The deal with homeschool science materials

Continuing the discussion from 5 Common Objections to Evolutionary Creationism:

(For other people, the “board” refers to the Well Trained Mind forum)

Yeah, home schooling is pretty popular these days.

The vast majority of materials marketed to homeschoolers are from the YEC perspective. Many of the Christian curriculum fairs and homeschool conventions do not even allow vendors who sell things that promote something other than YEC.

Reasons to Believe has a list of recommendations for OEC here.

A Beka, Bob Jones University Press, and Apologia publish science textbooks. My impression is that Apologia is the most widely used. Many of the original “Exploring Creation with …” materials were written by Dr. Jay Wile, but he has since left the enterprise and this is an enlightening blog post explaining why. He says he prefers not to have people think of his name when they think of Apologia now. He says, “The really troubling aspect of the Apologia worldview curriculum is that based on what it says, the vast majority of evangelicals do not have a Biblical worldview. As I read the text, in order to have a Biblical worldview, you have to be a young-earth Calvinist…More importantly, however, there is no discussion about the fact that there are many different kinds of Biblical worldviews among orthodox Christians.”

AIG also publishes science curriculum for elementary and middle school, as well Bible curriculum that pushes YEC pretty hard, as you might imagine.

The Christian homeschool curriculum providers, My Father’s World, Hearts of Dakota, and Timberdoodle use YEC materials or secular materials that do not touch on origins or age of the earth. The homeschool market is so big now that My Father’s World and Sonlight have both got Usborne (a major UK educational publisher) to publish special versions of encyclopedias and science books that eliminated the 100+ pages of prehistoric history in one and changed all references to “millions/billions of years” to “a long time ago” in another.

Sonlight is an interesting case. The owners/original developers John and Sarita Holzmann were devoted young earth folks, though John publicly urged Christians not to take a hard line on it. There was a forum similar to the one I linked for users of their curriculum. On their forum there was this big thing that happened about five years ago or so where a lot of people started asking questions and some people de-converted and there was a lot of arguing and discussing and John Holzmann was in the middle of these discussions, and he changed his mind about the young earth stuff. There was a big shakeup and they booted a bunch of people off their boards, because the whole thing had gotten out of control. It was sort of a PR nightmare for them.

Since then, John stepped down from his involvement in the company to develop a secular version called Book Shark that is marketed to charter schools and homeschoolers who can apply for tax refund money for non-religious curricula. (It does not have a science component, it’s just history/LA/literature) [ETA: 4/16, Bookshark offers Science packages for K-8 now.] The Sonlight instructor guides edited by Robert Valerde now reflect that Christians have different perspectives on the issue and encourage parents to teach their kids according to their conscience and to be aware that people think differently. (See for example this post by Valerde). Most of the materials used in the curriculum are published by secular companies and there are a few YEC and ID books and videos thrown in for “balance.”

The fact that Sonlight is not militantly young earth has led to some public sparring between Ken Ham and John Holzmann and has gotten them banned from the Colorado state level Christian Homeschool convention.

The Well Trained Mind is a book by Jessie Wise who was a pioneer of Christian homeschooling in the 80s before it was a big thing. She developed an alternative to the only other stuff that was out there that was really fundamentalist (Bill Gothard and Bob Jones stuff) based on a classical education model. Her daughter Susan Wise Bauer, a professor at William and Mary, took over the reigns and has a huge following among both secular and Christian homeschoolers. If homeschooling has a guru, she’s it. Until very recently they did not really sell full-fledged curriculum so much as guides and book lists to plan and execute your own plans based on four-year history cycles. She sells a very widely used writing curriculum and she wrote The Story of the World, which is incorporated by many different Christian curriculum providers.

A few years ago she publicly quit her involvement in homeschool conferences over a bruhaha with Peter Enns and Ken Ham. Her Peace Hill Press publishes and distributes Peter Enn’s children’s Bible curriculum Telling God’s Story (he wrote the first two years, and then Rachel Marie Stone took over the third year. They have plans to do eight books I think.) Ken Ham kicked up such a fuss about Peter Enns speaking at a convention that he got himself disinvited. Then Susan Wise Bauer told the Washington Post she was sick and tired of the whole scene and she was stepping out.

Many of the supposedly secular options for homeschoolers are written by Christians and are faith “neutral,” which is to say they avoid commentary on the subject of origins and age of the earth. Science 4 Kids would be an example. Several of the writers are very publicly aligned with ID.

Noeo is a Christian company, but one used by secular homschoolers too. They say “Evolution and other secular ideas are occasionally presented in the books that we provide. However, we do not include books that are overly dogmatic in their presentation of these ideas. We think it is important for children to learn differing views and to have meaningful discussions about these topics with their parents. Covering up or hiding these ideas in the home school only creates confusion for the child who hears and sees this information presented elsewhere (e.g. television, radio, magazines, bumper stickers, college,…). We also think it is more important for children to hear what their own parents believe about these issues than what we believe. For this reason, we have not included commentary for these discussions.”

Christian Schools International (affiliated with the CRC) has science curriculum that supposedly accommodates YEC, OEC and TE, but I’m not that familiar with it.

