I have been blogging lately about my method of contemplative homeschooling. Here is an example of a unit I did a few years ago with my boys on Jacob and Esau.
The best way to start these units is for you (the parent) to meditate on the Scripture passage you will study with your kids. In this case, prayerfully read Genesis 25:29-24, 27:1-40. Since this passage is long, you could spread your meditation over 2-3 days or choose a smaller portion of the text to meditate on. Identify the main elements or themes of the story that speak to you and use them as part of your studies.
The themes I chose for this unit were twins, telling the truth, and comparing and contrasting. (I created this before I began starting each unit with my prayer time.)
Narration: Read “Esau and Jacob” from The Golden Children’s Bible aloud. If you have a different Bible, use only the parts of the story that correspond to the sections of Genesis noted above. Have your kids narrate it back and you write their narrations. Children 10 and up can write their own.
Copywork/memorization: “The Truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Language Arts: Use the Comparing and Contrasting Twins Chart I for Jacob and Esau.
Read The Twins and the Bird of Darkness by Robert D. San Souci. Complete Twins Chart III (Chart II is used for history, below, but you may want to do it first).
There are several good stories to illustrate the importance of honesty. Choose those you like best or have easiest access to from among these: “Mercury and the Woodman” or “The Cock and the Fox” by Aesop, “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (Book of Virtues), or any of the many versions of Brer Rabbit and his friends.
Discuss: Is it always wrong to lie (Yes, always! If you, the parent aren’t clear on this, read the large section the Catechism has on lying.) Do you always have to tell the truth? (Note: this is a different question. You could remain silent, change the subject, etc.) Why is it important to tell the truth? (Some answers: God is truth, and we should reflect that. We want people to be able to trust us. Lying is often a sin against justice. See the Catechism for more.) What is the difference between pretending and lying? In what situations might you be tempted to lie? How can you overcome that temptation? Is it wrong to exaggerate?
Art Appreciation (and Creation): Look at Esau and Jacob by Matthias Stom, above. Discuss who the 3 men in the picture may be. Why is one holding a rabbit? How do Jacob and Esau in this painting compare to the descriptions of them in Genesis? How does Matthias Stom use light and darkness in the painting?
This painting is an example of Baroque art, which grew out of the Counter-Reformation. Stom uses a technique of light versus dark called chiaroscuro that was common among Baroque artists. Try painting a chiaroscuro Mr. Potato Head with your older students. You could set up a simpler version of this activity for younger students using pencil sketches (and an apple, if you don’t own a Potato Head). Here is a good article on chiaroscuro, with Baroque examples.
Math/Science: Make lentil stew (download a recipe for Lentil Stew from Old Testament Days by Nancy I. Sanders). Let children help with measuring. Use this as an opportunity to teach volume–cups, tablespoons, etc. Use the labels on your lentil, cheese, and tortilla packages to calculate how many grams of protein, fiber, calcium, and fat are in each serving of stew. Compare those to the nutritional recommendations for children. Discuss whether or not this is a healthy snack.
Read Just a Minute: a Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales. This is an original Mexican tale of a grandmother who tricks Death into waiting for her, similar to the way in which Scheherazade postponed her death in The Arabian Nights. Learn to count to 10 in English and Spanish.
History: Read The Holy Twins by Kathleen Norris, illustrated by Tomie de Paoloa, a story about St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Complete Compare and Contrast Twins Chart II.
Add Jacob and St. Benedict to your timeline.
[You read this aloud to your children.] Close your eyes and imagine you are Jacob. Your father Isaac is waiting for Esau to come and receive his blessing. Rebecca urges you to dress in Esau’s clothes and pretend to be Esau so you can receive the blessing. Think about how you would react. [Pause for several seconds.]
Now imagine that you and your siblings were playing ball in the living room. You knocked over and broke one of Mom’s favorite figurines. Your siblings want to hide the pieces and hope she doesn’t notice. What will you do? [Pause again.]
Let us pray. [Children repeat the rest of the pray after you.] Lord Jesus, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You said that the truth sets people free. Thank you for making God’s truth known to us. Help me always to listen to the truth, and to act honestly, no matter how much I am tempted to lie, exaggerate, or cheat. I believe that you will bless those who are truthful. Amen.”
Note: All the books mentioned in this unit can be purchased in my new store at Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network.