With the Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) in progress as of this writing in Ontario, California, we interviewed Kim Van Vlear, Director of Development for DeepRoots Bible Curriculum. She and others from DeepRoots will have a resource table at the convention (as will Ratio Christi). At Ratio Christi Boosters, we’re always on the lookout for apologetics resources for parents and kids, which is why we’re excited about DeepRoots – it’s a Bible curriculum that incorporates apologetics and worldview development among many other integrated topics for elementary age kids! While the interview below comes from a homeschooling perspective, DeepRoots is actually made for Christian school use with many students and a teacher.

RYAN: Please tell our readers a bit about your involvement with DeepRoots and past experiences leading up to that.

KIM: Thank you, Ryan, for your interest. I serve as the Director of the 60+ member team that is developing DeepRoots. I came into this position with a strong writing background and a passion for apologetics and worldview. I wrote and taught Bible studies for adults and children. I’ve also taught worldview homeschool classes at the junior high level. My husband and I homeschooled our girls, so I have a heart for homeschoolers and teaching them how to articulate and defend their faith.

RYAN: Tell me about the other team members developing DeepRoots.

KIM: I feel so blessed to work with this amazing team! Dr. Sean McDowell, Associate Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University, has been involved from the very beginning. He brings extensive knowledge in biblical worldview and apologetics to our team. J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity (and Cold-Case Christianity for Kids), who recently appeared in the movie God's Not Dead 2, is on our advisory board, as is Brett Kunkle, author of the recently published book, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today's World. Dr. Kennedy is a PhD field archaeologist who vets our original maps and illustrations, keeps us abreast of the latest archaeological finds, and provides photography from world-renowned digs. We have several other PhDs who specialize in various disciplines. To ensure we don’t teach above the students’ levels of understanding, grade-level teachers review all of our material, as well.

RYAN: What grades have been developed so far and are there target release dates for other grades?

KIM: Grades 1-4 are currently available. Grade 5 will be released for use in Fall 2018 and Kindergarten and Grade 6 will be available for Fall 2019. So in two years we will offer a full elementary curriculum, from Kindergarten through 6th grade.

RYAN: Our children are bombarded by the secular culture all around them. Does DeepRoots address this and, if so, how?

KIM: DeepRoots is one of the few curricula on the market that includes age appropriate, intentional teaching that counters the lies of the prevailing culture. We do this in a variety of ways, such as a slideshow in first grade that teaches students that a baby inside a mommy’s tummy is made in the image of God and a slideshow in fourth grade that teaches about the perils of falling into hedonism. We are true to God’s Word and introduce these subjects in a very gentle manner in the younger grades. Our children will form an opinion about these controversial subjects, so we want to ensure they hear what God says about them first.

RYAN: DeepRoots, to your knowledge, is the only Bible curriculum that teaches apologetics starting in 1st grade. How does teaching apologetics at such a young age benefit the student?

KIM: Too often Bible is taught solely as a story-based subject. It’s important that students learn the stories of the Bible, but we also want to ensure they understand these are historical events that actually happened and are not pretend stories. Apologetics at an early age helps make this distinction. We show the students maps of the ancient world and what that same geographic area looks like today. They can see that the names have changed in some instances, but the places are the same. And kids are fascinated by archaeology! So DeepRoots presents historical evidence that supports the truth in the Bible. Because we are a digital curriculum we are able to do this via engaging slideshows.

RYAN: DeepRoots teaches students how to study the Bible. How do you do that at such a young age?

KIM: This is one of my favorite parts! We want DeepRoots students to become self-feeders who know how to study the Bible on their own. We use the method of inductive Bible study to teach students to study the Bible through observation, interpretation, and application. The fourth unit in each grade is dedicated to learning this method and then throughout the rest of the year, lower elementary students complete one exercise each quarter. In first grade students are trained how to observe carefully, using child magnifying glasses as an object lesson. In second grade students are taught how to interpret the passage by looking at its surrounding context and history, using an ink pad to create fingerprints to remind them to look at the whole picture surrounding the passage. And in third grade students are informed how to apply the truths found in the Scripture passage to their own lives, using a student-made foil mirror to remember to look at how they daily live out the truths of the Bible. (Just as an aside, students also learn the importance of application in first and second grade, as well, but the teaching in third grade is specific to the Bible passage the students are observing.)

