Moving Beyond the Page (MBTP) fits into a special niche within the homeschool market. It's a secular, unit study approach based on constructivist theories of learning* that was written primarily academically gifted children. At present, the curriculum is available for teaching pre-K through seventh grade at a gifted level. The same curriculum might be used with average students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Each year's curriculum is designated with an age range rather than a particular grade level.
- Age 4-5 (pre-K for gifted students, kindergarten for average students)
- Age 5-7 (kindergarten for gifted students, first grade for average students
- Age 6-8 (first grade for gifted students, second grade for average students)
- Age 7-9 (second grade for gifted students, third grade for average students)
- Age 8-10 (third grade for gifted students, fourth grade for average students)
- Age 9-11 (fourth grade for gifted students, fifth grade for average students)
- Age 10-12 (fifth grade for gifted students, sixth grade for average students)
- Age 11-13 (sixth grade for gifted students, seventh grade for average students)
- Age 12-14 (seventh grade for gifted students, eighth grade for average students)
The structure of the curriculum varies slightly as children progress through the different age levels.
The first level for ages four and five might serve as either a preschool or kindergarten program. For kindergartners, you need to add a complete reading program since this level introduces letters, sounds, and handwriting, but does not teach blending or decoding. MBTP recommends ABeCeDarian Level A, but you can use whatever you like.
A single parent manual covers the 30 units for the year; 26 of those units use letters of the alphabet as the organizing themes while the other four units focus on holidays. Lessons should take about 45 minutes to one hour per day. Each week's unit uses a children's storybook that will be read aloud and discussed throughout the week.
This level is weighted more heavily toward hands-on activities than the other levels. While children can learn to print both uppercase and lowercase letters, the lessons provide options for children who are not yet ready for handwriting—options such as using Play-Doh or popsicle sticks to form letters. Other differentiation options are sometimes included.
This first level is interdisciplinary like the other levels with its coverage of math, language arts, writing, science, social studies, art, music, and drama. It also works on character development as well as listening skills, using scissors, and other early learning skills.
You will need the materials kit for this level because it has hundreds of craft and activity items packaged into labeled bags for each unit. Items include die-cut figures and specialized craft supplies that might be difficult or impossible to make or supply yourself. While the materials kit includes construction paper, Play-Doh, Tempera paints, and other such items, you will still need to supply crayons, markers, pencils, glue, scissors, tape, a hole punch, shaving cream, and blank paper plus the occasionally-used items such as a cookie sheet or plastic containers. Each unit has a list of required and optional items you will need for the week. If you have basic supplies on hand, you will need to do little additional preparation for each week other than finding the required storybook, pulling out the materials kit baggie for the week, and perhaps gathering one or two household items. This makes it very easy for busy parents to provide their children with learning experiences that will both teach and delight.
For the elementary years, Age 5-7 through Age 10-12, each course is divided into four theme-based "concepts" that cover science, social studies, and language arts, plus a unit-study-based math program. (You can order a program without the math if you wish.)
The Age 5-7 curriculum assumes that students know letters and sounds plus numbers 1 through 10. For the most part, it does not assume that children can read, although some activities seem to be making that assumption, likely based on the author's belief that most gifted children learn to read early. This level teaches manuscript printing, so activity pages are included for practicing letter formation. At this time MBTP does not incorporate cursive instruction. In Age 8-10, they recommend adding your own choice of cursive handwriting programs. While some phonic activities are included, MBTP is not meant to provide reading/phonics instruction. You will need to select another program on your own for that purpose.
Beginning with Age 7-9, there is more of a separation between language arts and science and social studies although the lessons still tie together topically. For example, when children learn about sound in science, they read a biography of Helen Keller in language arts. However, the connections are not as pervasive as they are in a true unit study approach. As far as other subjects—art, music, drama, and critical thinking receive plenty of attention within the units at all levels.
