Homeschooling with Excellence No. 7

Teaching Bible, Memorization, and History


Our goal for the Bible readings is to familiarize your child with the broad sweep of Scripture. We have put the passages in a general chronological order; we have included far more than the well-known, "exciting" stories; but have also limited our readings to those passages that will be most easily understood by your child.

We recommend that you have a Bible atlas — or, at least, some maps in the back of your Bible — to help your child "see" where the action is taking place. (When Esau, for instance, moves to "the hill country of Seir" (Gen. 36:8), where is that?) Another tool you'll want to have easily available, especially if you are not well-versed in other cultures and cultural practices, is a dictionary (at least), and a willingness to answer questions that are not always comfortable for us to answer. For instance: what does it mean to circumcise? What is a concubine? What is a prostitute?... (With my younger children, I have answered this last question in something like the following manner: "A prostitute is a woman who allows men to pay her to treat her as if she were their wife." — In some ways, not very informative, but informative enough.)

After you have completed your reading for the day, take a few moments to think through what lesson about God's character or desires, about human character, about life, might be close to the surface of the passage. We are not looking for deep theological insights. (If you have some, great. But don't feel compelled to dig for them.) After you have identified such an insight, lead your child in a prayer of thanksgiving for the insight and to ask God's help in following His paths with respect to that insight.

Memorization/Public Speaking

Your child's appreciation of Scripture and poetry will grow not only as you read Scriptures and poems together but as you encourage your child to memorize passages and poems he especially likes, to repeat them in an appropriately expressive fashion and, ultimately, to add body movements that go along with the meaning and movement of the words.

We have found many ways to help our children memorize. The primary method, however, is to repeat, repeat, repeat!

I remember when I was five, my mom and older brother and I would wash and dry dishes together. There was a period of about two weeks in which my mom and brother sang a song that included all the books of the Old Testament. About two weeks after they had begun singing this song, I remember shocking them when I joined in singing. They were amazed that I knew all the books of the Bible — yet it had been so easy! To this day, I remember the books of the Bible because of that song.

Perhaps the hardest aspect of memorization is maintaining a child's motivation to keep repeating a passage. We have found the following methods helpful:

  1. Put the Scripture passage to music and/or create a rhythm by which it can be repeated — tap out the beat while saying the words.

  2. Act out certain key words with exaggerated and/or ridiculous motions: "Thou ( point with emphasis at your child) shalt not ( shake your head violently) kill ( run your hand across your neck in the motion of a knife slitting your throat)!"

  3. Engage in a game of "hot potato" while reciting the verse: every time someone receives the "potato," s/he must say the next word or phrase in the passage; s/he may not pass it on until s/he has said that word or phrase.

Whatever means you find that work, use them!

Use the same procedure with longer poems for "painless" memorization. Lots of practice, very little "testing" and "performing" will help your child experience poetry as enjoyable word imagery rather than a scary "school" subject.

Note: we have made suggestions for memorization. Feel free to choose your own! You are the teacher. It may be helpful to understand why we have memorization/public speaking assignments in the first place.

First, we want children to practice the skills of memorization. As the Psalmist says, it is as we hide God's word in our hearts (memorize it) that we are equipped to overcome sin (see Psalm 119:11). The more your child practices memorizing, the better s/he should be able to memorize.

Then, we want children to develop self-confidence in presenting themselves before an audience.

Finally, we want children to be familiar with some of the great and famous literature of Western civilization, and we have them memorize poetry so that they can gain an appreciation for the intense beauty of language crafted by careful wordsmiths.

History & Biographies

If there is one thing that sets Sonlight Curriculum apart from all other curricula you could purchase, it is our view of and approach to history.

From the very earliest grades you can see that we have a greater interest in the whole world than most curriculum suppliers. We have this international focus because, wonderful as the United States and Western civilization are, we know that God's purposes extend far beyond our borders. God's plan from the beginning has been to acquire a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Gen. 12:2-3; Rev. 5:9; etc.). Therefore, we have chosen materials that help children understand their responsibilities as "Ëcitizens of a heavenly kingdom' in the midst of the world.

Many Christians bemoan the fact that the spiritual dimension is left out of most history texts; Christians are not accorded their proper place in history books; we do not see the influence of Christian ideas on the course of history; we do not have enough Christian biographies in standard history courses. So we tried to address each of these shortcomings.

We also believe we need to ask, "What is God doing in history? What is He doing at this (or that) point in history to bring about His overarching historical purposes?" Perhaps even before these questions: "What is God's overarching purpose in world history?"

You've probably heard the old saying that history is "His story." Unless we believe there is an end toward which history runs, history has no plot. History may be His, but it is not His story. The book Your Place in God's Plan seeks to show God's goal in history, the end toward which He is making all history run. God's goal in world history is to reestablish His rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords among all nations.

If your child is to see this goal being worked out in history, however, s/he will need books that teach from the perspective of God's goal and that seek to show how God has been working out His purposes in all the events of history. Or s/he will need to be taught by someone who has that goal in mind or can teach from that perspective.

We rely upon you, the teacher, to provide the Godly perspective.

You can help your child immeasurably:

  1. By asking questions. "Who did you read about today?" "What did s/he do?" "Why is s/he important?" "When did s/he live?" "Did s/he make an impact that is still being felt today? If so, how?"

  2. By suggesting or pointing out historical (including Biblical) parallels. "That sounds like what you were saying happened with John Paul Jones." Or, "Didn't the Egyptians have a belief like that?"

  3. By admiring your son or daughter and the work s/he is doing. "I'm impressed!" "Where did you learn that?!" "I didn't know that!" "That's great!"

Unless you bring your own knowledge and insight to the task and interact with your child on these subjects, s/he is unlikely to see the remarkable way in which God has turned history to His purposes. S/he won't see, for instance, how God used the specific developments of Egyptian civilization to better proclaim His name among the nations (Exodus 9:16), or how the greatest achievements of the Roman empire were significant not because they were large or astonishing, but because they helped people "seek [God] and... reach out for him and find him" (Acts 17:27).

Specific Recommendations for Teaching History & Biographies

If you don't need to "be there" with your child while s/he reads most books, you'll still want to keep up with what your son or daughter is reading. (Perhaps you can do the reading at night while your child reads during the day.) You have more experience in life and know more than your son or daughter about the Bible, history, historical trends, and the way all these things interact. With this base of knowledge and experience, you should be able to point out connections between the various things your son or daughter is reading — connections that s/he would never catch on his own.

One of the best ways to help your child in this area is by asking questions that will help him to find these connections on his own. "What are some of the reasons the Chinese invention of paper is so important?" Again, interact with your child. It's important.