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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    A Divine Curricular Appointment

    August 24, 2020 by Brandy Vencel

    Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
    — Psalm 127:1

    I don’t know about you, but I am not a grand composer orchestrating my homeschool curriculum. I use AmblesideOnline, which means I mainly schedule a week using assignments planned by Other People. Occasionally I tinker with it. Sometimes this is because a child has already read a book. Other times, I’m combining students. But whatever I do to alter it, it’s not really my creation. I never fool myself into thinking I’m the mastermind behind this family learning project.

    With Bible and the other religious books (which begin in Year 7), I like to say I’m “really careful.” I almost always assign books of my own choosing. It’s not because I distrust AmblesideOnline. It’s just that I believe in the power of the perfectly chosen, perfectly timed book … and nowhere does that feel more important to me than in the subject specifically intended to nurture the spiritual life. I use books from the AmblesideOnline list (though I often assign them at different times) and I use books from my own shelves.

    It works.

    My main point is that my focus when selecting these books is on the child himself — I challenge myself to find a book that will guide, direct, and nurture the child. I’m not thinking about the rest of the curriculum when I choose it.

    This year in Circle Time, we’re doing Herman Bavinck’s The Wonderful Works of God. When I did my summer dates and annual review with each child, I noticed a pattern. They wanted more direct theological instruction than they have received thus far. Since they were all asking for something similar, it made sense to combine them and do it during our morning Circle Time. (I chose Bavinck because my pastor had been recommending him for months.)

    It turns out that Bavinck’s chapters are nicely divided up into smaller sections, many of which are only two or three pages long, making my work at breaking it up into small portions almost nil. This is a nice bonus.

    I’ve been taking The Liberty of Logic like many of you, and I’m preparing to start teaching the Material Logic text to my students (ages 12, 13, and 15). Eventually we’ll get to Lesson 10, where man is distinguished from rocks, plants, and animals. What was amazing to me was that Bavinck rests his very first argument on the Aristotelian hierarchy of being, the view of man and how he differs from the rest of creation:

    [T]he idea of the highest good usually includes the thought that this good is also recognized and enjoyed as such by the creatures themselves. And that is of course not the case for inanimate and for non-rational creatures. The inanimate ones have only an existence, and have no principle of life at all. Other creatures, such as the plants, have a principle of life in them, but are devoid of any awareness. The animals, it is true, have received in addition to their existence and their life a kind of awareness, but it is an awareness which can take note only of the visible and sensuous things around them.

    The Wonderful Works of God, p. 1

    My heart skipped a beat because this was one of many peculiar moments I’ve experienced in our fourteen-years-and-counting of homeschooling. It’s what I call a divine curricular appointment. While I’m working on choosing the best book for the job, the Lord is working on something much bigger. As the source of all Unity, He manages to unify the curriculum in a way I’m not expecting. In this case, He tied theology to logic and all I did was watch.

    Who needs unit studies? The mind naturally makes connections of its own, as Charlotte Mason so wisely pointed out. But beyond that, our Father is also at work and He is mercifully kind.

    I had wondered how my children would handle the hierarchy of being. Would they understand it? Would it take many days to figure it out? I was ready to expend the time, but God dropped this in my lap many weeks ahead of schedule. This morning, O-Age-12 (whom you know as Farmer O. if you follow me on Instagram) tried to give his plants too much credit. He is pretty sure they have awareness. A-Age-15, on the other hand, pondered whether animals can think but not talk — at which point Q-Age-13 proposed Balaam’s ass as evidence for this.

    I was secretly laughing at these predictable debates.

    But then Bavinck took us beyond our petty concerns and explained that this is why man is never satisfied:

    [H]e is a creature who cannot be satisfied with what the whole corporeal world has to offer. He is indeed a citizen of a physical order of affairs, but he also rises above this order to a supernatural one. With his feet planted firmly on the ground, he raises his head aloft and casts his eye up in a vertical look. He has knowledge of things that are visible and temporal, but he is also aware of things that are invisible and eternal.

    The Wonderful Works of God, p. 2

    A divine appointment indeed.

    Something tells me they’ll do fine with Aristotle when the time comes.

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  • Reply Susan Everett June 27, 2021 at 3:36 pm

    I loved the idea of unit studies and imagined we would use them when we started homeschooling three years ago and never got to it. But…I have been amazed at the connections that happen ALL the time that I didn’t plan. Sometimes multiple times a day! Last time, I said to my daughter, “I don’t think this is a coincidence. We are learning about a wide range of ideas, and they are all connected because God is behind it all.” Her response: “I figured that out a long time ago.”

  • Reply Rondalyn Ohrenberg August 28, 2020 at 3:03 am

    I am reading None Greater (on your recommendation) and I recognized Bavinck’s name as someone Barrett quotes quite a bit (at least in the bit I’ve read so far. Another author to put on the “wish list” . . . .

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 31, 2020 at 3:47 pm

      We started chapter 2 this morning and it is still so good!! Definitely one for the wishlist! ♥

  • Reply Eva August 26, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    I saw your recommendation of the book by Bavinck. I had never heard of it before, bu I ordered it since it seemed what I was looking for for my 13 yr old daughter. I have read the first chapter aloud so far, and I think it is the perfect book for now.

  • Reply Heather August 25, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    I’ve been wanting to add Theology with my kids but never really know where to start so I don’t do anything (not a good plan). What ages do you think this book would be good for? My kids are 16, 14, 11 and 8.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 26, 2020 at 2:49 pm

      Likely this would work well with your teens. I’m finding my 12yo is a little young for it. I’m bringing him along for social reasons (I want him to feel a part during a time where he’s grieving his older brother moving out), but if it were just him I would have waited until 8th grade. I wonder if using this book during a special Teen Time would work for you?

    • Reply Michelle Franklin September 6, 2020 at 5:47 am

      Have you looked at The Ology?

      • Reply Brandy Vencel September 6, 2020 at 3:52 pm

        I forgot about that one! I think I used that 2 years ago.

        • Reply Susie Everett June 27, 2021 at 3:31 pm

          We have used The Ology the last two years – obviously not frequently enough since we still aren’t finished! My going-into-high-schooler seems pretty bored however, and I’m dropping it (gasp!) and moving to something else. Beautiful book, but I would recommend for elementary.

  • Reply Rachel August 25, 2020 at 8:47 am

    How timely this is! I have been wanting to read Bavinck with the children, and now I will. Thank you so much.

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