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Ray and Charlene Notgrass are the parents of six children, including four homeschool graduates. They have homeschooled for 17 years and have operated Notgrass Company for 10 years. Ray is the author of the high school curriculums Exploring America, Exploring World History, and Exploring Government, and middle school state history curriculums for Tennessee and Georgia. He has a B.A. and M.A. in history and a master’s degree in religion.

 

CBD: While home educating your children, you and your wife created your own curriculums. Now your grown children have joined you in what is a thriving family business. What motivated you to write materials for homeschoolers? How did your philosophy of education change over time as you pursued your homeschooling adventure?


RN: I earned a B.A. and an M.A. in history and a master’s in religion. I then went into full-time ministry for 22 years. During that time we began homeschooling. Also during that time, my wife and I enjoyed writing Bible study curriculum for the churches where I served. When I decided to go into writing full time, the Lord opened the door for us to develop homeschooling curriculum. I’m thankful that I have been able to utilize my history and Bible training to write homeschool curriculum. This combines three great loves for me: Bible study, history, and writing.

When we began homeschooling, we tried to reproduce the public school approach in our home, as many homeschoolers do. And, as many homeschoolers do, we burned out! We then reoriented our thinking to pursue a calmer, family-friendly learning lifestyle. We were determined to make homeschooling a servant of our family’s life instead of its master. This approach made educating our children much more enjoyable and effective.

CBD: Learning about history can often consist of dry memorization of facts, events, and dates. In the materials you have written, what strategies do you employ to engage the minds and imaginations of children? What are some of the favorite history projects or field trips you and you family have enjoyed?

 

RN: I tell stories about people and events. I tell the story of history as a narrative and not as a compilation of facts. We all love stories. They are an effective way to teach important truths. That’s why Jesus told parables! I also share my fascination with the lives of people—famous and unknown—who have made history and who have been affected by it. People have accomplished amazing things. What they have done, what they have overcome, and in many cases how they have demonstrated faith in God are sources of inspiration to me. We can also learn a great deal from what people have done wrong.

History is simply yesterday’s current events. Since I find life fascinating, I find the story of history fascinating also. I believe people enjoy history. They just don’t always enjoy the way history has often been written and taught. I have tried to let history tell its own story, and countless students and parents have told us that they enjoy this approach.


After we moved to Tennessee, which is where my wife and I were born, one of the first homeschool projects we did was a study of Southern literature. I read aloud to our family To Kill a Mockingbird (doing some judicious editing as I did so) and also some historical novels about Tennessee that were written by Alfred Leland Crabb, a Tennessee writer whose books I had read when I was in school. I have since read many books aloud to our family. Reading aloud is one of our most precious memories from our homeschooling.

Another precious memory is the year that our children took weekly “trips” around the world. Once a week they visited a retired university professor from our church, and he showed them slides of his trips to many parts of the world—even Antarctica. He loved to share his experiences, and my family loved to see the pictures and listen to his accounts. It was a blessing to everyone involved!


I cannot overstate the importance of taking field trips to appreciate history. There is nothing like going to historic sites to make history come alive. On one vacation we visited Gettysburg, Valley Forge, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The impact that war has had on the lives of people in our country really hit us hard on that trip. Being in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and driving through Dealy Plaza in Dallas, where President Kennedy was assassinated, for instance, are experiences I will always remember. When John and I were in England on a mission trip, we visited the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings—what a thrill! When we lived near the University of Illinois, we sometimes went to the World Heritage Museum (since renamed the Spurlock Museum) on campus. You might not expect to find a great world history field trip near Midwestern corn fields, but it was there!


Such treasures are waiting for students and their families in many places. I believe just about everyone can find important sites near where they live or on trips they take. We keep our travel expenses to a minimum, so we have been able to visit such places as several of the Little House sites; the Oregon Trail Museum in Baker City, Oregon; Helen Keller’s home; the Alamo; several presidential homes; and many other places. All of our trips have enriched our appreciation of history tremendously.

CBD: The unfolding of history consists of an interconnected collection of events, some of which are equally important or influential. It must be difficult to organize material pertaining to hundreds, and, in the case of world history, thousands of years. How do you make decisions on what to include? How often do you update your curriculums to reflect changing events and circumstances?


RN: In Exploring America, I had an opportunity to help students appreciate the rich story of our wonderful country. I wanted to help students know what others have accomplished and what they have sacrificed to make our nation great. I also felt an obligation to tell honestly the negatives of our past, such as slavery, racial discrimination, and the treatment of Native Americans. A family that never discusses or deals with its problems is called dysfunctional and can never overcome them. I want coming generations of Americans to help our nation be even greater—in terms of God’s standards—than it has been.

When we developed Exploring World History, two principles helped me determine what to include. First, I wanted to tell about people and events that were important in the history of each country or civilization we discussed—the things a person needs to know in order to understand a particular people group. Second, I wanted to highlight the people and events that were critical to bringing about the situation that exists in those countries today. These elements make up the background material that helps us understand what is happening around the world today. In both our American and world histories, we have included descriptions of what life was like for everyday people at various times. History is not just about kings, presidents, and generals. Everyone lives a little chapter in the story of the world and of his or her country, and students of history need to appreciate that. Also, I have emphasized God’s hand at work, the lives of His faithful people, and the problems that have come about when people do not follow God’s way.


We update our high school courses an average of every three years or so. This allows us to create products that remain current and that provide a greater service to homeschoolers.

 

CBD: On your website your wife comments that when your family began to homeschool, you were “learning how to live.” How did homeschooling teach you about life? What advice can you give to novice and experienced home educators who may question their decision to educate their children at home?


RN: We let homeschooling bring our family closer together instead of watching our children’s education and activities pull us in different directions. We realized that this is how families should be: closer and more unified, instead of scattered and isolated. We were together in learning, in service projects, in producing homeschooling plays that our children wrote and directed, and in many other ways. I am sure that our family is stronger because of our decision to homeschool.

We realized that people don’t have to quit learning at age 18 or 22 or at any age. We made our main goal in life to be that each of us and all of our succeeding generations would be faithful to God here on earth and be together in heaven when we die. Having that central focus gave us a better perspective on everyday decisions. We learned that the world tries to press us into its mold, but taking the less-traveled path of homeschooling enabled each of us to resist that mold and to use our talents as God has gifted us. Our children have accomplished a great deal with their lives already, and I can only imagine how God will use them in the future. Homeschooling taught me to be willing to be different, to turn aside from the typical approaches in order to follow our convictions. Life is too short for a person to have convictions and not act on them.

As far as advice, I’d say that homeschooling is hard work but it’s worth it. Keep the long-term goal in mind, stay faithful in prayer, and let God nudge you where you need to change and grow. Try not to be overwhelmed by the various approaches and the numerous curriculum options. Instead, be thankful that you have the freedom and opportunity to choose what and how your children learn. Dads have to be meaningfully and actively involved and not just be supportive from the sidelines. Keep Jesus and God’s Word at the center of your lives and your education. Don’t let your children’s spiritual lives get pushed to the fringes by busyness and by traditional academic subjects. You ultimately answer to God for how you rear your children, not to churches or extended family members or college admission departments. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). That should be the first lesson in everyone’s homeschooling, and it’s the lesson that will last into eternity.

 


 

 Notgrass Company

Exploring Government Curriculum Package
Exploring Government Curriculum Package
CBD Price: $49.95

Olympics, Unit Study, Spiral Bound
Olympics, Unit Study, Spiral Bound
CBD Price: $9.95

Draw to Learn: The Book of Acts
Draw to Learn: The Book of Acts
CBD Price: $14.95


 

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