to exhibit, and always look for, goodness but to be aware that evil does exist so they can better fight it.

As we delve deeper into the curriculum, one of the first things that struck me was the rigid, step-by-step method it employs in implementing the curriculum.

Along with the curriculum package came a daily checklist that had these prescriptions for completing the curriculum. While homeschooling, by principle, affords the parent the freedom to tweak and adjust according to their family culture, it’s very telling that there is no mention of that in the Course Companion. It merely says that we make use of the daily checklist to remind us what needs to completed each day. There seems to be an expectation that to reap the fruit of The Good and the Beautiful curriculum, you need to follow it to a T. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a checklist kind of gal. I live my life around my planner. But one of homeschooling’s biggest lesson is to listen to and be flexible to each of your children’s learning style and personality. We have got to go beyond checklists.

Daily Checklist

But beyond that, as much as I am taken by the beautiful art that is peppered all over the pages, I feel wanting in its lessons on the authentic journey of Christianity. Not that the curriculum ever promised that. In fact, it worked hard to reassure its users that there will be no reference towards a particular set of beliefs or religion, particularly because its creator belongs to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. But, if it’s a curriculum that aims to show what is good and beautiful, then that will naturally point back to God, whether discussed directly or not. Even if used by non-Christian families, the concepts of what is good and beautiful are laid out in its form and appearance, but none really inspires goodness or authentic beauty. The readers offered simple stories, with cute vintage art. For that, I may keep it in my library and my preschooler and I can read through that together to learn simple words and vocabulary. But none of the stories offered anything more substantial in terms of character progression or even worthwhile lessons.

Cute vintage art in their Readers…and not much else.

The stories are simple and nice. Forgettable though.

What compelled me to write this review, though is this: As a Christian, homeschooling is an extension, a manifestation of our faith. The two are interconnected. Which is why I decided on this curriculum, because of course I want something good and beautiful. However, I felt that the rigid, prescriptive nature of its implementation was incongruous to the faith journey. Rarely is the Christian life ever a straightforward, lateral progression. The walk with God is not a checklist-directed relationship where, so long as we follow the designated action plan, we would be saved. That is a dangerous thought to allow into your mind and heart. God knows a hypocrite’s heart—always quick to clean the outside and relegate God to a set of rules. And while we should, with all our hearts and mind, focus on what is indeed good and beautiful, the sinner is not always so. Should there be shame, which could lead to a turning away from God, the true source of what is good and beautiful? Or should there be an understanding that while we may fail, while pain and heartache surround us, God is always faithful and His love and will never leave us. Isn’t grace the very characteristic of our relationship with Him? Isn’t that what it means to be truly good and beautiful?

You might say I am expecting too much out of a curriculum. It is still up to us, as parents to teach and instill values to our students, and not the material that we use. That is true, and that is correct. However, the material that we use should reflect the same challenge and grace that we ultimately want to teach to our children. I don’t want a checklist-dominated curriculum (it literally has little boxes on each to-do for when you have finished implementing each one, step-by-step). Open-and-go curriculum can be a wonderful gift to homeschooling families, yet there should always be room to adjust to each student’s personality and pace. Homeschooling is many things, but it is never a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

Phonics cards that help challenge the learner.

Overall, I think TGTB is a well-made, thorough curriculum that offers a wide scope of lessons. Some of its spelling work have been great for my son. Yet, I use it with a lot of adjustments. Some straightforward lessons I intro with a story or an anecdote to make it more relevant to my student. This curriculum is good for instilling and drilling language rules, but I use this once a week so as not to be tiresome and forgettable.  We have been using another literature-based curriculum to improve on our reading comprehension, grammar and overall appreciation of goodness and beauty. We have also skipped a lot of their lessons, not just because he knows them already, but because some are too shallow to even bother with. Check out this lesson below.

What is supposed to be a worthwhile lesson here?

To summarize, these are what I like about The Good and The Beautiful:

  • Beautiful art
  • Challenging lessons that help my student learn
  • It’s affordable

What I Don’t Like About The Good and The Beautiful:

  • Very prescriptive and rigid that may ultimately teach the child that to learn means to follow a set of rules, and to memorize.
  • Good and beautiful stories, but are shallow in lessons.
  • Very traditional and old-fashioned that it seems to give focus on categorizing things as black-and-white, rather than being more open and progressive in its lessons, which is more respectful of each student’s uniqueness.

The Year(s) That Was: Our BookShark Review

Teacher’s binder

We started with BookShark, a complete literature-based curriculum set Level K (with Level 2 for Language Arts, as my son was advanced in that subject) October 2017. My son just turned six then. Now, we are nearing completion—week 30 of 36 weeks of the complete, open-and-go curriculum set. I know you’re probably wondering: Why are you guys taking sooo long?