Concept topics in each level are:
- Age 5-7: Environment, Similarities and Differences, Patterns, and Change
- Age 6-8: Community, Relationships, Culture, and Matter and Movement
- Age 7-9: Environment, Change, Cycles, and Relationships
- Age 8-10: Interdependence, Force and Power, Similarities and Differences, and Exploration and Survival
- Age 9-11: Relationships, Diversity and Interdependence, Discovery and Survival, and Systems
- Age 10-12: Environment and Cycles, Force and Power, Change, Systems and Interaction
I realize these topics are a bit vague. There is not enough space to list all the sub-unit titles but a few exmples should suffice. The "Change" unit for Age 5-7 has the sub-unit titles "Identifying and Recording Change," "Time," and "History – Change over Time." The "Interdependence" unit for Age 8-10 has the sub-unit titles "Dirt and Plants," "Native Americans," and "Ecosystems and Ecology."
For Age 7-9 and Age 8-10, three companion literature sub-units correlate with each unit book, which means there are 12 literature sub-units per year. Each literature sub-unit is essentially a study of a single novel or storybook. Literature sub-units serve as a springboard to cover broader language arts skills such as grammar, composition, spelling, vocabulary, and handwriting. While the literature has been selected to correlate with themes in the science and social studies books, they can be used independently. As an example, the literature titles selected to correlate with the "Interdependence" unit for Age 8-10 (with sub-units on dirt and plants, Native Americans, and ecosystems and ecology) are Little House in the Big Woods, Sign of the Beaver, and Native American Animal Stories. Some parents might wish to use only the science and social studies or only the literature sub-units, especially if children need to work at a lower level in language arts than for science and social studies.
For each of the sub-units in these lower levels, there are both a teacher and student book for science and social studies. Literature sub-units each include both teacher and student pages—student pages are printed on only one side and can be removed from the book. The program requires the purchase or acquisition of quite a few additional books for use with the units as well as the books to accompany the literature sub-units. (These are all available through Moving Beyond the Page.)
For Age 9-11 and Age 10-12, a shift takes place that has students working more independently. Instructions are written directly to the student. Parent pages are relegated to the back. These brief parent pages summarize what students are accomplishing in the sub-unit, provide a few helpful tips plus links to additional resources, and other such helps. Each level consists of six units of science, six units of social studies, and twelve units of language arts. Each of the units is bound in its own book with student-directed lesson plans, student activity pages, and the parent overview. The Life of Fred math series is recommended beginning with Age 10-12 (until MBTP completes additional levels of their own math program).
Among literature titles for the Age 11-13 level are The Pearl, The Hobbit, Greek Myths, and Newton at the Center. One language arts unit is dedicated to an independent study research project.
MBTP has also published Language Arts: High School 1, a comprehensive, one-year language arts course that can be used with either ninth or tenth graders,
How It Works
MBTP is more properly called an interdisciplinary approach rather than a unit study since all activities are not tied to the theme, especially in the literature units. For example, spelling words are culled from lists of most commonly used words and those following particular spelling patterns rather than from the book being studied.
Because the program targets gifted students, it teaches conceptually and holistically. That is, it starts with the big picture so that children gain a context for learning, then it moves on toward details and specific skills. It assumes that children will figure out for themselves much of what is taught directly in other programs. It does not review or drill in the traditional sense. For example, there is no systematic instruction in grammar in the first two levels. However, the essential skills (according to state and national standards) are taught in scattered lessons, then students are expected to use and refine those skills through application rather than review and drill. All basic grammar concepts, such as parts of speech, are taught over a span of a few years rather than repeating each year as in traditional programs.
Courses are written with some differentiated activities—activities from which parents can select those best targeted at the ability level of each student. This allows parents to use the same course with students who might be one or two years apart. Sometimes, parents will still need to adapt activities to fit the abilities of students.
MBTP incorporates lots of hands-on activities and experiential learning. You will need to gather materials for every lesson, although much is already included if you purchase the complete program for a level. Complete programs also include science kits which are very helpful since science activities are the ones requiring the most oddball resources.
