The books on which each of the Cadron Creek Literature Guides center are really just springboards. Students read the books, then move on to a variety of activities, assignments, and supplemental readings that elaborate the books themselves, as well as the time in which each was written, the cultural context of the author, and important character-building principles to be learned from the characters.
For instance, in Further Up and Further In (focusing on each volume of the Chronicles of Narnia), students learn about World War II, C.S. Lewis's literary inspirations, the kind of food the Pevensies would have eaten, and the spiritual significance of Aslan, as well as other things too numerous to list. Kids are taught to integrate each new topic into a cohesive whole, not simply study each subject as though it bore no relation to the others.
These guides were written by veteran homeschool parents who recognize the difficulty of single-handedly covering every subject for every child. The unit study approach is flexible enough to accomodate different age levels and learning styles simultaneously, comprehensive enough that you won't have to worry about your child being undeveloped in important areas. It is also holistic—the interdisciplinary approach emphasizes the connections between every branch of knowledge.
How Do These Work?
There are currently three guides from Cadron Creek. The Prairie Primer for grades 3-6 uses the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder to study the period of westward expansion in the U.S.; Further Up and Further In for grades 4-8 studies mainly English history and literature through; and Where the Brook and River Meet for teenage girls studies the late Victorian Era with Anne of Green Gables. For each one the only required texts are the unit study guide itself and the specific books it covers, though the suggested reading contains far more.
Each guide is intended to be used over the course of one year. Each book has a unit dedicated to it, which is then divided into weeks and days. Understand that this is mostly a guideline; one of the strengths of unit studies is that they can be adaptable to nearly any situation and schedule.
The authors claim the only subjects that will have to be taught apart from those covered in the guides are those of a skill-specific nature—grammar, spelling, math, and laboratory science. The unit studies cover history, reading comprehension, literary analysis, art, basic science, health, character-building, geography, music, etc. Not only do kids read literature from and about the period being studied, they get to do things the characters in the stories would get to do. For instance, one activity in The Prairie Primer is making butter from cream, a chore described throughout the Little House books. This approach not only makes learning fun, it impresses the information more firmly on the student's mind.
Every effort is made throughout these guides to reinforce biblical truth. Kids are expected to learn, not simply to aquire knowledge or obtain skills, but to become better people. Bible studies are outlined for parents to go through with their kids, and regular Bible readings that relate to specific subject matter are assigned. Scripture passages for memorization are also suggested.
This is not a purely hands-on course. One of the skills most stressed by the authors is an ability to write well and clearly, and much attention is given to this. Reproducible exercise/essay question sheets in the guides offer a basic chance for kids to develop writing skills, though writing instruction should by no means be limited to this. Kids are also encouraged to think about what they read, not just plowing through books at top speed to say they've read them. Part of the appeal of the integrated unit study is that it helps in the formation of students' critical thinking skills, a skill that may be unnecessarily hard to teach when each subject is seen as unrelated to the others.
This is a teacher-intensive method of instruction. Parents will need to spend time deciding which activities to have their kids complete, formulating lesson plans, going on field trips, helping kids cook authentic period food, etc. The authors suggest this will take about two hours of planning per week, and about an hour of instruction/active participation per day, though how much time you spend is up to you. You don't need to cover all the material in the book, either—you can pick and choose and integrate their suggestions with your other curricula.
Our Honest Opinion:
The Cadron Creek Literature Guides are ambitious. They cover a lot of material in a relatively short amount of time, and expect young kids to focus on a single time period and series of books for a whole year. While this is by no means impossible, it can be difficult. Teachers will have to spend a considerable amount of time drawing together supplementary material (there is some in the back of the guides, but you'll need more), and to really make it worth your money and effort you'll need to spend a fair amount of time actually teaching.
That said, these are excellent resource materials. Even if they don't comprise the core of your year's curriculum, they can nonetheless fill in many gaps and be used to add a just plain fun element to learning. Not that there isn't any substance here—there's plenty, it's navigating all of it that might be the hard part. However you use these guides, whether as primary or secondary courses, your kids will learn in a unique, non-standard way, and have a good time doing it.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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