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“What Bible curriculum do you use for grade x?”
It’s a question I get from time to time, and it never ceases to make me squirm a little.
Why, you may ask? Well, because the idea of “Bible curriculum,” and especially for a particular “grade level,” is foreign to me.
Now of course I’m aware of the fact that “Bible curriculum” and “Bible classes” exist in Christian school settings, but I’ve always wrinkled up my nose a bit thinking about the Bible being made to fit the mold of an academic subject, added on to a school day like just another textbook or workbook to get through. What affect does that have on the way kids approach the Scriptures? And do they give grades for those classes? What does that teach?
Our approach to the Bible looks a lot less like school and a lot more like discipleship. Reading the Bible together has been a part of our family culture since before our children were born. We haven’t ever felt a need to make sure we added Bible to the kids’ schooling because they’ve been getting Bible with their breakfast since they were tiny.
In fact, while every part of school is informed by the Scriptures, we like to keep the Bible itself separate from “school” in a sense so that they don’t get the impression that a day off of school is a day off from devotion to the Lord.
But what does that look like? And how can you get started with this holistic family discipleship model of Bible learning if it’s foreign to you?
Well, let’s start with why.
Our Why: Created Reality and Biblical Goals
Our children are precious creations of our Heavenly Father–and they are precious gifts entrusted to us as parents. We desire to give them access to the Truth that God has revealed in His Word so that they can grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, that they would begin to know and love their Creator.
Ultimately, we desire that our children would trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins and that they would love and serve Him all their days–for their good and God’s glory, both in this life and in the life to come. We don’t ultimately control this outcome. But we can be faithful to train our children in the way they should go.
Our Why Dictates Our How: Holistic Family Discipleship
Given the nature of our children, the nature of our relationship to them as their parents, and the nature of our goal (that they would have a relationship with God), it follows then that we ought to teach them in a way that is first and foremost relational. And decidedly not academic.
This means that interaction with the Scriptures comes woven into the fabric of our every day lives. There are no worksheets nor tests, no grades nor grade levels.
This doesn’t mean we don’t use printed materials to aid our children’s learning (I will link to some below), but we need to remember that the greatest resources we have to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord are His Word, His Holy Spirit, and our own lives lived alongside and before our children.
God’s Word: We must be in the bible ourselves and we must offer the Scriptures to our children.
The Holy Spirit: We must be seeking God to be at work both in us and in our children–apart from Christ we can do nothing. We may have had a direct role in bringing about our children’s physical life, but the spiritual life is of the Spirit–we cannot manufacture it in our kids. Prayer is indispensable.
Our Own Lives: We must model for our children what it means to believe the Word of God, to study it, to meditate on it, to practically submit our lives to it, and to receive both correction from it when we fail and comfort from it when we repent.
What does this actually look like?
Family Bible Time (what some call Family Worship)
Our current family Bible reading pattern, which we’ve had going for several years, is Proverbs at breakfast and Gospels at supper.
Now, this doesn’t mean each one happens every day. The reason we read the Bible over breakfast and dinner is because we often don’t read the Bible over breakfast and dinner. This is a scattering of seeds, not mechanical planting. We aim for faithfulness and perseverance rather than anything that resembles perfect consistency. But in keeping up the habit, we pretty reliably hit at least one of these each day, sometimes both. And before it was Proverbs and Gospels, we read slowly through the entire Bible at meal times–it may have taken a decade, but we kept going. The reason we’re in Proverbs and the Gospels right now is because the primary needs of our children are to receive instruction and correction according to God’s wisdom and to receive Jesus the Messiah as their Savior.
While we eat breakfast, my husband will read a few verses from the chapter of Proverbs that matches the calendar date (since there are conveniently 31 chapters in Proverbs), either selecting these verses ahead of time or asking for the kids to randomly select a number. He reads a verse and asks what it means. The kids give it their best shot and then we all discuss the meaning. He asks if they can think of any examples (a child may not use his brother as a negative example–this is a necessary rule, folks!). It has been fun over the years to hear the examples the kids come up with–sometimes from a fable, from literature, from a Bible story, from a movie. They are learning about wisdom and foolishness and learning how to identify each.
After Proverbs, we recite the Shema and the Lord’s Prayer. We switched up this recitation time over the holidays last year in order to recite and memorize Mary’s Magnificat. Now that we have the placeholder for recitation, we may use the time for other passages when they seem fitting.
Our evening Family Bible Time involves my husband reading from a passage of Scripture (currently Luke) at mealtime and then asking a few questions:
What did we learn? This is a good time for kids to either pick one thing that stuck out to them or simply narrate what they heard.