While the teacher manuals have detailed, daily lesson plans, parents will need to do some lesson planning and preparation. Lessons also require parental interaction and supervision to a large extent in the younger levels. As children advance, there are increasing amounts of independent reading and writing required of students to the point where students in Age 9-11 and above work independently much of the time. Rubric forms for evaluating students' writing are included. Overall, the program requires more reading and writing of students than do most other programs.
Each unit has a culminating project to complete. There are no quizzes or tests until Age 8-10, and even then the culminating projects might be more valuable in terms of evaluating student progress.
Student books consist primarily of activity pages in the younger levels. Most of these are not typical worksheets; it doesn't seem like any two are alike. Instead, they direct students to draw, write, analyze, complete graphs, color, create booklets, complete Venn diagrams, and other such activities. While literature unit activity pages include some that are typical of grammar and handwriting workbooks, most are similar to those in the other MBTP books.
The curriculum is sold in a number of different packages. You can purchase a complete level that includes all units, literature units (when applicable), novels, books, science kits, and math "tools" such as a scale and weights (when applicable). Many complete packages also include math. You can also purchase packages of units for particular subject areas. The complete packages will certainly save you time and bother.
Here's just one example of all that is included in a complete package. The Age 8-10 complete package includes the four-unit parent manuals, four-unit student books, 12 literature units, 35 required books, a kite kit, Timeline of History, a Math Materials Kit, and six science kits. Among the required books are titles such as How do Animals Adapt?, Explorers Who Got Lost, Exploration and Conquest, Dirt, The Very First Americans, The Cherokee: Past and Present of a Proud Nation, Africa (A True Book), Asia (A True Book), Everything Rocks and Minerals, Turn of the Century, The Gripping Truth about Forces and Motion, and Sir Cumference and the First Round Table. Many of the titles selected for the literature units are well-known titles like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Ben and Me. Of the six science kits, four are MBTP kits, each containing a long list of resources. Another kit, The ScienceWiz Electricity Kit, includes its own manual with all materials (except a D cell battery) for multiple experiments and activities. The sixth kit, Dig a Dino T-Rex has students simulate excavating for bones and assembling them.
Sample lessons that include both teacher and student pages are available on the website for free so you can check it out before purchasing.
MBTP Online Version
MBTP is now also available in an online version. The online version offers instant access to parent manuals and student activity books via the internet at lower prices, although you do not permanently own access rights. Multiple students in your family may use the online curriculum simultaneously at no extra cost. Families may renew the online license for half-price for younger siblings. This makes the online version more cost effective for families in the long run as well. In addition, students may also type responses to some of the questions directly into the computer, saving or printing the results. The online version has also beefed-up multimedia with more website links plus integrated pictures and videos, especially for Age 9-11 and up. You will still need to purchase the required literature and manipulative kits when you buy the online version.
MBTP has also instituted IdeaShare™, an online community for MBTP users to share ideas and resources they've discovered.
In contrast to many of the comprehensive unit studies written for homeschoolers, the content and approach of the program are decidedly secular. Christianity is treated in the same manner as Native American belief systems, Islam, and other religions. However, parents are encouraged to discuss their own religious beliefs with children in numerous activities. Many parents will appreciate the program's emphasis on character education as well as the attention given to ecological issues.
As the publisher says, there are elements of Waldorf, Montessori, Unschooling, Core Curriculum, and Classical education incorporated into MBTP. With this mix of approaches, I expect that Moving Beyond the Page will appeal most to those who love experiential learning and real books, who want a secular curriculum, and who lean towards relaxed or unschooling approaches yet also want some ideas, structure, and direction.
* "Constructivists view learning as an active process in which the learner actively construct[s] knowledge as he tries to comprehend his world. Constructivist theory is about facilitating the learner to go beyond simple memorization toward understanding, application, and competence" (www.movingbeyondthepage.com/).