When I decided to homeschool, my next step was to delve into reading about the different ways to go about doing it. I discovered there are a handful of basic homeschool styles. I am not one to endorse just one approach 100%. I appreciate aspects of all of the approaches, so I take what I can from them to create my own style. I guess that qualifies me as the “eclectic” homeschooler.
5 Homeschool Styles
I bought a copy of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise and read it cover to cover one weekend. At first I was drawn to its rigorous curriculum. It seems like kids who learn by this method are top-notch! I liked how the classical method focuses on great literature and centers around history. Subjects like art, music, and literature can be tied together nicely by studying a different time period each year.
Then I was troubled by a couple things. First, the classical method seems to be missing some flare. Some of the teaching methods appear to be tedious, dull and monotonous. Would I enjoy it? Would my daughter?
Secondly, the philosophy behind classical education was unfamiliar to me. The training of the mind in classical education divides learning into three stages, called the trivium. The grammar stage, grades 1-4, focuses on filling children’s minds with information to build a solid foundation. During the logic stage, grades 5-8, children start to use critical thinking skills to interact with all the information they are learning. Finally, they pull it all together in grades 9-12, the rhetoric stage, through self-expression.
As the author points out in the prologue, this theory of education is not practiced today. As a trained public school teacher the thought of teaching through the “grammar stage” feels very “old school.” That’s not how I learned to teach in college. Today we expect children to use higher level thinking skills at an earlier age. But classical educators take advantage of young children’s eagerness to learn and their ability to absorb information, and fill their heads with basic knowledge.
The benefit of this method is the end result. Rest assured that your child will be well-versed in literature, history and language. I’m amazed at the intellect (and vocabulary) of the children I know who are taught using this method. If this approach appeals to you, I recommend grabbing a copy of The Well-Trained Mind. It clearly outlines everything you need for your child’s entire education.
Following the philosophy of the 19th century British educator, Charlotte Mason, this holistic method sees education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” I have not read her original writings but from what I gathered through summaries across the internet, her educational style instills a love for learning. Charlotte Mason outlined specific methods for the various subject areas. Some key points in this approach are using narration and dictation, nature study and journaling, art and music study, learning handicrafts, and reading living books. Lessons are short and the use of workbooks is minimal.
I love the simplicity of the Charlotte Mason method. One key element in her philosophy is taking time in life to notice the world around you. With today’s hectic pace, this could not be more important. Nature study requires getting outside regularly to observe your surroundings. Children have a journal to record field notes and drawings. They can use nature guides to study specimens further. By doing nature study, children learn to notice details and increase their sense of wonder.
Another key to the Charlotte Mason approach to education is using quality literature. She considers dumbed-down books to be “twaddle.” I agree that filling our children’s ears with the rich vocabulary and beautiful language of the more challenging classics is the best way for them to learn. You can’t learn to write well if you don’t read well-written texts.
If you gravitate towards the Charlotte Mason philosophy, A Charlotte Mason Education: A Home Schooling How-To Manual by can be a helpful resource.
A more hands-on approach to homeschooling is Unit Studies. Children study several subject areas all revolved around one topic at a time. For example, in a unit study on penguins, children may study science by learning about the biology of penguins and the food chain, study geography by learning about Antarctica and other places in which penguins live, and study math by comparing sizes of penguins.
What I like about this approach is that it’s a fun way to learn. What I don’t like is how labor-intensive it can be for the parent. Collecting materials for projects is time consuming. What I would struggle with in using this method is feeling confident that my child has learned the basics, especially in the area of math.
If getting messy is more your style, then this approach may be just right for you. Certainly if you are schooling several children at once, focusing on one topic may be a very practical approach. There are numerous resources available for purchase.
Unschooling, like the name suggests, is the opposite of school as most of us know it. There is no adult-driven curriculum or structure; children are in control of their own learning. Parents take the role of partner and encourage their children to pursue what interests them. It’s sometimes called “natural learning” because living is learning, school is not something you “do.”
I’ve always been drawn to the idea of unschooling. But a couple things keep me from dropping the teacher reigns completely. I like some structure for accountability. I’m not convinced my daughter would want to pursue all the subjects that I think will provide her a good foundation. It takes tremendous trust to let go, and it takes thoughtfulness to know how to support your child in following their interests.
On the other hand, I think unschooling can make for a peaceful home environment. Mom doesn’t turn into “teacher” for part of the day. Everyone is happily doing what feels right for them. Unschooling is intrinsically motivated learning at its best. But then I wonder if it’s realistic or wise to give our children the impression that life is only about pursuing what we like. What about those things we don’t like but have to do?
You may find the writings of John Holt and John Gatto helpful in cementing your convictions if unschooling seems like the right fit for you.
I consider myself an eclectic homeschooler, because I don’t adhere to any one particular homeschool model. I’ve dappled with classical methods in teaching history, used art study ideas from Charlotte Mason, and let my daughter take the lead in her own writing. I use the knowledge I gained in classroom teaching to make decisions about curriculums and methodologies that are developmentally appropriate and align with how children learn best. Every year I find myself refining my style.
So, if you’re like me, the challenge is putting it all together. As I try new things, I discover what works for my daughter and for me. I keep what works and discard the rest. What homeschooling looks like changes year to year as my philosophy evolves. That’s the joy in finding my style.
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