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*This discussion is equally pertinent to Orthodox church schools and Sunday Schools as it is to homeschooling families.  In this post, I put the content into the context of homeschooling since I put the previous post in the context of Sunday School but both posts are connected to one another.

There is an enormous amount of interest in obtaining an Orthodox Christian homeschoolers' box curriculum among Orthodox homeschooling parents.  Many homeschooling parents find themselves contemplating what educational approach would most resemble an Orthodox education, choosing one, and then adapting it to fit their needs.  If an Orthodox box curriculum for homeschoolers is to be created, the first question to ask is - what approach do we use as a model when creating the framework for this project?

I talked about the development of the Sunday School as we know it today in most of our parishes, the Church's traditional approach to education through the centuries, and examples of steps we can take in order to return to a more traditional education model here.  This is a relevant starting point for this discussion because, as Orthodox Christians, our religious beliefs are not compartmentalized into strictly a religious catechism intended as a separate school subject from all other subjects.  Just as the organs and systems in our body do not function independently from one another but rather in synergy as a whole, our learning occurs synergistically with our beliefs and development as Orthodox Christians.

John Boojamra sets the stage for defining an Orthodox educational model by stating, "Christian education will take place only when the needs of the learner and the needs of the Church are the foundation for determining the content, process, and location of our educational efforts.  Christian education is by its nature total education."  (Foundations for Christian Education)  Sophie Koulomzin also explains, "This aspect of 'wholeness' in religious education should not be isolated from the other points I have made.  What it means is that Christian faith can never hold an isolated position in our life - whether in the individual life of the person or in a person's relationship to the world he lives in.  You cannot be 'partly Christian' or a 'part-time Christian' nor can you be Christian in only certain parts of your world."  (Our Church Our Children)

In this respect, when we start thinking about how to begin a framework for creating a model for Orthodox homeschooling, we need to remember that, "The form, however, is as important as the content since it conveys the content."  (Boojamra, Foundations for Christian Education)  If we place being an Orthodox Christian as the priority in our homeschooling endeavors then we naturally have an Orthodox viewpoint for all other subjects.  There isn't a need to have an isolated time for religious instruction because, "Orthodox life is a seamless garment, every aspect is connected to every other aspect."  (Sister Magdalen, Children in the Church Today)

A possible model we could use for our framework is one of a connections approach.  How does "this particular secular topic" connect with my life as an Orthodox Christian?  As well as, how does "this particular Orthodox topic" connect with my everyday life?  We live in a world created by God but oftentimes we try to segregate it into separate compartments and pretend that each of them don't relate in some way to one another nor do they ultimately point us back to our Creator.  Here is where we begin to see learning in it's fullness - as we connect all of the parts to the whole and place God at the center of it all.

Allow me to give some examples of a connections approach to a curriculum:

1.  Taking an "Orthodox topic" and connecting it to our everyday life.

A year long study of the major feast days of the Orthodox Church

feastdays

As we come upon the Feast Day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, these are but a few connections we can make and the avenues of studies which can be taken to enrich our learning.

A study of the icon of the Elevation of the Holy Cross

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Patriarch Macarius is holding Christ's Cross for all to see and venerate.  He has deacons standing on either side of him holding candles along with clergy and lay people, including Saint Helen, who found the Cross.  The domed structure in the back represents the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.

 

A study about iconographers and iconography.  An icon is a window to heaven.  They tell us a story about the person or event being depicted.  Each iconographer follows a set of traditions in how to write an icon.  The colors, clothing, background, and items a person is (or is not) holding all hold special meaning.  

 

A study of the layout of an Orthodox church.  The church is laid out both horizontally (the church militant) and vertically (the church triumphant).  The church has three main parts - the narthex, nave, and altar.  The icons in a church are placed in a particular order going from floor to ceiling.

 

As we continue down this path of study about writing icons, we can venture into additional areas of interest.

Writing an Icon:

A study about iconographers and iconography

 

Saint Luke is the first person to write an icon.  He wrote an icon of the Theotokos.

Continue with a study about Saint Luke and also other iconographers.  Visit a modern day iconographer to watch him/her write an icon in person.

 

What do the colors, clothing, backgrounds, and items a person is (or is not) holding symbolize?

 

Symbolism of Icons:

What do the colors, clothing, backgrounds, and items a person is (or is not) holding symbolize?

 

A study of natural dyes (chemistry) and their history.  

Vivid red, blue, and purple are the colors of royalty in icons.  They were the colors of royalty because only emperors and empresses could afford them.  They were extremely hard to create and the materials needed in order to create them were hard to find and/or overwhelmingly expensive.  Wars were fought over obtaining the materials and the secrets of how to make these colors.  If you wore these colors or commissioned a painting with vivid colors - you were displaying not only your wealth but your power.  (A study of the Medici family from Italy can be an additional path of learning here.)