Well, even though BookShark has this amazing four-day-a-week schedule all planned out for us (definitely one of its plusses), we still did NOT follow it. Not to the letter at least. We liked taking our time with a subject, especially if it’s something we enjoy. A good history lesson or a discussion on the savannah might have led us down into the rabbit hole and down we go! Not to mention, we got pregnant, gave birth and had a new baby mid-2018 so we sort of took full advantage of homeschool’s biggest perk at that time–flexibility. In other words, a four-day/one-week lesson plan (on all subjects) sometimes took us close to two weeks to complete. I wasn’t really bothered by it. I wanted my son to enjoy the lesson and have a lot of opportunity to do additional research should he want to with the stories or lesson. One time, we read Pompeii and we proceeded to research about it, watched a video on it and he went to make a handmade book about it. We indulged in three full days for that, alongside other subjects.

An overview of the week’s lessons for Science

I’ve tried several curricula over the years (we started early with Before Five in a Row when my son was two, and we absolutely loved it!), and I am very, very glad we got to use BookShark. For quite some time, I was yearning to try Sonlight with my son. A literature-based approach has always appealed to me. If nothing else, I feel like I could just cuddle with my children and read with them, and we can call that an accomplished and well-spent homeschool day.

When we enrolled with a charter public school late 2017, I found out that funds can only be used for secular resources, which was completely fine. I’m grateful for the support, and I knew there were a LOT of homeschool resources anyway. That’s when I discovered BookShark, a secular version of Sonlight. They’re from the same company after all. So, without hesitation, I did the self-assessment for my son and ordered a full set that covered Language Arts, Science, History, Social Studies, Math, and Handwriting.

An overview of the week’s lessons for History

Now, let me tell you. BookShark Box Day is one of the most exciting things we have experienced as a homeschooling family. TONS of books in one big box right at your doorstep! My son couldn’t wait to tear down the box! But, I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed too. And perhaps that paved the way for me in a sense.

I fully appreciated BookShark’s  full, robust materials that we were devouring day after day. It was very appropriate for my self-proclaimed nerd son. As for me, I was armed with a thick binder that gave me directions on what to cover day after day, subject after subject. All I needed were to pull the accompanying books from shelf, and A LOT of dedicated time. That one was where I was lacking a bit to fully enjoy the curriculum, because I had two younger ones to look after.

Our “set for the week”. We put the materials we will use for the week aside, ready for pull-out everyday.

With BookShark, there were a lot that had to be covered on a daily basis. And though

Some of our barely-used materials. I plan on using them this year even if we will be using a different curriculum.

BookShark says you don’t have to do all everyday, as it was meant to be a “feast” to choose from, I get the feeling that we are missing out. There were some books and some materials that we barely opened, simply because we didn’t have enough time. And we already do a total of about three hours per day versus the recommended two and a half for my son’s level. I feel like there was such a waste of good material. Not to mention, it’s a pricey set! The whole K package cost over $700!

The materials included are exciting and packed to the brim, but can be overwhelming. If you’re a checklist type of mom, someone who enjoys ticking off boxes, well this curriculum can either satisfy you or drive you nuts. My advice is to take that need with a grain of salt. There’s just a lot, and I had to take the opportunity to learn to live with unchecked boxes (gulp).

However, as we jumped from one subject to another, I was taken with the fact that because precisely because were jumping (because again, there’s a lot of materials to be covered), I felt like nothing much resonates. Especially in the Language Arts area, where I expected us to learn from stories and really delve deeper, I felt like we just read it, enjoyed it while we were doing so, then forgot about it.

Now, I have to tell you that we came from Five in a Row. We used that curriculum for about three years so we have gotten used to stories that are poignant, striking, or simply unforgettable. Stories that have layers upon meaningful layers of values, and unique plots. We were used to going deeper into each one too as this was the method of the curriculum—to read and discuss it five days in a row.

Perhaps it is unfair to be doing a review of BookShark whilst comparing it with another curriculum. But this was the reason why we opted for BookShark—to enjoy another literature-based curriculum, which also had a complete curriculum for Math, Science, History and other subjects. In other words, I wanted a ‘Five in a Row’, but more complete and well-rounded. While I did get so much “more” with BookShark in terms of its coverage and materials, I felt that it steered us away from my son’s interests a bit. Don’t get me wrong. We did enjoy most of the materials included and he does have some book favorites among the selection. But going through BookShark took up a lot of our time, and because of the sheer volume of materials, we couldn’t allow ourselves the pleasure of going through in-depth research or even just leisurely enjoying one book and asking and finding questions as much as we would have liked. We did allow ourselves to do that several times, which is also why we took so long. But it did make me feel a bit guilty when I looked at the teacher’s binder and saw that nothing got checked that day, because we indulged in a unit study or one book.

