The primary goal of the authors of the Rod & Staff Social Studies curriculum is a good one: to teach kids about God's world from a Christian perspective with special emphasis on concerns faced by international missionaries. As a result, however, the course suffers in the way of history instruction; while geography is covered thoroughly, the story of past ages is neglected altogether in the initial books, and seems only grudgingly introduced later on, or presented as an afterthought.
How Do These Work?
Eight levels cover grades 2-9, with a supplementary Bible history series for older students (not available for review). The 2nd grade level is simple: just a slim student worktext and a teacher's edition. The emphasis is on learning about different climates and regions, how to read maps, and some basic information about the seven continents as seen through the eyes of fictional children. Parents will find lesson objectives and minimal extra information alongside answers to all exercises in the teacher's manual.
Grade 3 is more social studies-oriented. Students learn less about geography, and more about community life and concerns. There is a student textbook, a teacher's edition (basically a glorified answer key with a few extra notes), a workbook, and tests. Families who live in the city (or even the suburbs) probably won't get much out of this volume. The focus is on agricultural communities, and exercises have kids answering questions concerning the refueling of tractors, harvesting of crops, and other bucolic ventures outside the experience of most American children.
In the next books (for grades 4-9), students get a mixture of history, geography and social studies. Each level consists of a student textbook, teacher's manual, and test packet. Kids read the text (each text revolves around a specific region, like Latin America or Africa), complete exercises, and periodically take tests; teachers grade work. While there are little bits of information in the teacher's manuals (primarily directing teachers toward a Christian perspective of the material), there's not enough to help you present lessons. The student texts are written matter-of-factly and without superfluous facts or stories.
Throughout the series, the authors attempt to relate the material to a biblical perspective and Christian worldview. As mentioned before, their primary reason for teaching history and geography in the first place is to get kids in a foreign missions mindset. It's interesting, though, that while Bible verses appear often, and while ungodly behavior is identified and criticized, there isn't much commentary on the flow of history itself, so kids aren't likely to see God's hand in the past (at least, not explicitly).
Our Honest Opinion:
The folks at Rod & Staff have produced some fine curriculum, particularly those courses relating to the language arts; their social studies program sadly leaves too much to be desired for us to recommend it as a viable history or geography option. For one thing, the books haven't been updated in nearly 20 years, and a lot of the "facts" are no longer true. As far as geography goes, there are far more exciting and more educational courses available that are current and that will have kids enthusiastic instead of trembling in dread.
Then there's the history portions. If you're okay with your kids having a truncated understanding of world events, presented in a juvenile manner without commentary or serious consideration, by all means, try this series out. This isn't even much use as a quick survey before moving into more serious study. History instruction doesn't even start until the 4th grade material, and even in the later books its marginalized to accommodate the extensive geography-themed passages. For a similar approach that actually succeeds, we suggest BJU Heritage Studies.
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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