Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cadron Creek Press: Going Further Up and In with C.S. Lewis


I love the concept of unit studies. The idea of incorporating all the main subjects into one central theme gets me every time and the kiddos love to see how everything can come together. The first year we started homeschooling, we started during the summer with a mini-unit study I created on Daniel Boone. It was a wonderful, gentle way for David to transition from going to school and it really had him hooked on learning! He even enjoyed the "Daniel Boone Math" word problems I made up for him. The year went on with more history-based unit studies, and it was a lot of fun, but also a lot of planning and work for me.

I was so excited to get the opportunity to review a literature-based unit study from Cadron Creek Press. Further Up and Further In by Diane Pendergraft is a year-long study based on the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, a perennial favorite in this house. What could be better than the type of curriculum we love using, books that we love with all the planning already done?

Each of the 7 Chronicles is studied in this curriculum, reading a chapter a day, 4 chapters each week, taking an average of a month per book. It is designed for grades 4-8, but can be modified to use with younger or older children. The introduction states:

Further Up and Further In is a well-rounded scholastic program needing only math, grammar, and a spelling curricula to complete the student's course work.

The description on Cadron Creek's website differs a bit from that:

Supplemental studies in history, math, grammar, and spelling are recommended to fill out the program.

I'll talk a bit more about what the program actually covers in a bit.

Further Up and Further In starts with the Magician's Nephew. Now, there's a little bit of controversy over what order these novels should be read in...I won't really go into that here, but we decided to start with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LW&W), the first book published in the series. While Further Up and Further In does recommend that you read the books in the order the unit uses since material from previous books will be referred to periodically, I found displacing one book to not be a real problem with a little planning.

The study is well organized: each week of the unit begins with a planning guide that gives you a breakdown of the materials and resources to collect, followed by any worksheets provided for that week. I would highly recommend reading through all the planning guides for each book before starting it so you'll have plenty of time to order books through inter-library loan, to find some unusual resources (videos on ice fishing, for example), and to plan field trips. After the week's planning guide, you will find study guides for each chapter.

Each chapter's study guide typically starts a vocabulary section which introduces new (or unusual) words that will be present in that chapter. For the unit study, your child will start his own vocabulary notebook where he can enter these words after looking them up in the dictionary. There is usually a vocabulary activity of some kind as well, like filling in blanks with the correct word.

After the vocabulary, the other activities for the chapter are divided up by subject. You'll find Art, Bible, History, English, Geography, Science, Critical Thinking, Life Skills (like cooking) and even suggested field trips listed. At times the smorgasboard of activities and suggested research topics can seem a bit overwhelming. At other times the suggestions can see a bit underwhelming. The last week, for instance, of The Lion, LW&W has very little to it at all except for Bible and Critical Thinking.

The subjects tend to jump around a good deal as well. For example, because LW&W begins with Susan, Peter, Edmund and Lucy being evacuated from WWII London, the first week's history assignment involves learning about the evacuation of London's children during WWII. Then, a week later, when a character in the book who comes from Norse mythology is introduced, you study Norse mythology. And finally, towards the end of the book when Peter and Edmund have been knighted and all four children eventually take their thrones, you study knights and castles in the Middle Ages. The only organizing principle here is the events of the novel itself.

The science studies are very similar in nature and generally involve looking up something in the encyclopedia. Now, don't get me wrong, the encyclopedia can be a valuable resource for quick information, but there's a wealth of information to be had both from your local library and from the internet...not to mention ideas for activities, hands-on experiences and experiments. And while some of the art activities are fun little doodads, for the most part they are not designed to increase the student's appreciation of art or knowledge and understanding of art elements or techniques.

What I found, with the exception of the Bible and literature, was that in general the studies were a smattering of this and a smattering of that...nothing in depth, no chronology, no real organizing principle except when a concept happened to present itself in one of the novels. While I still love teh idea of a unit study based on the Chronicles, this just doesn't seem to be meaty enough for the 4th-8th grade range it's intended for. The Bible and literature discussions are a good start. If I wanted to use this for a year-long curriculum, I would do one of 2 things:
  1. Use it as a literature/Bible study separate from my other subjects, or
  2. Go through it book by book and write out my own plan, choosing which historical era to cover for each book, choosing a particular topic (or topics) in science for each book, etc. for all the subjects so that the studies could be more in-depth rather than just touching the surface. There's no reason why these subjects can't be incorporated into the curriculum. But it would take time to track down resources and to plan it out. Further Up and Further In does give me a good starting point for this and saves me the trouble of rereading all of the novels first in order to decide what to cover.
I would probably also speed up the pace at which we read the novels and add more literature (either contemporary to Lewis or appropriate to the historical era we were studying at the time) to the mix. The Chronicles beg to be read more quickly than a chapter a day:-)

Further Up and Further In can be purchased from Cadron Creek Press either as a paperback ($56.00) or spiral-bound ($62.00).

For other reviews of this curriculum or of Cadron Creek's award-winning Prairie Primer (Little House unit-study) and Where the Brook and River Meet (Anne of Green Gables unit-study), click the banner below:

3 comments:

  1. I really love the idea of this study. I will be HS a 2nd and 4th grader and I am wondering if this will work for them or if it will be too much for my 2nd grader.

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  2. Hi LaShawn,

    Yes, you could do this with your 2nd and 4th grader...keeping in mind that your 4th grader will understand the Biblical studies and literature discussions more. I used it with my 3rd grader and 5-year-old. If you read the novels aloud (best for this age group I think and the chapters are fairly short) you can then discuss it together with each contributing according to their ability. The vocabulary words will probably be above your 2nd grader's level, but you can add your own or skip that with him/her. As for the other parts (science, history, etc.), since you get to choose your own resources to cover the topics suggested, you can pick things appropriate to your kiddos. It is definitely a malleable study. If you want to discuss it more, feel free to email me :-)
    susanadale at gmail dot com

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  3. This was such a helpful review.

    Susan

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