My goal is to finish one lesson each week with my kids -- in other words, one page from the Drill Book. I generally begin by singing the hymn verse for the week. If you're unfamiliar with the hymn, a quick visit to YouTube should help you out. People sometimes ask me why I include hymns in the curriculum when praise songs are much more popular in many churches. Though I enjoy singing praise songs, I want my kids to know our rich heritage of Christian music. I also appreciate how many of the older hymns teach doctrine through winsome poetry. Years before a child can understand the words
"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!
Hail, the Incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emanuel"
he can memorize the song. Later in life, when he is ready to uncover more truth about his Maker, that stirring poetry will be his primer for studying doctrine. The first day I introduce a hymn verse, I might have the kids sing just that verse three or four times. As we move on and learn the rest of the hymn, we sing through all the verses we've memorized.
I usually move to the memory passage next. Classical Sunday School presents entire passages for kids to memorize, one verse a week. We want to teach God's Word in context, and allow our kids to absorb God's complete thoughts. Memorizing entire passages allows kids to digest big ideas. Try to get your children to say the memory verse out loud seven times each day. Use your creativity in getting them to repeat the passage: Say it in a squeaky voice. Recite it standing on one foot. Deliver it in a cowboy voice. Pretend you're a monster reciting. Use hand motions. As you move along in the passage, adding a new verse each week, continue to recite the parts of the passage you've mastered. Soon, long sweeps of God's Word will inhabit your children's minds. (Yours too!)
The timeline song is set to "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and takes you from Genesis to Revelation. (I promise soon to publish a video of the hand motions that accompany the song.) When kids have the song down, they can start to place Biblical events and personalities in sequence. This has two benefits: First, it helps them to understand the cohesive narrative sweep of the Scriptures. Second, it reminds them that these are real historical people and events, not fables.
Most of the weeks include a mini visual timeline. In the Old Testament Cycles (odd-numbered cycles) it looks like this:
-2000 -1500 -1000 -500
The letters, spaced at 500-year increments, stand for: Abraham, Moses, David, Exile. We tell our kids to remember that Classical Sunday School is "AMost Delightful Experience." When older kids grasp this simple timeline, they enjoy filling in people and events they encounter in Bible study.
The New Testament timeline (in even-numbered cycles) looks like this:
1 33 46-58 70 96
and can be remembered with the song, set to the "Jingle Bells" chorus:
Revelation to St. John,
The New Testament is done.
I usually move next to mapwork. There are generally 4-6 places to identify on a line-drawing map. If you're unfamiliar with the geography yourself, most Bibles include maps in the appendix. You could also Google some maps, but be sure to add the search word "ancient," so you don't wind up with the modern names that don't show up in the Bible. For the first day or two of a week, I ask my kids to identify the places I name. Then, I ask them to name the places I point to. For older kids, I'll have them attempt to draw a map themselves and label features. Maps, like timelines, are important because they fix the Bible's events in real history, not in some realm of Narnia. Further, knowing the basic geography of a region makes the Biblical account come to life as child pictures the story in his mind's eye.
Many parents feel intimidated by the introduction to Biblical languages presented in the lessons. Fear not! We are just introducing the alphabets of Hebrew and Greek, and then eventually some short verses in those languages. Most kids really enjoy learning the letters -- it's like a secret code. I just have my kids copy a letter over and over, saying the name of the letter as they write. (Remember to start writing your Hebrew letters on the RIGHT side of the page!) As we add more letters, we continue practicing the previous ones. The tutorials posted on this website for Hebrew and Greek are very helpful in learning how to draw and pronounce the letters.
A note: if your children are just leaning their English alphabets, you may want to wait until they have them down pat before you introduce a new alphabet. There's a lot a six-year-old is already trying to remember--we don't want to confuse him!
Each week has a Bible Facts section; most of the facts are set to familiar music. You can access recordings of all the music here. Kids usually enjoy these songs, and often have fun adding hand motions to them. Sing the tunes as often as necessary to memorize them. These Bible Facts help organize or summarize information for children.
The Bible story focus for each week is one entry from the Timeline; the focus is listed dead-center on each page under the Cycle number. When you complete all twelve cycles of Classical Sunday School you will have highlighted all the people and events mentioned in the Timeline. Don't worry about sticking strictly to the focused theme as you read your children Bible stories. At the moment in our house, we are really enjoying reading Genesis straight from the Bible, so I'm not worried that we're not matched up with our theme this week. I just make sure the kids know a little about the theme focus, but I read from one of the excellent texts below according to my own judgment. If you'd like to read texts that match the theme, they're noted in the box "related stories" on each Drill Book page.
Classical Sunday School suggests three different texts for teaching Bible stories: the Bible, Hurlbut's Story of the Bible, and The Child's Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos. (They're available here.)
Whenever possible, we recommend that you teach directly from the Bible. Narrative books like Genesis, I & II Samuel, Mark, and Acts are easy for even young children to understand. The books of poetry like Psalms and Proverbs are honey for a child's soul.
But certain portions of the Bible that are full of obscure historical references or laden with rich doctrine are better taught through excellent summaries when students are young.
Hurlbut's Story of the Bible was the best-selling Sunday School curriculum in America in the first part of the 20th century. Hurlbut uses a grandfatherly tone as he summarizes the sweep of the Scriptures. He includes geographical references and does an excellent job of presenting the Bible as a unified whole.
Mrs. Vos's superb book is perhaps better for younger children (ages 3-7). In her very sweet voice she connects her stories over and over again to the story of redemption woven throughout the Scriptures.
At the back of each Drill Book you'll find a summary of all the material listed in the 12 Old Testament lessons and the 12 New Testament lessons for that particular book. Use it for review if you like. When I teach this curriculum at church, the fourth and fifth graders enjoy when I break the class into teams and allow them to compete to see how much they can remember from the Mastery Review pages.
I've included in this program many of the elements that I believe are useful in raising Biblically literate children. If there is too much here for your family right now, leave some parts out! My daughter is skipping the geography with her little ones because they are already doing a lot of map work in Classical Conversations. Parents of pre-readers will probably want to skip Hebrew and Greek. One mom I spoke with says her kids are plowing through the memory work and are finishing two lessons a week! My kids could never do that.
Just remember: this is a tool for you to use, it's not your taskmaster! I have found, after teaching this material for thirty years in many different contexts, that children respond beautifully when teachers respect their intellects and present the Bible as what it truly is: the most fascinating book in the world. God bless you as you teach your children to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls and minds.
...so I'll describe how I've used the books with my kids at home.
The most important thing is to set aside a time each day when you'll teach and review the material. When my kids were all very little, we often had our Bible times at the breakfast table, where the toddler was happily restrained in his high chair, and hungry little people were eager to be seated. As the kids got older, we'd figure out a time to gather that matched everyone's schedule. The crucial thing is to pick a time and stick with it. Give yourself grace if you're sick or there's a crisis to deal with, but try to make your Bible time a priority.
Next, remember this is a really happy time. You're opening God's Word and explaining its richness to little souls whose "angels look upon the face of God." They will love discovering the treasures that are buried in the Bible's pages, so make sure you communicate your enthusiasm to them.