Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Bible for Secular Homeschoolers

I wasn't just raised Unitarian Universalist, I was dedicated in a Unitarian Church at a few months old.  And my parents, refugees only of stifling Protestantism, raised us a staunch Unitarians, just this side of secular humanism: God is love; God is nature; there is no such thing as a messiah; Jesus was a nice guy, even a prophet, but so was Martin Luther King Jr.; the Bible is a work of literature, the Christian mythology.  I bought it all, even after the obligatory late-adolescence existential crisis.

Despite all this I like the idea of a bible.  A guidebook.  A compass, moral or otherwise.  I read parts of the Old and New Testament as literature in high school and college and know for sure that is not my bible.  But still, I like the idea of a bible.  Something printed on paper that you can thumb through looking for the answers when you are lost and aren't sure where to begin or where to go next when you've already begun. I am embarrassed to admit how long I looked at the Official Preppy Handbook when I was 11, or how many Daily Thought books I looked at each day in my early 20s, but they were my bibles at the time.

So I went looking for a bible when I first started homeschooling in February of 2010.  But first I had to find a prophet.  I stumbled into the (now sadly departed) Educational Resource Center in Santa Cruz with a vague notion that I might be homeschooling soon and an equally vague notion that Heddi Craft, who ran the Center, might be able to help me.  Heddi's oldest daughter is the same age as Bean so even though I didn't know her well, I had run into her over the years at parks, Mothersong, ballet class and I knew she was a homeschooler.  I had already polled the four homeschoolers I knew about curriculum and how they did and everyone had a different answer: one did Calvert "school-in-a-box", another loosely followed the classical style of Susan Wise Bauer and The Well-Trained Mind, one had an eclectic style and still another was an unschooler.

I told Heddi, probably all in one breath, that I thought homeschooling would be the best option for my daughter, and that I didn't know where to start or what I should be covering, but I had heard of The Well-Trained Mind and thought that might be what I needed to get started.  Heddi gave me enough free advice to figure out how to legally go about homeschooling and a pile of books from the lending library, including TWTM.  Also in the stack was The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child, Fundamentals of Homeschooling, and Home Learning Year by Year.  

At home I skimmed through all the books, decided that TWTM offered exactly the kind of education I thought schools should be providing but probably wouldn't suit Bean, and read through all the Week in the Life descriptions of different homeschooling styles in The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child.  In Rebecca Rupp's Home Learning Year by Year, though, I found my bible.  Long before I had to return  the Education Resource Center copy, I had bought my own.

Not a week goes by that I don't gush about this book to someone and my already well-worn copy gets used at least weekly.  Rupp, a scientist, children's book author and mom of three grown homeschooled boys, lays out each year from Pre-K to 12th grade, providing a standards-based blueprint and many resources.  For most grades the book provides suggestions for Language Arts, Mathematics, History and Geography, Science, Foreign Language, Art, Music, and Health and Physical Education.

Rupp wrote her book in Vermont, before the advent of No Child Left Behind.  Instead of following any specific state or national standard strictly, Rupp's "curriculum was compiled from a synthesis of the public school curricula of all fifty states, as well as curriculum proposals from private sources and innovative educators" (Rupp, 6). I appreciate this, because what I am really looking for are suggestions for what to cover; I am not interested in honing too closely to any particular standard.  Rupp's curriculum is far more expansive than what is required by most states (foreign language is suggested at every grade level for example) so as long as I am roughly following her guidelines, we are doing more than enough to satisfy our consulting teacher (and thereby the State of California).

Another big plus - especially for a new homeschooler trying to figure out which resources will work for them is that Rupp's book is secular, and pro-scientific method.  She gives you a heads up if a resource is Christian-oriented and lists evolution and the Big Bang as topics to cover in science.

The book was written in 2000 so some of the books are out-of-print (that's what libraries are for though, right?) and many of the websites are defunct.  I have found that this doesn't matter for the most part because what Rupp is really providing is guidelines that allow ordinary parents to figure out what their kid needs to learn and some direction so you know what kinds of resources to find.  If one of her resources is unavailable, I look for similar books at the library or see what else comes up when I do an Amazon search.

I use this book as a jumping off point, not always following her suggestions exactly, but adding or omitting things that will work for us.  For example, this year we have added Critical Thinking as a subject and use various kinds of logic puzzles for this.  Also, since we opt out of standardized testing and are not attempting to recreate the school experience at home, I omitted any Study Skills from my lesson planning.  We also decided not to do a formal reading program for now and I count Bean's dance and gymnastics classes as PE.  I was briefly enthusiastic about doing theater and improv lessons at home, but quickly acknowledged that no amount of enthusiasm would make up for the lack of classmates and decided that the drama class at her homeschool program would suffice. As you read the book, you find that Rupp didn't always follow her outline either - she admits they never did formal spelling practice and that she thinks memorizing the state capitals is unnecessary as long as kids know how to find the information (here, here.) She also suggests having kids memorize poems but says the only thing her youngest child had any interest in memorizing is computer manuals.  Home Learning Year by Year gives me a blueprint along with the flexibility to do what works for us.

Whenever I am lost with any piece of our curriculum, when something isn't working or Bean is resisting something, I go back to the foundation of Home Learning Year by Year and look for a clue.  Maybe there's a resource I haven't used yet, or a concept that we haven't covered, or maybe I was focusing on the wrong thing.  Sometimes, I realize that we've already covered what is necessary.  Sometimes I look back to a previous grade or ahead to the next grade for a particular subject.  Whatever I need, I usually put down the book feeling calmer and with new resolve.   See, even secular humanist elitist evolutionist ho-mo-sexu-als get a bible to call their own.  If you are a homeschooler.



  1. you are doing should be the rule not the exception....critical thinking skills are what is greatly lacking in the traditional school setting but that is by design of course...keep up the great work

  2. Terrific post!!! I shared it with Rebecca...I knew she would be delighted to read it!

  3. You are doing great! I'm glad one of those books in the pile resonated with you. I love that book, too!

  4. Great post! I came across your blog while looking for homeschoolers who do this for reasons other than religion. I use TWTM and whatever else works. I will definitely be looking up that bible of yours. It looks brilliant!