John Mays’ Novare textbooks are not young earth. They are really pretty new. They are being marketed mostly to Christian classical schools and online homeschool course providers (Like Wilson Hill Academy, which also uses the Miller Levine book for Biology), but some individual homeschoolers use them. You have to have a pretty strong background in science to teach them at home though.

So that is probably way more than anyone wanted to know, but it’s been kind of a hobby of mine to follow the science/faith drama in the wild and wacky world of homeschooling, so now you have the inside scoop.


Well said, Christy! I don’t think I have ever seen anyone break that down so clearly:-)

It is very challenging to find homeschool materials that aren’t yec. However, the Novare books and the Miller Levine Bio are excellent choices that approach the science from a neutral position on faith. That is the approach I take with my ds’s. I don’t need a specifically Christian biology book. I want a well-written, thoroughly researched book by authors who know their topic. I then supplement with readings that address how the science fits with our worldview. I am not Catholic, but the book “Chance or Purpose” that Kolbe uses is an excellent supplement for Biology this year.

There is a great deal of antagonism in the homeschooling world over the idea of evolutionary creation. I think people like us can get stuck between a rock and a hard place. One the one side, you have the AIG mentality that implies you don’t really believe the Bible if you aren’t yec. On the other, you run into a more atheistic interpretation that isn’t just faith-neutral, but anti-faith.

Which is why I appreciate the work done at Biologos more and more as I navigate homeschooling in our home:-)


It’s good to know that Novare is one of the lively choices among home schoolers these days. I reviewed a chemistry lab manual for John that he was preparing to publish a few years back, and I remember forming the impression that any curricula he develops will probably be robust.

Oh and I have also noticed that the difficulty in finding materials is usually focused on Biology resources. Controversy is not nearly as loud in Chemistry, Physics, etc.

And in reading back through my post, I realize I should have separated the Miller Levine from the Novare. Both excellent sources. ML is neutral, Novare is faith-based but science strong.

Earlier this year I tried to look up secular homeschool conferences, just to try to find a conference that sold science curriculum that did not have a young earth perspective. I didn’t really have any luck with that search.

That breakdown was impressive and gives some good starting points, thanks!

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HHMI has excellent Free Science Education Resources for high school kids. This includes free DVDs and lectures streamed live and on-demand. And don’t miss their annual Holiday Lectures The one on evolution included a panel on religion.


Middle school chemistry (approx gr. 6-8 or higher if haven’t tackled chemistry… Or younger for some). And it is aslo free!

The Great Homeschool Conventions owners are YEC, however, seem to allow grace for other viewpoints. I was impressed with the even-handed way they handled the whole Ken Ham kerfluffle a couple of years ago even though it lost them business.

I go every few years and try to communicate with them once a year or so about including more neutral vendors/speakers. They have a substantial untapped market available to them, a terrific opportunity. But, they will have to craft their messaging carefully. If they can stick out a few hard years, and communicate that their mission is to support the ENTIRE Christian homeschool market, I think they will come out on top.

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It has been interesting to watch the shift in Sonlight’s approach over the last five years as they have made a concerted effort to move away from a pro-YEC stance to a more neutral presentation on origins. CT reported in 2013, "Sonlight cofounder John Holzmann believes the books [referring to homeschool books that incorporate evolution] will find a market of homeschooling parents who perhaps aren’t shifting views so much as becoming more polarized and public with their previously hidden positions. “At this point there is more ‘coming out,’ if you will.”

I think that is a pretty accurate analysis of the situation.

It is funny that you bring up the Sonlight shift. I see the same pattern. The Sonlight position in 2006 when we started using their materials has moved decidedly. I feel like I watched John wrestle with the same things most of us here have. But, he had to do it without alienating a base of customers, lol. It has been a source of controversy, but I think the BookShark line was timely in mitigating that somewhat.

“Coming out” is a pretty good term for it:-)

That comparison of phrases has crossed my mind too, and may be accurate enough in terms of the emotions and hardships involved. But if one was reaching out to conservatives already hyper-sensitive to the ravages of liberalism on so many different fronts, it would be an unfortunate confluence of targets. But as an identification with a persecuted minority, that should be where Christianity, historically speaking, has been right at home.

My wife and I recently made the switch from Christian private school to public school at home. Next year we will be going the next step of homeschooling switching to Sunlight curriculum for both our girls ages 9 and 7. One of the reasons I am excited about Sonlight is that there appears to be some flexibility in how YEC/OEC/EC are promoted in the curriculum.

Once a secular agnostic I came to faith in Jesus and then pursued some formal theological training from an evangelical perspective. Since then I went into a career in medicine and ended up marrying a physician as well. Since being a christian I have been surprised at the extreme dichotomy that exists in the “either/or” for each position and how christians approach such views with a fierce dogmatism. While studying theology I was exposed to some old testament theologians such as John Sailhammer and John Walton who as committed inerrantists promote a conservative handling of the Genesis creation account. Focusing on how an ancient hebrew would have understood the Genesis account in light of its Pentateuchal context, they hold on to an “old earth but young garden/promised land”. Such a view of the Genesis account was a big paradigm shift for me. So much so that its hard for me to approach the Genesis text either from a YEC or a complete evolutionary creationism view point. I wonder why such people as Sailhammer and Walton have not received more of an audience amongst the christian church, but I can see the benefit of the evangelical/fundamental church being exposed to them if for no other reason than to soften the dogmatic dialogue that often exists between the the YEC/EC camps.