A week of Language Arts lessons

It may be a personality thing or a family culture thing. It’s certainly no fault of BookShark’s. It did deliver where it said it would. Perhaps I would recommend it to include more heartfelt stories, but other than that, I think it’s definitely one of the best open-and-go boxed curriculum sets out there.

We assess our homeschool year per year. And this year, we covered a lot, thanks to BookShark. But, I felt led towards a more focused learning at this point in our homeschool journey. My son has been asking for a more in-depth study of marine biology, zoology, nature studies, and Greek mythology. I, too have been yearning to read more with him and have this tugging in my heart to keep things simpler and more purposeful.

So with that in mind, I decided to plan our homeschool year per subject. It’s very scary, to be sure. It’s easier to just order one complete curriculum set. But the call is different this year. So, I’m right in the middle of planning now. I will post what we have put together when it’s ready.

Before I finish this year, I would like to say thank you to BookShark for your materials were what we needed at that point in our learning journey. We enjoyed your stories and I appreciated having everything laid out for me as a teacher. Maybe some day, when the call is there, we will go back to you again. Thanks and hope you can bless other homeschooling families as you have blessed ours!

SUMMARY:

Pros

  • Robust, meaty and comprehensive
  • Lots of books!
  • Open-and-go

Cons

  • Overwhelming amount of materials
  • Needs a lot of time to implement
  • Pricey

Homeschooling From Rest

This year, I wanted to quit homeschooling. There was no more joy, I was inadequate and my son deserved more.
Yet, I didn’t want to enroll him in a brick-and-mortar school out of fear or as a way out of something.
I knew there was something amiss with the teacher and I wanted to get myself sorted out first before I wanted to make some serious decisions on my son’s schooling.
I got to the bottom of things and realized I was stressed because I was frustrated. I was frustrated because we couldn’t keep up with our routines. I envied the homeschooling families who started their morning routines at breakfast and by a certain hour in the morning, all kids are seated ready for some tablework. Meanwhile, I struggle to have us start on time all the time. Im constantly reminding for our son to finish his food, do bathroom routine and by the time he’s ready, his toddler sister needs to go to the bathroom and the baby needs to nap. We’re lucky if we could do four days of school work in a week. In fact, we are just at week 15 of 33 weeks of lessons in our curriculum and were already starting a new school year in a few weeks.
For someone who likes getting things done on time (I mean, that was my job as an editorial manager and a video producer!), I felt so helpless that what I knew I could easily do…I now couldn’t.
In my search for answers (mostly on homeschooling sites and books on the subject), I stumbled across Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie.
From the first page to the last, this book felt like a soothing balm whilst giving me the feeling that I was looking at a mirror. I could relate to practically every point and there were some truths that I needed to read.
As a homeschooling mom to a highly creative, intelligent boy (with two more students coming!), I felt like the task to keep him stimulated and interested was on my shoulders, that I had to keep up all the time with his inquisitive mind and that if his interest waned or if he failed at any point, it would be all on me.
Homeschooling became a task. An arduous task that I had to do and keep on doing for the years to come not only with our son, but with our girls too. I felt overwhelmed and I was ready to throw in the towel. I couldn’t see the blessing that it was. This book reminded me why we chose to homeschool in the first place.
“We must drop the self-inflated view that we are the end-all and be-all of whether the education we offer our children is going to work out…He asks us to faithfully commit every day to Him and then to do that day’s tasks well. He’s in charge of the results.” (page 10, Teaching From Rest)
This book drilled into me that the daily grind is holy ground. Faithfulness in the tasks are little seeds we plant everyday…every bit as important as the grand sunshine or the richness of the soil they grow from.
And that in this whole homeschooling enterprise, the most important aspect is not the curriculum, the timetable,  or the checkmarks in the to-do lists. It is, always have been, and always will be the children. I have lost sight of this. And I’ve only been homeschooling for three years!
“Put relationships above everything else.” (page 37, Teaching From Rest)
No wonder there was no more time to just cuddle up and read a book. Everyday was just nag-time to keep up with the schedule. No wonder there was no more joy and I couldn’t bring myself to get more creative in teaching. It was because I was teaching from a place of fear and frustration.
Besides the teaching perspective, this book also helped me realize another thing–that our feelings, though not to be used as basis of decisions, can be very good indicators of something amiss. I learned to listen to myself again and respect where I was and who I am. That translates well to teaching well.
It’s been about three weeks since I’ve started reading this and so far, I’ve been more at peace at home. Not just in homeschooling, but in parenting as a whole. I’ve learned to see the kids more than the tasks. To be quick to listen and to sit down with them to play. To prioritize reading books again and to not fret when things aren’t going as planned. More importantly, I have come to be thankful that I am here at home with them, to be the one to take care of them and to teach them.
I’m grateful for having stumbled across this book. I’m a fairly thrifty Momma but this book–I’m glad we bought this and this one is staying right on my work table. I know it’ll be handy for those moments when I’m way over my head again and need a good reminder of what teaching, and parenting from rest looks and feel like 🙂

Non-Linear Schooling

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My then-2-year-old student playing with and scooping colored ice as an intro to science, and to practice motor skills.

