I’ve been using the Faith and Life textbook series for homeschool religion since the boy was in first grade. I loved it then, and still love it now.
What you get: Each book in the series has approximately 30 chapters, designed to be read one a week throughout the school year. (Some years there are more chapters, some years less). The reading is on grade-level, but the first grade book is designed to be a read-aloud, and the second grade book will be a read-aloud for some students. Each chapter might be ten minutes worth of reading? One day’s assignment. At the end of the chapter there are usually some vocabulary words, a scripture or prayer, and some catechism questions and answers.
All except the 2nd grade book feature gorgeous traditional artwork for the illustrations. The second grade book uses contemporary-school-book genre stuff, but you’ll get over that insult when you get back to 3rd grade and the serious art resumes for the remainder of the series.
Each book has a theme — first grade covers Salvation 101, 2nd grade prepares students for the sacraments of reconciliation and communion, fourth grade is a survey of the Bible, sixth grade is heavy on the moral life. Along the way you spiral through the essentials of the faith at an age-appropriate level, so it’s possible to jump right in at grade-level even if you haven’t used the texts before, or even ever studied the faith before.
The accompanying Activity Book is a consumable workbook with a combination of study questions and fun activities like coloring pages and crossword puzzles. Together the two make a complete package for home use — the student does the reading, completes the study questions, and does any of the extra workbook pages as desired. I let my kids write in the book, but if you did only the study questions on a separate paper, and no fun-and-games, you could pass the book down.
I have looked through the expansive (and expensive) teacher’s manuals, and they do contain a lot of helpful information for the catechist. But for home use, I think these are not needed. My advice for a parent who is not very knowledgeable of the faith would be to do the student reading along with the child, and then to learn more about the faith in general by picking out other good Catholic books on topics of interest.
UPDATED: Tara in the combox observes, and I would take her advice over mine:
I find them really really useful because I am not a catechist and I cannot make this stuff up. They have the answers for the activity book pages and have a test / quiz for each chapter and each section (again, answers supplied too). Unless you’re very confident and very experienced, I think they’re well worth the money.
FYI the teachers manuals are huge. So priced comparably (even favorably) to other works offering similar amounts of info.
I’ve never used Faith and Life in the classroom. My parish has always used some-other-brand. I have talked to several catechists from other parishes who didn’t care for F&L, because of the strongly academic focus (a selling point for me — I love it), and because the style of the lessons didn’t call for crafts and activities and so forth. We did do one test section of F&L for 8th grade last year, and the feedback I received at mid-year from the catechist teaching that class was very good. Feedback from a 2nd-grade catechist at another parish was that course material was good, but the lessons worked best if the teacher had free reign to present the topics the way she thought the students would learn them best. I think a lot depends on whether the parish in fact wants students to learn the faith with the rigor expected in other academic subjects, and whether the teacher has the experience and confidence to teach the material effectively.
What you don’t get in F&L: There’s very little in the way of multicultural imagery, church geography, or even much for lives of saints. This is a theology course, and you need to plan to fill out your students’ religious education with all the other stuff that makes up our faith and heritage. If you are going to Mass, observing the feast days, living out in the wider world, praying as a family, and reading lives of saints as part of your literature curriculum, you’re in good shape. Otherwise, plan to pick up some supplemental materials that will fill in your gaps.
About the Three Editions: There’s original, revised, and 3rd edition to match the new mass translation. Don’t worry about it. If someone gives you an older edition, it’ll work fine. Every now and then one of the assignments won’t line up, but it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, the books are fairly affordable new. My personal approach is if I’m going to buy, I buy new, but I’m not upgrading my older stock.
Kolbe also uses the St. Jospeh Baltimore Catechism series. These are retro-style catechisms, complete with an English translation of the mass that sounds almost like our new mass translation, because, get this: it’s translated straight from the Latin. Because the books are that old. The language is frank, the drawings are 1950’s-chic, and yes, I love this one too. Great discovery. If you want to justify mowing the lawn on Sundays, don’t let your kids read this book. No toe left un-stomped.
The course plans. For me as a catechist who happens to be a parent, the course plans primarily save me the work of writing up my own. But I think they’d be one of the sets of plans worth purchasing if you aren’t registered with Kolbe, because each day’s and week’s assignments include a summary of the lesson topic, and points to clarify as you teach your student. Lots of material in the plans.
The planned assignments do call for a lot of memorization and recitation. Recall that as the teaching parent, you’re free to decide just how much of that memory work your student needs to do.
FYI: The Kolbe plans run on a four-day schedule, and are built around a tutoring-type environment, so they can’t be peeled off the page and inserted into a parish religious education program as-written. That said, if I were Queen of Religious Ed (I’m not) and had the budget to match my imperial fantasy life, I’d want something like this to give to new and struggling catechists, because the plans to do a good job distilling the faith into the essentials.