These connections ultimately lead you through a study of history, geography, chemistry, theology, and art simply by learning about the feast day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.

 

The colors of the clothing will tell you a lot about the person.  Additionally, what the person is wearing will tell you whether they were a monk, nun, priest, bishop, royalty, or  a poor person.

 

Learn how the iconographer depicts an event either inside or outside without putting walls or a roof around or above the people.

 

Someone holding a cross usually tells us that the person was martyred.  Scrolls will depict a teacher or writer.  If the person is holding an item, it is telling you about the life of the person.

 

2.  Taking a "secular topic" and connecting it to being an Orthodox Christian.

Literature:  Reading and discussing various "secular" books

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Here are some examples of connections that can be studied as you read and discuss secular books with your children.  I found it extremely beneficial to read a book either aloud with my daughter or reading it separately and then coming together to discuss it as she entered the middle school and high school age.  (We did not do this with every book - mostly just the current trending books)  As my daughter found herself in a discussion about these books with her peers (and she did), she was not only able to discuss it with an informed (Orthodox) viewpoint but was also not swayed by her friends when my daughter explained to them why she liked or disliked the book.

The very first time I was confronted with the choice of whether or not to close a book and tell her she wasn't allowed to finish it (or to keep going and then discuss the book with her) was when she was in 6th grade.  It was just her at that point (her brothers would arrive the following year) and we spent that summer reading aloud chapter books to each other in the evenings.  We were reading The Giver when I came to a part about euthanizing a baby.  My initial instinct was to close the book and not continue it.  I stopped for a moment to think about it and realized this was the perfect opportunity for me to discuss what we believe as Orthodox Christians about euthanasia, abortion, and birth control.  The discussion was within the context of the story which made it less awkward for both of us but at the same time I was able to explain to her our beliefs.  I'm sooooo thankful I took this approach with her because in her senior year of high school, she attended a vocational school for 3 hours a day, five days a week (the other portion of the day she was homeschooled).  One of my daughter's classmates confided in her that she had missed school the previous week because she had an abortion.  My daughter was devastated!  She came home and we talked about it at length.  She wished with all her heart that her classmate would have said something before she had the abortion so my daughter could have at least had the opportunity to talk to her about alternatives.  The reality is, our children will come into contact with topics and situations we would rather shield them from but it is vitally important that we arm them with Orthodox Christian beliefs so they will know how to deal with them when the time comes.

Thus, this became my approach with my kids from then on with books - we would read and discuss them together, especially trending books that my children had an interest to read.

The Giver  by Lois Lowry

A discussion about what we believe as Orthodox Christians

How does the body work?  What happens when you have an abortion? How does birth control work in your body?  How does euthanasia work?  

 

What do we believe as Orthodox Christians about euthanasia, birth control, and abortion?  When do we believe life begins?  What is the Orthodox Christian view of family life?

 

What are our state and country's stand on euthanasia, birth control, and abortion?  Does this affect us?  Why or why not?

 

Discussion of characters, plot, themes, motifs, and symbolism

 

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew  by C.S. Lewis

A discussion about parallels we can draw from the story and the Bible

 

We can draw parallels between the story of the Magician's Nephew and the story of Creation in the Bible.  We can also continue this path of study by finding icons depicting Creation as well as talk about why (and how) we are called to be stewards of God's earth.   Is our belief of Creation the same or different from other faiths?  Why or why not?

 

Discussion of characters, plot, themes, motifs, and symbolism

 

Draw scenes from the story using the details provided in the text

 

The Hunger Games Series  by Suzanne Collins

A discussion and reflection about who we are in the story

 

My spiritual father once told me that we should always think about who we are in the story when reading the Gospel - not who we think we are, but who we are.

This series is an excellent example of this practice.  

Many people like to think of themselves as the downtrodden people of the Districts.  They want to believe that they'd fight for what is "right" and help others in times of need.

The reality is that we're the people of The Capitol.  We are always looking for something to entertain us (we're reading this series, aren't we?).  We spend more time on acquiring objects and beautifying ourselves than we do helping others.

This is a serious blow when we make this realization since we find ourselves holding the people of The Capitol in disgust while reading the story.  What impact does this have on us?  What changes can we make?  What is our goal in life?  What is theosis?

 

This story parallels the history of the Colosseum in Rome where innocent people (and criminals) were forced to fight to their death for the entertainment of others.

History - What happened in the Colosseum in Rome?

Geography - Where is Rome?

Orthodoxy - Christians were martyred in the Colosseum.  What does it mean to be a martyr?

 

Discussion of characters, plot, themes, motifs, and symbolism

 
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