After my review of New Tribes Mission’s Firm Foundations: Creation to Christ last year, I was asked to do the same for their Christian Education edition for fifth and sixth graders. Shortly thereafter I received part one of the Teacher’s Guide, Student Guide, and Home School Adaptation in the mail. This first part covers Creation to the Ten Commandments and is to be taught over eighty-eight days. (Part two covers the Tabernacle through the ascension of Jesus and is also meant to be taught over eighty-eight days.) I’m impressed with this material and would recommend it not only to Christian and homeschool teachers but also, with some adaption, to youth ministers and Sunday school teachers. Here’s why.
First, this curriculum does not water down the Bible. And I didn’t expect it to seeing that it is based tightly on the adult version. In Lesson 1, Day 1 the Bible is held up as the perfect, complete message of God for mankind. There isn’t a Bible for children and another for adults; the truths I preach and teach on Sunday morning are the same ones presented here for fifth and sixth graders. As such, this material exposes them to doctrines like the eternality of God and the Trinity, complex ideas that would be easy to shy away from in a setting of only adults. In reading through each lesson, I was reminded of Mark 10 where Jesus says, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (v. 15). Children are more apt to trust God, rather than filtering His Word through their own ideas and experiences the way adults tend to. There’s no reason why they should not engage the Bible at a deep, meaningful level–I appreciate the authors providing that opportunity.
Second, this curriculum is designed to be both interactive and engaging in and out of the classroom. As the teacher works through each lesson, he or she will spend time reviewing what has already been covered and will ask questions and lead new discussions based on verses the students have read out loud. In addition, the Teacher’s Guide includes suggestions for in-class demonstrations and out-of-class field trips, which I’m considering using as I teach adults. Each week the students themselves will be working through their Student Guide (mostly fill in the blank), memorizing Bible verses and vocabulary words, completing homework assignments, writing journal entries, and learning songs. In that this is a school curriculum, all of this is building toward a test given at the end of each lesson (e.g. Lesson 1 “In the Beginning” is covered in fourteen days with the test given on the fifteenth.) Those tests are included in Teacher’s Guide.
Third, this curriculum allows students to draw conclusions based on the Bible. This is paramount. As verses are read, students are asked to interact with them, talking about what they mean and what they teach us about God. All conversation, and subsequent application, is then based on the biblical text. For example, as students study Creation they learn that God is omnipresent and omniscient. Over the course of each day, they are making applications from this truth–namely that nothing is kept secret from God. So now the student has come to a powerful conclusion with significant personal application based not on what Mr. X or Mrs. Y has said, but what the Bible teaches.
For all its merits, there are a couple of weak points. For example, on page d of the Teacher’s Guide you’re directed to some supplemental material on page 191. However, it’s not on page 191 but a couple pages over on 193. Also, though the vocabulary words are a part of each day’s discussion, it’s not until page 17 (Day 9) of the Teacher’s Guide that it is explicitly explained that the teacher should instruct students to write down the definitions of those words. Does it seem like I’m being nitpicky? I am, and the reason is I can’t find any major weaknesses with New Tribes Mission’s materials. In fact, in showing this particular curriculum to some friends, the only consistent negative comment was that the camel on the cover looks creepy. Granted. But if that’s your only reason for not wanting to use Firm Foundations: Creation to Christ (Christian Education Edition) you’re robbing you and others of valuable Bible teaching.
Have you used materials produced by New Tribes Mission? What has been your experience?