Building on the Rock is an ambitious curriculum that presents both biblical Christian worldview and Bible survey studies through six courses for kindergarten through fifth grade. The folks at Summit Ministries have done an outstanding job with their programs for junior and senior high, and this program builds a foundation that begins in the elementary grades. As it says in the introduction of each course, "this curriculum will help young students formulate a biblical perspective of the world and then live accordingly." (Building on the Rock Teacher Manual, p.8)
The first two-thirds of the course each year teaches about worldview, while the last third of the course is part of an ongoing Bible survey study. Twenty key biblical truths are foundational for the worldview part of the courses. These are first presented in the worldview section of each course then incorporated into the Bible survey lessons. Godly character traits are also taught through all six courses.
The kindergarten course is a little different than the others since it presents all twenty biblical truths, all of the character traits, and a cursory survey of the key stories of the Bible from creation through the resurrection. For the next five years, the courses follow a spiral progression—each year's course concentrates on some of the 20 biblical truths and reviews others, teaches some of the character traits, and works through a section of the Bible. This design allows students to enter at any level and still pick up the key concepts.
The program was developed for classroom use, and it is still best suited for group settings if you want to cover all of the material provided. Lesson preparation and presentation both require quite a bit of time if you use the object lessons and other teaching strategies. However, these might not always be necessary in homeschool settings. Lesson plans also assume the presence of a group for discussion and interaction, but your family can serve as your group. (To use the program with your family, you have to select only one level of the program to use each year, and starting with the first level will generally be best.)
For each level, you will need the teacher manual and a student workbook for each student. At the back of each teacher manual are discs with supplemental files: blackline masters, transparencies, and mp3 songs. The teacher manuals are hefty books that might seem a bit overwhelming at first glance. But once you have familiarized yourself with the curriculum, they should be relatively easy to use. You will also need a Bible. Summit Ministries says that any common English translation of the Bible will work, and they sell The Action Study Bible ESV, an edition of the English Standard Version of the Bible with illustrations and graphics that appeal to a young audience.
The entire curriculum references the biblical story of the wise man who built his house upon the rock. An optional, plastic "House of Truth" model is used to represent students building their spiritual homes piece by piece as they proceed through the courses. (The House of Truth is pictured in the image that accompanies this review.) You can buy the kit for this model, but Summit Ministries also provides a free do-it-yourself option that you can print out on card-stock and put together on your own with. In this case you build the model all at once rather than adding pieces gradually, but it still works as a visual aid.
I'll begin with the worldview part of the course. It is important to note that the worldview course is entirely Bible-based since the worldview under discussion is premised upon a "sola scriptura" Protestant foundation. The twenty key biblical truths are taught over the course of the entire program, and these are buttressed with many other scriptural references.
For example, the first truth taught in the kindergarten course is "God's Word is the rock." The model is used to show this concretely, with the base piece labeled "The Rock: God and his Word." Subsequent lessons each year continue to build the model with each piece labeled with a biblical truth, reviewing those already in place. So while each course begins with a variation of this same theme—building on the rock and the trustworthiness of God and his Word as our foundation—lessons diverge as they address other biblical truths and topics.
Worldview lessons are divided into units, with a number of lessons per unit. Each lesson is presented in four parts since each lesson is intended to be completed over four days per week. Each unit (or sometimes groups of units when those units are brief) begins with overview and preparation information for the teacher. Here you will find the biblical truth (or truths) to be taught, key themes, character traits, a memory verse, an overview, a summary of key concepts, and a list of all supplemental resources from the blackline masters, student workbook, and transparencies.
Briefer lists of required supplemental resources are included in a sidebar for each day's lesson. Also in those sidebars for each day are the songs to be used (which are referred to as Bible Truth Couplets), materials needed, and other preparation. You do need to prepare in advance since you might need to collect or purchase items or plan for outings or activities.
Lessons are laid out in great detail and need to be presented from the teacher manuals. The teacher manuals explain what to discuss, visual aids to use, and questions to ask, and they include short stories to read to children. Here is an example of what this looks like. The objective for day one of the first lesson in the first-grade program is for students to understand the importance of following good directions and plans for their lives. The lesson uses an analogy of house building. The lesson begins with a discussion of house building and building supplies that will be needed. It also has the teacher provide an architectural floor plan for students to see how a builder knows what to do.
Then the teacher introduces the story of Wise William, creating an object lesson with resources you've gathered to show Willliam building his house on a solid foundation that withstands water. Questions are provided to guide the discussion. The lesson presentation concludes with a quick assessment activity that might be done orally in a homeschool setting. A colorful student workbook page has three spaces for children to draw different aspects of Willliam's story. Optional enrichment activities include an additional Bible-based discussion and a suggestion to invite an architect to the classroom. Lesson activities vary from day to day, so this is only a sampling of what it might look like on a single day.
The Bible survey part of the course takes the last third of the school year. As I mentioned, the kindergarten course covers both Old and New Testament in a cursory fashion, The first-grade course then starts again with the creation story and goes more in depth through the stories in the book of Genesis. The second-grade course focuses on Exodus, third grade draws from 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, fourth grade is about major and minor prophets, and fifth grade teaches from the four gospels. The Bible lessons continually tie back to the worldview lessons, integrating ideas with the stories in ways that young children can comprehend. Lessons are taught in a fashion similar to the worldview lessons with visual aids and activities. The student workbook, again, reinforces lessons, playing a minor role.
The classroom design of the curriculum makes this a bit cumbersome for homeschool families. But if you can put in the lesson preparation and presentation time, it should be very effective and interesting for your children. The detailed lesson plans really make it possible for parents to transmit crucial worldview ideas to their children.
Stepping back from all these details, I think it important to understand that this curriculum does something I've never seen done so clearly and purposely in any other Bible curriculum—it begins with epistemology—how we learn or know about God. It talks about the importance of knowing what God has to say to us, the idea that there is Truth that God has revealed. It deals with the fundamental human questions of who we are in relation to God as well as our relationship to others and to God's creation. And it does all this on a level appropriate for young children. In addition, the wealth of information for teachers will help those with shaky worldviews shore up their own foundations.