Now at least on a practical note for me, it is nice to be able to address those in the scientific community about Jesus as the promised messiah from the ancient hebrew texts without getting “bogged down” in trying to defend a young earth and yet to do so from a clear conscious of commitment to both scientific integrity as well commitment to the authority of scripture and an evangelical hermeneutic.


I think Walton has been pretty influential in the Evangelical world. He won an award of merit in CTs annual book awards last year.


Good luck on the Sonlight switch… Our Sonlight years were some of our best of homeschooling, especially at the ages of your girls. It will take some adjusting if you have been modeling a public school setup, because it is so literature-based. But, once you absorb the philosophy and get to see it in action, it is a beautiful experience:-)

I pulled the YEC materials from our SL science and just replaced them with some of the more standard science books from the library. And, yes, the notes, etc. did respectfully acknowledge other viewpoints, which was refreshing.


Yes, and that book is a terrific jumping off point for discussions on why our 21st century-centric viewpoint may be standing in the way of some of the meat of Genesis.

We use Tapestry of Grace, and I am replacing “Adam and His Kin” with Walton’s “Lost World of Genesis One” and Waltke’s “Genesis”. I have one going into high school next year and we are going back to the Ancients. ToG is heavy on the Bible as a source in Year One. I plan on taking advantage of that time to let my ds dive into the theology as well as the history:-)

We are excited to start Sonlight. It was sort of funny that last year when we started public school at home I went to a home school conference looking to find a theological curriculum to supplement and ended up coming home with BJU curriculum. A little on the fundamentalism side but loved the overall gestalt and the way it taught theology and relationship. Of course I ended up discussing young earth vs old earth (simplified versions) with our children and was amazed in their questions and insight.

I will have to check out Tapestry. I enjoy Walton and I hadn’t realized that CT had featured him. Good to know. Walton focuses more on the language of Tabenacle and Temple in Genesis. Sailhammer on the other hand focuses more on 6 day creation of garden/promise land in light of its centrality in creation and yet discusses how the Pentateuch is about God returning his people back to the promise land through the coming messiah. If you haven’t read Saulhammer’s “The Pentatiech as Narrative” it’s a gem on multiple levels. Worth the read.

I will be starting my daughter on My Father’s World kindergarten soon. The first 10 days focuses on creation and I’d like to teach it from a EC perspective. Any suggestions for the best way to do this? I’m having trouble finding resources for that age group. It seems everything is either creation or evolution and not both. Also, I was raised in a conservative Christian school so I know almost nothing about evolution. I was strictly taught one worldview. I mean, I just learned from Peppa Pig that dinosaurs lived in different eras! I had no idea! I feel totally handicapped by my lack of understanding and wondering how I’m going to teach my daughter, although finding this site has given me some hope. I’ve been watching all the videos but I feel like I’ll be learning right alongside my daughter. I would like to read a book that will give me a good overall understanding but I’m not sure which would be the best for me to start with. Any suggestions?


I found that for a general overview for my ignorant self, Darrel Falk’s Coming to Peace with Science was really helpful.

As far as teaching young elementary kids, I haven’t straight out “taught evolution.” We use secular books that refer to evolutionary history and adaptations and ancestor species, and touch on different aspects of science that presume an evolutionary model, but we aren’t going to delve into the formal subject of evolution as a process until next year. (with my 6th and 4th grader) If I were you, I would just focus on “God created plants” and read lots of books about plants. And “God created oceans” and read lots of books about oceans. And “God created the sun and the moon” and read lots of books about the solar system. You could use the Genesis framework for studying subject matter (as I think MFW does) without using YEC books that insist on a scientific interpretation of Genesis.

I like the book Billions of Years Amazing Changes for presenting the process of evolution to kids. Also the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History has about 80 pages of pre-history including info on the formation of the solar system, how fossils are studied, the eras of prehistoric time and emergence of life forms, an overview of evolution, tectonic plate movement over time, and various highlights in the development of life up through early humans. You can see some of the setup and the table of contents using the Look Inside feature. It was educational for me, since like you, I feel like I missed that part in my education somehow. I went to public school from 6th grade on, but I think I was trained to tune out all references to prehistory, and I think teachers avoided focusing on it.

As far as I know, there isn’t anything that integrates the “God created” part with evolution for the elementary set. But it doesn’t seem to cause that much cognitive dissonance for them to learn the science and then turn around and read the Bible. We read the creation account in Genesis every year, and when it comes up, I just point out that the point is to give God praise for being the creator, not explain scientifically how everything began, and that is satisfactory for my kids. I think it is when you have to undo a bunch of YEC indoctrination that you run into more “conflict.”

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@Christy Thank you so much! That is so helpful!


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