By Marla Schultz
No new curriculum? I stared at my parents. Were they joking? I was supposed to do school without any schoolbooks? Would I end up needing to repeat the seventh grade? In this article, I will tell you how I created a well-rounded education for myself using historical fiction for kids, biographies, and more, so that you can confidently create textbook alternatives for your children.
The Need For A Textbook Alternative
It was 1980 and my parents were on staff at the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) base in Austria. The previous year, when I was beginning the sixth grade, my parents had ordered a correspondence course for me to use. Two or three staff members were assigned to teach the curriculum and help the children with school on the YWAM base and we all learned together. Sometimes we were in a classroom and other times in a more homey setting. I loved it.
Now I was beginning my seventh grade year and most of the other American families had left for the States or to serve in other countries. A classroom setting wasn’t needed for one English-speaking child, and my parents couldn’t afford the correspondence course any longer.
“You can use these,” my mom said, handing me a pile of old books left over from another child’s seventh grade year. I flipped through them and discovered the science book had been published in 1949. According to this history book, there were only 48 states. I groaned. I could feel all the knowledge I had gained since kindergarten draining away.
In addition to having to use outdated textbooks, my mother spent several weeks in bed due to low blood pressure issues and dizziness. Except for my daily math lessons with my Pre-Algebra tutor, I was left to my own devices. A big change from previous years.
Reluctantly, I read the textbooks, but ignored the chapter questions. What was the point? Instead, I spent my time devouring anything of interest in the small library downstairs.
My Introduction To Historical Fiction For Kids
The missionary base, originally a “cure hotel” owned by a Jewish family, had been taken over during World War II by the Nazis and used as their headquarters. Intrigued, I chose books about Europe set during that time period. Biographies such as Hansi: The Girl Who Loved the Swastika and The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as historical fiction became my textbooks. I don’t remember the contents of my “official” history textbook that year, but the settings, plots, and characters from the books I chose became embedded in my mind.
A multitude of fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries kept me company. Books about missionaries made those heroes of the faith real for me. I worried about George Müller’s orphans and I trekked through the jungles sharing the Gospel with Bruchko.
In addition, I read books about the names of God and their meanings and sometimes chose classic pieces of literature. Unintentionally, I provided myself with a well-rounded education.
My insatiable appetite for the written word compelled me to journal, write stories, and create scripts. And I dreamed. Exciting, suspenseful, wonderful dreams that fueled my imagination and help me create more stories.
The Literature I Read Provided A Real Education
Eight months later, when we returned to California, I was tested at my former Christian school. I was amazed to discover I had maintained a B+ average. I hadn’t flunked. I didn’t need to repeat a year.
I believe most of my education over the years has come, not through text books, but through literature and living books, and I find the same to be true for my children.
This past February my oldest daughters attended a Valentine’s Party for some of the girls in our church. At the party they played a game that involved matching the wives of various men in the Bible to the right person and many of the women listed were the wives of King David. My oldest daughter won, not because I made her memorize a list of David’s wives, but because she reads so much and many of her selections are Christian historical fiction, as well as the Bible.
Although text books have their place and help solidify details, stories are the glue that attaches them to our memory, so consider including more of these types of books in your children’s curriculum.
How To Use Literature, Historical Fiction, And Biographies To Enrich An Education
If you are interested in using more literature and living books to enrich your homeschooling, here are a few suggestions:
- Keeping the current topics you are covering in mind, visit the library and select historical fiction, interesting non-fiction books, biographies, cookbooks, etc. Place them in your main living area where they can easily be picked up by your children. I used to keep a basket on my coffee table for this purpose. Provide specific time during the school day for your children to relax and read these selections.
- Set aside the history textbook at times. Instead, choose some historical fiction and biographies. Read selections aloud to your children and, if they are old enough, encourage them to read some on their own during free time.
- Instead of having a separate reading textbook, utilize works of fiction to teach your children the different elements of a story and help them to dig deeper into these books. Discussing and identifying story elements will enable your child to develop strong storylines when writing their own stories. You can find these story elements by googling it online; they can also be found in some of my literature kits available on this page.
- Another great resource on SchoolhouseTeachers.com is Adam Andrews’ Literature course where he encourages conversation and discussion of books instead of using worksheets. For each book he covers, he gives key questions to discuss to help analyze the work of fiction. In addition he provides blank story charts to help identify story elements.
- Encourage your children to write or create a response to the book they read: a poem, a script, their own story, a letter to a character, or just a couple of paragraphs. Other options are drawing a picture, creating a diorama, or dressing up like one of the characters.
- Have them start a diary or journal. Don’t correct every piece of writing. Instead, give them the freedom at times to use their imagination without the fear of making mistakes. My son could barely read when he entered the third grade and had little interest in finishing any type of book. He’s now an avid reader. A few months ago I asked him to write a paragraph about something. This paragraph morphed into a story, which is now the beginning of a book. Periodically he works on it and its now almost thirty pages long. I’ve read parts of it. It’s funny, interesting, and his spelling and punctuation are terrible. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. At this point it’s a creative process for him and I’m fine with that.
Marla Schultz is the mother of six children. An avid reader, she is especially fond of children’s literature. Marla graduated with a B.A. in Bible and Communications Arts and an emphasis in Literature from a Bible college in Missouri. She stays busy homeschooling and working from home, as well as writing fiction in her spare time.