Making a decision about which history curriculum to use for our homeschool was an incredibly difficult decision. Even within my philosophy of education, I found a plethora of great options.
My decision was made harder by the cost of international shipping. In order to save money on shipping, we planned to buy all of our homeschooling items for the next four years during our furlough and ship it together. Most homeschoolers only buy a year at a time, so the pressure is not so great if they change curriculum. But whatever I chose needed to work for me for four years. Because of the nature of many of the curricula I was debating, if I bought four years worth, I might as well stick with that curriculum for the rest of my children as they repeat the chronological cycle. So in effect, I was choosing the curriculum we would use throughout our homeschooling, up through eighth grade, possibly twelfth.
I narrowed the choices down to three companies that meshed well with our family’s needs and philosophy of education and made a comparison chart for those three companies. I compared their prices, descriptions, strengths, and weaknesses, as I perceived them, based on what I saw or reviews I had read online. Then with much prayer, thought, and trepidation, I reviewed our options with my husband, who knows my own strengths and weaknesses and our life situation here on the mission field. We decided to use My Father’s World.
In my review of My Father’s World, I mentioned how I worked through some of the critiques I had read against it. I hope to flesh out a bit more in this article how we narrowed down the decision to use MFW. Warning: This will probably bore anyone who is not in the same position I was in, choosing between similar curricula; but for the small group of people like me, I hope this helps. Also, I am referring to MFW’s 5-year history cycle, not their K and 1st grade programs. I have not used those.
MFW was the only curriculum of the three I had not had a chance to see in person. At the time, I also could not find a blog article like this on why someone else chose MFW. (I have since found this article.) Now having seen the books and teacher’s manuals, as well as their large display at my homeschooling convention, I am pleased with our choice.
#3–Why not Biblioplan?
My third choice of the three worked out to be Biblioplan (BP), (see my personal description and thoughts on BP) which is still a wonderful option, especially for missionaries who want to take advantage of their e-books to save on shipping. Their customer service was excellent. When they heard I was a missionary, they immediately offered me a “Biblioplan” (their schedule) to try out. I followed their schedule with Story of the World volume 1 for half of Caleb’s first grade year.
I felt that using BP for just the grammar stage is unnecessary. Story of the World comes with an activity guide that has everything needed and beyond, so just using the SOTW textbook and activity guide is an excellent, full, grammar stage curriculum. The major benefit to BP in the lower grades would be if you wanted to use the “Companion,” which would help pull in church history for you. There are other resources to help schedule church history however.
Additionally, BP would be helpful if you wanted to use other resources for your older children and needed help aligning the topics (and literature) in Mystery of History for your middle grades or Famous Men for your upper grades, for example.
BP’s schedule grouped topics geographically instead of strictly chronologically going straight through SOTW. That makes sense if you’re aligning SOTW with other history spines, but it frustrated me to jump from one chapter near the beginning to a chapter near the end and back again. After 16 weeks, I abandoned BP’s plan and just went straight through SOTW. Susan Wise Bauer’s article defending a classical model of studying history strictly chronologically reassured me on that decision.
#2–Why not Tapestry?
My second choice, Tapestry of Grace, still often calls out to me “Come over and join us!” I was able to see many of the books and thoroughly read their 9-week unit on Rome to form my opinions on TOG. Again, I feel that TOG is overkill, both in price and effort, on the lower grammar stage, and possibly the upper grammar as well. SOTW is sufficient (great!) for that level.
TOG really appeals to me for the scripted discussions they offer to parents for both history and literature in both the logic and rhetoric stages. These seem invaluable to me, however pricey TOG is, if they fit my worldview and help me teach something I don’t know how to do. TOG also has some literature worksheets and evaluations that are tempting to me for the upper grammer, dialectic, and rhetoric stages. So the higher you go in grade level and the more kids you want to schedule, the more attractive TOG seems to me.
In the end, I felt like Buridan’s ass between two piles of hay–TOG and MFW. Which to choose? Back and forth I labored over the strengths and weaknesses of each program. I really didn’t like MFW’s 5-year schedule. I really didn’t like TOG’s price! I liked the other subjects integrated in MFW’s teacher’s manual. I liked all the age levels and components integrated into TOG’s schedule. Augh!
In the end TOG’s weaknesses seemed greater than MFW’s. First, the price was prohibitive. If we bought the cheapest digital teacher’s manual, we would still have wanted to print much of it out in Africa. I had read of users’ printing frustrations with Lock Lizard, the program TOG uses for its digital versions, and didn’t want to experience technical difficulties halfway around the world. To use a professional printer would also cost quite a bit (especially since TOG’s color coding makes it preferable to print in color). We had to factor the cost of printing in–either shipping all of the teacher’s manuals (probably around 4,000 pages–4 binders per year) or paying to print in Africa.
We potentially had the funds to purchase the books and manuals for TOG. But I wondered if that was the wisest use of money. TOG’s selections were not the only items I wanted to budget for in our homeschool. If I bought all of TOG’s recommendations, I felt I would have to exclude lots of other great literature not on TOG’s lists. If I cut costs by replacing TOG literature with fewer or cheaper choices, I was increasing my work load on the teacher prep end. MFW’s “book basket” option is genius–and much more flexible financially. It allows a smaller list of required spines with a huge list for optional reading. In fact missionaries could even cut out the book basket option and study literature another way if they didn’t want to ship so many books.
Over the last year, I bought many used books for MFW’s book basket. My books include TOG selections (there was overlap between some MFW and TOG recommendations), as well as many other fun “living books” for history, geography, science, Bible, art, music, math, grammar, and children’s literature classics (like Newbery and Caldecott award winners) for grades pre-K through some high school. I ended up paying as much as I would have if I had bought TOG’s books used, but I got a much larger and broader (topically) children’s library for that price than if I had gone with TOG.
