Build Your Library offers a secular option for a literature-based approach to education that follows a historical timeline. It covers history, literature (including poetry), science, and art. Math, spelling, grammar, and phonics/beginning reading need to be taught separately. There are programs covering grades K through 12. Children a grade or two apart might be taught from a single level of the program but not if the age spread is greater than that.
The themes for history and science for each level are:
- Kindergarten - Children around the World and Animals and Their Ecosystems
- 1st grade - Ancient World and Nature Study
- 2nd grade - Middle Ages, Geography, Earth, and Space
- 3rd grade - Early Modern and Chemistry and Microscopy
- 4th grade - Modern World and Physics
- 5th grade - American History, Part 1 and Real Science Odyssey Biology 2
- 6th grade - American History, Part 2 and Real Science Odyssey Astronomy 2
- 7th grade - World Geography and Elemental Science Chemistry
- 8th grade - World History and the History of Science
- 9th grade - Prehistoric World, Evolution, and Geology
- 10th grade - World History, Part 1; Comparative Religions; and Biology
- 11th grade - World History, Part 2 and Evolution of the English Language
- 12th grade - American History, Government, and Economics
Each level is presented in a single teacher’s guide (available only as a downloadable file). The guides—which seem to average about 250 pages per level—provide daily lesson plans for using an assortment of real books to cover the various subject areas.
This program has many hallmarks of a Charlotte Mason-style program. Build Your Library uses a broad selection of real books including modern children's literature. Some are spine books to be used over many weeks or months while others are books to be used in a few weeks or less. You’ll likely want to purchase the spine books, but you could borrow many of the other books from the library. Children begin poetry memorization in first grade and create nature drawing journals. First graders begin copywork activities as soon as their writing skills are developed to the point where they can comfortably do them. Children eventually move on to dictation activity.
Narration is used throughout the program. To keep narration interesting, the program includes narration cards (that you can print and cut out) that offer various forms of narration that stretch narration’s definition beyond the realm of oral response. Examples of a few “narration” options are:
“Create a puppet show based on the reading.”
“Draw a scene from the reading and include a short caption.”
“Write a song or poem inspired by the reading.”
“Design a quiz based on the story.”
In addition to the above activities, students also create timelines and do map work and research. Timeline figures, outline maps, and notebook pages are included in the teacher’s guide. Students create a notebook as they work through the lessons.
Occasionally, lessons include links to documentary DVDs or online videos that you might want to use with lessons. Links for videos as well as the recommended books often connect to Amazon so you can identify the exact resource. However, you are welcome to borrow or purchase elsewhere. Many of the videos are available through Netflix and some might be available through your local library.
Each week’s lesson is shown on a one-page chart. Then daily lesson plans add details including vocabulary words that students will encounter, copywork assignments, memory work, and activities. Activities are generally explained in the resource books rather than in the guide itself. Lesson plans identify specific pages to read or use in each book each day, making it very easy for the busy parent to figure out what needs to be done.
While this is a “reading-intensive” program, it does include some multi-sensory activities such as nature drawing and science experiments as well as the multi-sensory narration options.
Books used for the various levels include many popular books such as Pandia Press's History Quest, One Small Square: Woods, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History, Joy Hakim’s A History of US series, and the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia, along with many biographies, and books of historical fiction. The teacher’s guide lists which books are required and which are optional. Some of these books you will want to read aloud even with older children, but older students should be able to do much of their reading and other work independently.
Science is included for all grade levels. Up through fourth grade, the program uses a mixture of real books such as those from DK, Usborne, the Magic School Bus series, and experiment books. Emily Cook, creator of Build Your Library, prefers a strongly secular perspective for science, so the fifth- and sixth-grade courses use Real Science Odyssey: Biology 2 and Real Science Odyssey Astronomy 2, respectively, along with a number of living books. Elemental Science's Chemistry for the Logic Stage is used for seventh grade, and eighth grade uses Hakim's Story of Science series. Ninth grade integrates prehistory, geology, and the study of evolution with a selection of living books. For tenth and eleventh grades, science is studied primarily from the CK-12 Biology and CK-12 Chemistry courses, respectively.
Coverage of composition skills seems a weak area. In addition to narration, copywork, and dictation activities, students occasionally are given composition assignments such as writing a short report for science. The sixth-grade level program adds instruction for writing a research paper and some additional composition assignments. However, it seems to me that students past second or third grade need more instruction and practice in various forms of composition, so you would probably want to supplement in this area.
As I mentioned, the program is secular. The program's creator, Emily cook, has purposely sought out secular resources that do not promote or have an underlying Christian point of view. Consequently, the books required for the course are generally secular in outlook. For instance, the book World Mythology for Children by Sarah Y. Cook is used in the first-grade program as a core resource. Its secular treatment of mythology features Egyptian, Jewish, Mesopotamian, Chinese, Greek, and Roman “mythological” stories. The two Jewish stories included are the creation and flood stories from Scripture, but they are presented without attribution or distinction, essentially the same as the other myths.
A number of the resources for history have a focus on minorities or a revisionist perspective. For example, both An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People and A Different Mirror For Young People: A History of Multicultural America are revisionist histories that are used as spine books for both fifth and twelfth grade. These and other history books along this line are supported by literature selections. For example, of the 13 fifth-grade literature books (to be read aloud), 11 are about minorities.
Teacher’s guides for Build Your Library are very reasonably priced. Your larger cost will be for the other books and resources that you will need to purchase. However, since most of these are non-consumable real books, they will help you build your family library as well as this year’s curriculum. Overall, Build Your Library might be a great choice for families looking for a secular, literature-based program.
Note: Build Your Library also sells inexpensive, short-term unit studies such as The Hobbit, Sharks!, Darwin and Evolution, and individual studies of each of the Harry Potter books.