One of the first things I learned about homeschooling my children was that they didn't always like the curriculum that I liked. I remember struggling through a year of second grade math and then realizing Addison just needed a different approach. I also remember days of excitedly pulling a read-aloud book off the shelf and seeing my kids fall asleep (literally) during the first chapter. I don't let my children have final say in what we study, but I have learned that sometimes I'm better off switching materials than fighting through something that doesn't work for my children.
I recently received Apologia's "Who Is My Neighbor?" materials to review, and I once again fell in love with this series of books. I think the hardcover book is absolutely gorgeous, as is the Notebooking Journal. I like the way these Bible centered lessons tie together both Biblical concepts, historical events, and current applications.
The "Who Is My Neighbor?" book is the third in Apologia's elementary Worldview series. (You can read my review of the "Who Am I?" materials here.) This book contains eight lessons, and they can each be spread out over three weeks. The introduction suggests using the materials twice a week, but I think the reading and assignments are more manageable if we split them up over three or four days per week, still taking about three weeks per lesson.
My favorite part of the readings were the final sections of each lesson, Encounters with Jesus. Each one was a fictionalized retelling of one of the stories from the Gospels. I gained a deeper understanding of each of these stories by visualizing the scene as the author described how all of the details could have looked. I felt like I was really there when Jesus turned water into wine at a Canaanite wedding or when He used two fish and five small loaves of bread to feed thousands of people.
Each lesson also contained part of a short story about a child and his/her family. I confess that I read aloud a chapter or two (or three) to find out what happened to the Chang family when they escaped from China and immigrated to America. (Confession #2: even though we're still working in the first half of the book, I've already read all of the stories in the second half of the book, too.)
Unfortunately, these materials did not work well for my family this summer. My oldest daughter, fourteen years old and a high school freshman, thought that the materials were aimed at a younger audience. I think she could have gained a lot from the readings, but she said she'd prefer a different approach to Bible study.
The materials are geared to 6-14 year olds, but my six-year-old daughter was too young for the program. Lauren does not have the world history background to understand topics such as the Chinese Revolution or slavery in America during the time leading up to the Civil War. In addition, some of the Bible lesson readings contained a lot of challenging concepts in a short span of time, and she had trouble following along. It got to a point where we were all having a difficult time understanding what was being taught because I kept stopping to answer Lauren's questions.
Brennan, age 11, is right in the middle of the age range, but he doesn't do well with lessons that require a lot of listening. According to the publisher, the materials are written at about a 6th grade reading level, but we found them a bit too difficult for him to work through independently.
I think this book would work better for a family that routinely studies a subject together. In that scenario, the older students could discuss the materials and help explain it all to the younger ones. It would also help if the students were auditory learners and accustomed to grasping ideas when they are presented during lengthy readings.
So, as much as I love these materials, I'm putting them on the shelf for a while. I suspect that Brennan could work through them independently in a year or two. In a year or two, Lauren should have a longer attention span for school readings and a better historical background to understand the stories. Perhaps they'll even be able to study the materials together in a few years.
One thing I like about Apologia is the way that they provide generous sample pages so that you can get a better idea of what the materials look like. In the case of "Who Is My Neighbor?" the sample chapter contains the entire first lesson, approximately 30 pages. You can also download samples of the Notebooking Journal and Coloring Book. The hardcover text book costs $39, the notebooking journal costs $24, and the coloring book is $8.