Beginning in fourth grade we bring all this knowledge together. Each unit’s structure revolves around these three disciplines and they have an inductive Bible study exercise in each unit. We have fantastic feedback from parents on the inductive Bible study training. The central component consists of a combined slideshow and worksheet. The parent leads the child through a Bible passage via a slideshow while the child follows along with a written worksheet. The parent trains the student how to carefully observe a Bible passage by asking questions and calling out various components of the passage, such as a particular form of language, like a noun or verb, or a "hidden" word, such as inserting the word "you" so students come to understand the passage is a directive to them. Students follow along with colored pencils as their parent directs how to  mark these various portions of the passage. Here is one parent's comment on our inductive study method:

“I’m impressed to see inductive Bible study being taught at this age. I didn’t learn this method until I was in college! Teaching my son how to dissect a Bible passage and the meaning of key words, such as “therefore” which tells you there will be a conclusion, makes the Bible more understandable and relatable. The application portion challenges him to go beyond Bible knowledge to transformation of his life. DeepRoots is providing all the tools for him to experience God at a young age. My son is in 5th grade and we are using the 3rd grade curriculum and we love it!”
-- Andie J., homeschool parent, Ladera Ranch, CA

(see photos below article, including parent/child interaction.)

RYAN: How do you teach students that God’s Word is relevant to their lives today?

KIM: Application is one of the main methods DeepRoots uses. We want our students to not only have head knowledge, but also heart knowledge that leads to changed lives. For instance, when DeepRoots introduces the concept of being made in the image of God, students are taught that every person has immeasurable worth, even people they may not like. Students are then taught how they should treat people who are image bearers. Students learn that God loves all humans—people with disabilities, people who are sick, poor people, the elderly, and people of all nationalities. If God loves all types of people and we were made in God’s image, then we were made to love them too! In later units, students role-play possible responses to difficult situations such as forgiving someone who has hurt them, sharing their faith with a non-believer, and walking away from friends who are offering temptation.

RYAN: DeepRoots focuses on student interaction and critical thinking. How is that done?

KIM: Rather than spoon-feed students information bites and ask them to regurgitate them on assessments, DeepRoots emphasizes discussions and other methods of learning which develop critical thinking. Challenging discussion questions are peppered throughout DeepRoots to encourage spontaneous discussions. Specific times of deep Socratic discussions are also included. Questions are differentiated so all levels of students can participate. In addition to discussions, slideshows include open-ended and critical thinking questions for students to answer as they digest the material, transforming learning from a static absorption to a multi-dimensional, contemplative experience. Creative writing assignments in the upper elementary grades, as well as larger unit assignments also give students a unique opportunity to think deeply and be creative.

RYAN: DeepRoots is an integrated curriculum that incorporates cross-disciplinary learning. How does that benefit a student's spiritual development? What other benefits are provided from an academic standpoint from using cross-disciplinary teaching techniques?

KIM: We live in an integrative world but teaching is often accomplished through isolated subjects. By using subject integration, students have a much richer learning experience. Christianity is being challenged at every turn so it’s imperative that our children’s faith is strong. If we teach Bible in isolation their faith will be weak. But by teaching in an integrated manner, children come to have a robust biblical worldview, or in other words, they view life through God’s Truth as presented in the Bible. By making connections for our kids from our faith to the other areas of life they are bumping into, such as Science, Math, Logic, and Language Arts, we’re equipping them with a well-rounded faith that is not easily shaken. However, if we teach Bible in isolation and don’t provide those connections, then their faith is narrow and shallow and can easily be abandoned.

Let’s use as an example two students: Megan is being taught in an integrative manner and Timothy is being taught Bible in isolation. Both love the Lord and are being raised in strong Christian families. As they get older, both students have their faith attacked by friends who tell them the world wasn’t created by the God of the Bible. Their concept of Creation is being challenged. Megan has been taught in an integrative manner so she has a robust faith. An attack on Creation is also an attack on the other subjects she’s learned that tie into Creation, such as Science, Math, Logic and Language Arts which are all woven into her faith. Timothy, on the other hand has been taught Bible in an isolated fashion so he has a very shallow and fragile faith. That attack on Creation might unravel his faith because his belief system is not really a system at all, but simply a stand-alone idea. Since he hasn’t been shown how the reality he is living intersects with his biblical beliefs, he can throw away his faith without losing anything else. But if Megan questions her faith, she has to throw out everything she believes in because it’s all tied together.

There are other benefits provided from an academic standpoint from using cross-disciplinary teaching techniques:

  • Children get excited about learning when connections are made from one subject to another. Cross-disciplinary learning builds enthusiasm and an intelligent curiosity. We want our students to be lifetime learners, to drink in knowledge, and have a broad and deep learning spectrum. A classical approach achieves these goals.
  • Students are able to learn more about the Bible in depth because it is being studied from a variety of perspectives–from Geography, Logic, History, Archaeology, etc.
  • Critical thinking skills are developed as students cross the boundaries of various subjects as they relate to God’s Word.