We’ve been homeschooling for about three years now. We started early, when our son was just two. I guess it’s by the same reason that schools now open a toddler program and parents have been eagerly flocking to enroll their chubby tots in them. It’s exciting to watch them learn and do new things. Not to mention cute.

We considered homeschooling because we loved spending time together as a family. Plus the preschool years are a lot of playing and answering curious questions, more than anything. And we do that already everyday.

However, it’s another thing altogether to plan lessons. My first job was as a preschool teacher and the worst thing about it for me was lesson-planning. Only because I had to cough up some activities everyday for a child to do.

My eager student

My eager student

Now with homeschooling, since it’s a natural extension of parenting for us, we find that the lessons are integrated in our daily lifestyle and implemented proactively  with our student. And one of the many, many things we appreciate about homeschooling is that it, absolutely does NOT need to be straightforward and linear. We study whatever interests us at any given time. We learn as life deals with us, and as we deal with life.

For example, we first learned about numbers as Gabbie started to walk up the stairs as a toddler. We simply counted as he went up and down. We naturally had to learn about how tadpoles grow into frogs, and caterpillars to butterflies when our friend lent us the book, “The Tadpole’s Promise”. We tackled the “tricky” lesson of getting pregnant, pregnancy and birthing when else? When we got pregnant and did our water birth! We delved into the solar system when Gabbie devoured anything Star Wars.  All of these were child-initiated, and the lessons imprinted themselves onto Gabbie’s brain simply because he was interested.

His drawings and activity sheets

His drawings and activity sheets

The curriculum that we use supports this way of learning for us. We’ve been using Five in a Row for almost a year now, and the memory of my son cuddling next to me as we read wonderful stories is my best takeaway. As for my son, he’s learned so much and more importantly, he said he enjoys homeschooling! Among many memorable lessons, we’ve discovered many different countries and culture, the complex emotions we deal with, the different characteristics of people, the important values we want to imbibe as well as the various parts of a book and a story, simple machines, steam shovels, nutrition and the different kinds of food and quilting.

Now, to a traditionally-schooled and “type A” gal like me, this kind of seemingly “random” learning is too chaotic and unpredictable. It seemed so disconnected, and I didn’t want my child to be lacking by the usual standards. But, it soon became pretty clear to me that my son was learning, and learning well. There was a thirst and he had the initiative to quench it. Whatever it was, whatever we were doing, as a mother and teacher, I am extremely contented and excited with his learning process and journey. It may seem that if I looked at Deped’s milestones, our four-year old may be lacking in some areas (he doesn’t know how to count by 2’s or 5’s yet), but completely off the charts in another (he can put together a book on his own with title, table of contents, page numbers, copyright, dedication with a complete and interesting storyline and detailed pictures).

What I’m saying is that learning does not need to be confined. It can, and should be continuous and unbound. I say this even as I am sometimes delayed in implementing lesson plans from our curriculum. “School” does not really end because Gabbie does not stop asking questions, and we don’t stop answering either. He does not halt creating, as proven by the books, Lego structures and Play-Doh figures he makes everyday. And what makes homeschooling extra special in my mind is that he (and we!) is learning parallel to life and the current season we’re in.

And this is why I am so excited for another season in our family journey which is also our homeschooling journey. We are set to go on a long trip very soon, and I am so excited for our son who will surely enjoy learning about so many things. I’m excited for him that the places we’ve only read about will finally come to life. Or that he will be exposed to a different culture, to a different music scene, and go on another adventure with his family.

And we might be able to purchase the curriculum we’ve been wanting to try for so long–Sonlight. My heart skips a beat just reading through their full-grade package. We can’t wait for our next school year.

School. It’s never looked this interesting in my whole life. Whatever, and however we should learn–I’ve thrown out practically all notions I’ve had out the window. I don’t need to confine my son to a desk all day, five days a week, nor does he need to go through textbooks for a given school year. In fact, he does not have to have a “school year”. We can just keep going and going while he’s interested, and move on the next that piques his curiosity. We love homeschooling! And it is a privilege to be able to do this with my son, and hopefully with our daughter too.

Patiently looking for the flag of Canada.

Patiently looking for the flag of Canada.

As their teacher, I just have to make sure I don’t stay confined or boxed too. We learned a new word today, “flexibility” from the book, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel”, and I am reminded that I need exactly that to maximize and enjoy homeschooling to the hilt!