Faith and Life is a very popular religion series among Catholic homeschoolers. The content is solid and does not water down instruction as do some current religion courses. One thing I particularly like about the books in this series is that they follow a logical progression throughout each book. The big picture of God and salvation through Jesus is presented at each level, but the emphasis on other topics shifts from level to level. Many topics such as the Holy Spirit, Mary, and the Church are covered in some aspects at every level.
First grade, Our Heavenly Father, begins with the basics: creation, God, heaven, and the need for a savior. It also covers prayer, the Trinity, the life of Jesus, salvation, Mary, and other topics. Second grade, Jesus Our Life, prepares children for Confession and First Communion with lessons on the commandments, forgiveness, salvation/redemption, the Eucharist, and the Mass.
Third grade, Our Life with Jesus, skims through the Old Testament and spends more time on Jesus, the commandments, and the founding of the Church. The fourth-grade course, Jesus Our Guide, focuses on the Old Testament stories of the patriarchs and the sacraments, with more of an overview of salvation history than other levels. It helps children understand why Jesus came to redeem us.
Fifth graders follow the Creed as they learn more about their faith in the volume titled Credo: I Believe. The sixth-grade course, subtitled Following Christ, covers the commandments in-depth, the Mass, and last things, all with a focus on living a Christian life.
Grade seven, The Life of Grace, again provides an overview of the big picture but with an emphasis on grace and virtue as well as the interplay of reason and faith. Eighth graders learn about the Church's history, structure, and functions; the mystical body; Christian life; sacraments of service; and last things in the volume titled Our Life in the Church.
The student texts are filled with beautiful works of religious art. (Art credits are listed in the back of the books so that the parent/teacher might easily incorporate art appreciation into the study of religion.) Each text ends with prayers to memorize and vocabulary words with complete definitions. The series also incorporates the questions and answers of the Baltimore catechism for memorization work.
The Faith and Life teacher's manuals are loaded with great content. There is one large manual for each level. The lesson presentation is contained within the manual, and the student book is used for reading material. The student book material is good enough to stand alone, but there are excellent teaching ideas, expansions on topics, background information, prayers, brief biographies of saints, tidbits on Church history and Catholic tradition, and much more in the teacher's manuals. The teacher's manuals cover three to four pages of text in the student books per week, transforming them into very comprehensive, daily lessons. The lessons have cross-references to the Bible and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, so you should have both books on hand. Suggested hymns from the Adoremus Hymnal also correlate with lessons. These manuals are goldmines of information that truly provide a thorough religious education.
Lesson plans are written for four-day presentations and a review. The review will help you narrow down to essentials if you don't have time for all the material each week. This makes it possible to use this curriculum whether you have a once-a-week or five-days-a-week class.
There are approximately 30 lessons per grade level. The activity books reinforce the lessons learned in the textbooks. They are helpful, but not absolutely necessary.
Parents who don't have time to utilize the large teacher's manuals might consider using the Faith and Life Family Guides. Two volumes cover all eight levels. Volume 1 covers grades one through four, and Volume 2 covers grades five through eight.
The Family Guides were written to provide at-home review and reinforcement for students who are being instructed from the complete teacher's guides at school. However, a Family Guide along with a student textbook can provide a substantial religion course that might be more manageable for homeschoolers. Those using a Family Guide will also need a Bible and The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Each lesson is covered in two pages in the Family Guides, beginning with a brief summary of the important points of that lesson. Then every lesson is laid out in six steps that are labeled: begin, summarize, review, apply, conclude, and follow up.
The "begin" section suggests an opening prayer. Then parents often need to supply their own personal story or lead a discussion as directed in the instructions for this part of the lesson. For instance, Lesson 28 for the first grade says, "Ask your child with whom they most love spending time and why." These discussions link to the main idea of the lesson. In this case, it connects to the idea of living with God forever in heaven. The "begin" section concludes with a passage from the Bible to read that is pertinent to the lesson. If you are using the Family Guide and student book on their own, you'll want to read the student lesson at this point. The "summarize" section provides a concise summary of the key point of the lesson. This might be a stopping point for one day's lesson.
The third part of the lesson, "review," presents questions that review the most important points. Suggested answers are included after the questions. The fourth part, "apply," offers questions that will help children think about how they can apply the lesson in their lives. For instance, Lesson 16 for third grade asks, "Jesus always worked hard in helping His parents. How do you help your family?" The "conclude" always says to pray the Our Father with your child.
The sixth section, "follow up," offers activities from which you can choose. These often include memorizing a Bible verse, but other suggestions are very diverse. A few examples are "Help your child draw a picture of Jesus performing one of the miracles studied in this lesson" (Grade 2, Lesson 16), "On your family’s calendar find and mark all the Holy Days of Obligation" (Grade 3, Lesson 10), "Learn more about Saint Gianna Beretta Molla and why she is an important saint for today" (Grade 8 Lesson 19), and "Find online a novena to Saint Joseph, and pray it for all the married couples and families you know" (Grade 8 Lesson 19). You can see how many of these might take more than one day.
While lessons based only on the Family Guides are not as substantial as those taught from the teacher's manuals, they might be a practical option.
You might also want to check out my review of the Faith and Life Series Online.