RYAN: What are some of the features that make a digital curriculum different from a printed curriculum?

KIM: A digital platform provides interactive features to enhance learning. DeepRoots teaches in a chronological fashion, beginning with Genesis in first grade and ending with Revelation in sixth, and moving back and forth between the Old and New Testaments each year. Therefore, DeepRoots provides a digital timeline that “grows” with the students as they add biblical events to their knowledge base. Students learn and review the chronology of the Bible through the digital timeline. One of our teachers in Georgia told us:

“One of my favorite things is the timeline. Every week we review the past stories and I ask the students to tell me about them. They are remembering so many wonderful details about every lesson all the way back to the beginning of school. In the past when I would review Bible with the kids they could only remember two or three weeks back. I have never seen this level of retention with any other Bible curriculum.” 
-- Joni T., first grade teacher (six months into the school year)

Another distinctly digital feature are our interactive areas. In fourth and fifth grade, students visit “Treehouse Adventure” to review and memorize their Bible memory verses. Students earn rewards to build their own treehouse by memorizing new and remembering past verses. This encourages students to recall their verses for the entire school year rather than just memorizing them for a single test.

In Grades 1-3 children visit “Discovery Forest” where they learn the analogy that caring for trees so they will become fruitful is similar to caring for their souls so their lives will bear fruit. In this interactive area, students review their Biblical Principles and interact with animals indigenous to the particular forest they are visiting. The information page teaches them interesting facts about the biome and its inhabitants.

RYAN: What can you do with a digital curriculum that is harder to do with a physical book?

KIM: DeepRoots saves parents time by automatically correcting and tabulating the electronic worksheets and tests. Another benefit to our digital curriculum is that it is always available on any device, including a smartphone. So if parents find themselves in a situation where they have to wait unexpectedly, they can pull up the curriculum and dig in!

RYAN: There are many studies suggesting it is not healthy for students to have too much screen time. Why should parents consider using a digital curriculum in light of these studies?

KIM: That is such a great question! We at DeepRoots agree with those studies! When we began developing the curriculum, one of our main concerns was to make sure that it included a plethora of hands-on activities and didn’t overemphasize screen time. The teaching materials are digital but the curriculum is full of hands-on opportunities for the students. For instance, DeepRoots includes discussion questions so students learn to articulate their faith. We receive excellent feedback from parents saying the discussions in their homes are more robust than ever before. Also, role-playing allows students to form a richer understanding of the Scripture events as they use their imaginations and acting skills to ponder what it would have been like to be part of biblical history. The songs, crafts, games, activities, and observations allow students to be creative and have fun.

DeepRoots is committed to teaching students Bible knowledge, therefore all activities and hands-on learning focus on reinforcing the concepts in an interactive way. Language Arts skills are strengthened through worksheets, Bible memory verse journals, character trait journals at all levels, and creative writing assignments in the upper grades. Sword drills in the upper grades are a fun way for students to become more familiar with their physical Bibles and skilled at finding Bible passages quickly. Spiritual formation exercises in the upper grades encourage students to spend quiet time with the Lord and develop spiritual disciplines. While students will see many wonderful illustrations, slideshows and photographs on the website, much of their learning does not involve a screen.

RYAN: How do the songs differ from most children’s music?

KIM: The DeepRoots original songs teach theology while being fun and upbeat. All songs are presented in a music video format with projected words so students can easily sing along. Our original songs also feature children modeling fun motions that the students can follow along with. When our award-winning music team wrote the songs, it was a constant back and forth on the lyrics. The songwriters wanted “ear candy” for the kids, and we wanted sound theology. Through an amazing effort of give and take we ended up with both! Who knew good theology would be so hard to rhyme! We also feature classic hymns that are accompanied by videos of DeepRoots’ original illustrations. Hymns are such a marvelous way to teach rich theology.

RYAN: Since this is currently a five day a week curriculum, are there plans to develop a once-a-week Sunday school version? If so, what is the target release date?

KIM: There are so many different versions we would like to do! Our team has such a passion to teach the Bible in an engaging way, challenging people to dig in deeper to the Bible than they may have in the past. We would love to come out with a Sunday school edition, an adult small group curriculum, and a prison ministry version. Right now we are focused on completing grades K-12. But we are looking forward to what God has planned for DeepRoots!

RYAN: Thanks so much for your time to introduce us to your incredible curriculum!

KIM: My pleasure! It’s a blessing to be a part of it!

See additional photos below. For further information, check out the DeepRoots website, which has short videos and curriculum content examples. We highly recommend reviewing their webpage about how they bring together Biblical Worldview and Apologetics into their program.