Having a quality personal children’s library was important to Seth and I, being overseas and not wanting a television in our home. We wanted to buy that many books; but I would guess that no other MFW user on earth has bought as many books as I have. Purchasing so many books is not needed for MFW. They clearly state that you can substitute any books on the subject at the library or substitute literature of your choice. If you wanted, you could skip the book basket and use a traditional textbook reading program.
While some books in TOG may be substituted, however, their selections are much more integral to their program. I would argue that they are their program; if you substitute too many books, you’re really not using TOG anymore, outside of a basic history schedule. So cost was a factor.
Time was another factor. How much time did I want to commit to teaching the subject of history in our home? I do love history and want to give time to it; but it is simply not as important as Bible, math, grammar, logic, and learning to speak the natives’ language. I felt that TOG would drain my time in both preparation and implementation further than I would desire. I wasn’t sure on that, but based on what I saw and read, it bothered me that with all those pages of material in the TOG guides, it was still up to me to choose activities, books, and specific daily schedules.
The efficiency and thoughtfulness of the MFW schedule appealed to me. MFW placed not just history, but also Bible, science, art, and music (and more) on its weekly 5-day grid. The teacher’s notes compiled an all-in-one list of materials to gather for the entire week for those subjects. They chose which hands-on activities and experiments to use for the topics, and even scheduled it out for which days to do how much history or science.
That may frustrate someone who wants more flexibility, but I’d rather start out with more scheduling and tweak it to what I like, than start out with less scheduling and plan out my own weekly schedules. In my humble opinion, if I’m paying for teacher’s guides, I would like most of that work done for me. I may feel differently after I gain more experience, but at this point in our homeschooling journey, I wanted more hand-holding and “open-and-go”; and MFW offered it to me–for history, science, and Bible.
Additionally, I worry that I would push my children to do too much if the planning were all up to me. I fear burning out. MFW is a full schedule if I don’t overload it by adding to it too much. It gives me a good idea of how much work to expect of my children. Seth felt that MFW would be a better fit for my personality in regards to work load and scheduling, especially when we considered the time I need to put into the ministry as well.
For our family MFW is a better fit for elementary. Even though I love what I have seen of TOG, especially for high school, I wasn’t sure I could commit to one company for the rest of my life! :) TOG seems to require even more of a time commitment in high school, right at the time when I would need my children to become more independent so that I could help the little ones more. At this point, I am not sure what route we will go in high school–TOG, BP, MFW, James Stobaugh, Veritas Press, etc., etc., but I couldn’t allow my desires for high school to overly sway my decisions for second grade, though I do like having a plan. At night I dream of ducks in a row.
#1–Why My Father’s World?
Seth and I were also impressed with MFW’s focus on missions. I read so many glowing reviews of all of MFW’s programs, but especially of their year of geography called Exploring Countries and Cultures. Obviously our heartbeat is evangelism. We liked this extra year to emphasize a larger view of the world and to read stories of people that God used tremendously in the past to change the history of whole people groups and cultures. The fact that we are missionaries does not guarantee that our children will adopt our philosophies and desires; but maybe this will be a good tool we can use to emphasize God’s desire for the nations.
I like the division of their history cycle. They spend more time on ancient history than on modern history (whereas the last two years of TOG’s cycle cover the last 200 years of the timeline). The early years for your firstborn are spent on American history and world geography. While trying to read additional literature to Caleb this year with SOTW volume 1, I found that much of the Lower Grammar selections for ancient history in BP and TOG were still over his head. Several took about 25 minutes to read with lots of words on the page. I began using mainly SOTW and only adding literature on occasion. I think MFW’s philosophy fits better for the ages they recommend.
We were also impressed with their frugality, even while supporting Bible translation. They strive to keep prices low.
Their book choices show quality, and their philosophy of education matches mine in several points. I so appreciate having music and art done for me as well. I don’t know how often we will take nature walks and keep nature journals, but I like their emphasis on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of observing God’s creation. I also like the philosophy of trying to keep lessons shorter so the children have more time in the afternoons to further explore individual interests.
Why not others?
There are so many good options for history. Some I chose not to use because I couldn’t combine as many children in their programs (e.g. Sonlight and Heart of Dakota). Some did not match my philosophy of education as perfectly. Some companies’ book selections did not impress me as highly. Some were too pricey or disorganized. Some were too much effort for me. Some did not support a literal 6-day creation.
If you’re still reading, I wanted to encourage you with this thought. What a blessing it is to have so many wonderful options! I know it is overwhelming to research so many options. There are choices I haven’t even researched. The homeschooling market has exploded over the last two decades, but I am thrilled to live in a time when one of my biggest battles is choosing from a tidal wave of overwhelmingly good choices that fit my philosophy, instead of living under the limitations of the homeschooling market in the 70s or 80s.
The most memorable advice Seth gave me when I came to him for his thoughts on a choice for history was the following:
“It sounds like you can’t go wrong here, Amy. They are all good choices! Really, the success of our children’s education is going to depend more on you than on the curriculum.”
And then, yes, he did proceed to listen to my splitting hairs between them all. But that is both an encouraging and sobering thought. I have the opportunity to use great resources; but it won’t help my children much without my effort. Choosing between BP, TOG, or MFW for the next several years was daunting; but I couldn’t really go wrong in my choice! And if there is something I don’t like–I’m the teacher. I can tweak it to get through.
If you are sweating over which good Christian curriculum to use, you need to carefully think about your philosophy, your personality, your home life, and your children; not what someone else is like or what you wish you could be like. God will show you the right curriculum for your setting.