Saturday, April 30, 2016

‘Learning to Speak Life: Fruit of the Spirit’ (Book Review)

While many parents might wish to incorporate regular family devotionals into their day, few generally make a long-term success of it. Time constraints and changing priorities are usually blamed, but probably more often than we realize, the real culprit is the study content itself. Varying ages, attention spans, and levels of biblical understanding create a challenge for already over-worked moms and dads. Having ready-made resources available would certainly ease the burden, and that’s what Michael and Carlie Kercheval have provided with their Learning to Speak Life series.

The first study guide, Fruit of the Spirit (2013), takes the familiar Galatians 5:22-23 passage and provides lessons covering each of the nine virtues listed by Paul. Each lesson has a relevant Bible verse to memorize, prompts to define each “fruit,” confessions to recite, role play guidelines, “Silly Sayings” (i.e., tongue twisters), a short story showing the virtue in action, discussion questions, family project ideas, a sample prayer, and a “Digging Deeper” section to encourage more study.

While it might look like a lot of content, there’s not much that I think is really usable. The heart of each lesson lies in the role play and short story sections, and unfortunately both felt like they were thrown together without much thought about what lessons they’re supposed to promote. Also, the “confessions” made me uneasy. I’m not a fan of teaching by catechism, and it struck me as a bit presumptuous of the authors to compose such statements.

When it comes to engagement, the lessons need even more help. The “Silly Sayings” are poorly written in an unamusing sort of way. The copywork would be better labeled as “busywork,” a half-hearted attempt to provide something for the kids to do. And “digging deeper” just means looking up additional Bible verses linked by the key words. I would’ve preferred to see coloring and word game pages, ideas for journaling, art project instructions, song lists, and practical applications and solid research prompts for teens and older children.

Yes, the LSL curriculum is flexible enough to be easily molded to fit the unique needs of your family, but I’m not sure that’s a positive selling point in this case. Parents would buy the guide primarily to have something ready-made. In addition to the weaknesses mentioned above, the content is unapologetically targeted at preschool to early grades. Families with older children will have to supplement a lot, raising the question of whether this premade study is worth the bother. Teachers, however, focus on specific age groups and generally plan on supplementing their lesson materials. So I can see the guide’s potential for use in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School (VBS), and children’s Bible classes at Christian elementary schools.