Beyond the Textbooks

by Sharon Haag1

Susan came into my office a couple months ago to talk about how to teach her four children (ages 6-11) during the second half of the school year. The family would be spending six months traveling through two different regions of the U.S. and two countries in Europe before returning to their ministry assignment in Asia by the beginning of next school year. Should she buy the correspondence courses her children had used previously in Asia, or buy the textbooks they were currently using on furlough so they could finish out the year with consistency?

Both those options seemed overwhelming when Susan considered the bulk and weight of materials they would have to carry around and the amount of time required to keep up with four complete grade levels worth of courses. Also, Susan had been reading about learning styles and was realizing that some of her children would probably enjoy “school” more and learn better if they were not limited to the textbook/workbook approach. She felt the teaching experience would be more positive for her, too, if the methodology could be varied.

The situation seemed right for moving “beyond the textbooks” to more real-life, project-based learning! Susan became more and more enthused about the possibilities of using the travel they’d be doing, rather than textbooks, as the content organizer for the last half of the school year. Why not study, as a family, the U.S. regions and the European countries they’d be visiting? This would help build appreciation for and understanding of their home country as well as other parts of the world. Since another major goal of furlough was to build family ties, they could also incorporate projects that would enhance their relationships with the family members they would be visiting.

In subject areas such as math and beginning reading, the children would continue with their textbooks. But everything else—reading/literature for the older children, writing, science, social studies—could be integrated around their travels. As all four children would be studying the same themes, many of the resources they would use, the discussions they would have, and the experiences they would include would serve to teach at all four levels.

An Example

Susan used a theme outline (the Nations unit) to help her come up with the kinds of questions appropriate for her children to answer as they traveled to the different regions of the U.S. and the two European countries. This would give them a format for studying any region or country of the world and for organizing what they learned. The format would also provide a structure for comparing and contrasting different places—finding their similarities and appreciating their uniquenesses. Following are some of the possible questions:

Gathering Information and Presenting What was Learned

Fears About Moving Away from Textbooks

Advantages of Moving Beyond the Textbooks

By moving beyond the traditional, grade-level textbook approach, families can:

How Could You Do It?

usan decided to jump in with both feet and do a theme-unit approach for all subject areas except math. She wanted to take advantage of the unique learning opportunities their imminent travel would provide. Most families do not feel comfortable taking that leap all at once.1 Following are some ideas for making it manageable.

Children at all grade levels can write a report (with you individualizing skills instruction at the level of each), do hands-on geometry or measurement activites, make a model, prepare an explanation, participate in the same field trips, interviews, observations, books read aloud, and discussions related to the theme topic. Some of the assignments can be family projects with each child doing a piece to contribute to the whole. This type of academic interaction is a key benefit to many families, adding to enjoyment of learning, closeness, and appreciation for one another’s gifts and talents.

Helpful Resources

Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.

J.G. recounts her family’s more gradual transition in her article, Project-Based versus More Structured Curriculum.