What can we worship God for? Sometimes, when we’ve been in the prophets, the answer is usually “That God was so patient and gave so many warnings.” Now that we’re in the first few chapters of Luke, the answer is usually “For sending Jesus to save us.” Sometimes the answer is different, but it’s no problem to worship God for the same things over and over again–in fact, it’s right to do so. Once answered, we pray and praise God based on what we saw in the passage–even if it’s simply for preserving the genealogy of Christ (which is pretty amazing when you think about it). Sometimes there may not be an obvious answer. When we were in the middle of Job as a family, it was admittedly hard to find any answer from the text–so we felt Job’s desolation a bit but worshipped God anyway.
What can we do with what we have learned? This is where we pay attention to the right response(s) to what we have read. Sometimes it is simply to worship as we did in the second question. Sometimes there is a command that we ought to obey. Sometimes there is something for which we ought to be thankful, something that ought to amaze us, something that ought to cause us to care for others, an example to follow or an example not to follow.
Now, these questions aren’t magical. They’re just the tools we have used for discussing the Bible as a family and for attempting to respond to it properly. Sometimes the kids are fully engaged and wow us with their insight. But sometimes the kids aren’t super excited to answer. Sometimes we get blank stares. But we don’t read the Bible and ask the questions in order to get perfect responses from our kids. We do it so that they are regularly interacting with the Scriptures and learning by modeling how to respond to them. It’s not perfect, but it is worthwhile. We are planting seeds.
Other Applications and Resources
The seeds we plant in Family Bible Time are watered by a lot of other practices and experiences.
We pray together as a family before meals and before bed. We try to remember to include intercession: to pray for neighbors, friends, family members, etc–sometimes on a weekly rotation so we don’t forget (but let’s be honest, we sometimes forget and go for long stretches with just basic bedtime prayers).
We have also made sure to include Bible time for our children to enjoy independently, even from a very early age by listening: Dove Tales (with cassettes–yes, we inherited these from my in-laws), Jesus Story Book Bible (with CDs), and a dramatized audio Bible from Faith Comes by Hearing. Now that our boys are 11 and 9, they are expected to read a chapter of the Bible first thing in the morning before coming downstairs for breakfast. This doesn’t mean it always happens, but that’s the goal and the general habit.
We’ve also enjoyed watching videos by The Bible Project–edifying for parent and child alike.
This emphasis on the Word of God being integrated into all of life means that it also influences our school day–just not in the graded-Bible-curriculum sort of way.
We read church history: Little Lights Biographies (for very young children, from a Christian seller), Christian Biographies for Young Readers (from a Christian seller), and Trial and Triumph (from a Christian seller).
We read aloud some theological books for children: A Faith to Grow On, Sammy and His Shepherd, The Attributes of God for Kids (from a Christian seller), and The Ology (from a Christian seller). As the kids grow older, their school reading list will include many Christian books that encourage them to walk with God and know Him more deeply.
We have listened and sung along with scriptures put to music: Hide ’em in Your Heart and Seeds Family Worship.
We have enjoyed singing many hymns in our Morning Time (currently singing along with this channel), and we have also enjoyed music by Sovereign Grace Kids (from a Christian seller). Even as adults, when we listen to music with lyrics, we generally choose music that is spiritually edifying. Our kids take this in as well.
The Scriptures inform the other books we choose–and how we read them–whether literature, tales, history, poetry, nature, etc.
The Scriptures make it into our kids’ copy work and dictation, too (that’s language arts).
Keeping It Real
We don’t do all of these things all the time. The most regular parts of our every day life are family Bible time, listening to hymns and other spiritual songs, family prayer, and good discussions on all kinds of things as we go about our days together. And these discussions aren’t just aimed at our kids. My husband and I discuss books, current events, and so many things with each other, seeking to apply God’s Word and His wisdom to everything we encounter. Our kids are audience to these adult conversations, too.
The aim is holistic, not check-list driven. And it is gloriously free from pressure to “get through it” on any kind of annual school schedule (thank God!).
The point of this post isn’t to say we’ve got it down, nor to set any kind of expectation for anyone else. The point is to demonstrate the many ways in which we can spiritually nurture and disciple our children–without boxed curriculum. And to remind all of us (myself included) that we may sow seeds, but the Lord causes the growth. Our dependence upon Him is central to our efforts at training up our children in the ways of the Lord.
All of the things we do have begun as small habits. A little here, a little there. If you are just starting to bring Scripture into your home and homeschool, don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed. Pick one thing. One habit that you and your children can enjoy. Plant a seed. And then another. Water where you can. The Lord causes the growth.
I hope this post has helped to somewhat answer the “What do you use for Bible curriculum?” question. It’s not a short answer, but I hope it may encourage some to think outside that proverbial box … of curriculum. 😉
How do you nurture your children in God’s Word? What resources have you found helpful?
Other posts in this series (so far):
Why We Homeschool: Our Top Seven Reasons