Are you thinking about “homeschooling” your children? (I prefer “educating at home,” but society has taken the moniker for this to be homeschooling.) Or do you just want to know how they do it, or maybe why do people do that? Maybe you have seen the stereotypes of homeschoolers and are just curious. On the one extreme stereotype, the children do nothing but play all day and never crack a book; on the other extreme stereotype, the children sit at the table and study all day, every day drilling those math facts and spelling words for hours on end. Most homeschool families are somewhere in the middle of this broad spectrum.
There are those who have tried to label the different ideas that are given for home educating. Others have broken these labels into six philosophies: Traditional, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Eclectic, and Unschooling. Below I have attempted to describe how I see these.
Traditional looks very much like public education. You pick a curriculum of textbooks and read, have study questions, and take tests. The teacher explains and grades papers. There are many companies that cater to this approach—Bob Jones, Abeka, Alpha Omega (workbooks instead of large textbooks), Switched on Schoolhouse (computer based), and others. I admit I started with this one myself. It is how I was taught and in my narrow vision, I thought it was the way to do it. With more than one grade, however, this method was tiring for me, and boring for my children. The easiest thing about it was that my planning was minimal as the textbooks are all ready to go with all the information laid out that you need to cover and students just have to read, work, and regurgitate. This works for some families, but I soon discovered when I tried a satellite program (Christian Liberty) that my children were doing a lot of unnecessary busy work, and not enjoying learning.
Classical is an approach in which we never immersed ourselves. It would need total immersion to truly be Classical. The idea is to take one back to a time when young children memorized many facts and Latin was used and studied. However, I do agree with the thought that children do learn at different stages and that we should cater to this in our education. In that way, I am very agreeable to the Classical style. There are three basic stages of learning and in Classical they refer to these areas as Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. Grammar is for the younger children who can only see things literally, just facts. Dialectic is for the middle age children who are beginning to analyze and look for reasons; they have begun to ask a lot of “Why?” questions. In the older stage (usually high school), Rhetoric, they are taught to communicate what they are learning; communicate and debate, explain the “why and how” themselves. All of these are ideas are good ones, but there is not a good boxed curriculum for this philosophy. However, some places to go find out more is www.classicalhomeschooling.org, www.veritaspress.com, www.triviumpursuit.com
Charlotte Mason wrote a book, Home Education, in 1886 and later was the founder of “House of Education” in 1892. She had come to the conclusion that education, as it was being done, lacked understanding of how children learn. Many have read her work and others have written about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, summarizing and giving modern touches to it. The basic idea is that you teach children the three R’s—reading, writing, and math; and give them opportunities to learn through nature, museums, interviews with people, and reading real books called “living books”, not just dry textbooks. I combine this approach with two others referred here as Unit Study and Eclectic. I don’t fit neatly into a category, and many others do not either.
Unit Study in its purest form takes a topic and incorporates every subject into learning about that topic. There are now many who have put together unit studies over numerous topics. The first packaged curriculum was Konos, and many families love it. It is great for learning if a topic is chosen that your child wants to learn about, but there is a lot of preparation and planning for the parent teacher. Personally, I could not keep up with so much prep work. However, at my house we tweaked the whole idea, and we did do unit studies in our own way. We would pick a topic they wanted to study in science and go to the library, museums, nature parks, or wherever we could learn more about our subject. We had written, oral, art, home economics, and more that we used while presenting information about our topic. Sometimes they chose how to present information and sometimes I did. At the same time as these unit studies were happening in science, we were working through history chronologically. For history and for science, we used textbooks as resource books. In history, they read fiction and non-fiction about the period, wrote papers, made food of the period/place, drew pictures, made models, visited museums and places, etc. I continued to have math separately on their grade level. Occasionally we had a review of grammar, but they were reading and writing a lot with the science and history, so the review was short and just reminders of what is a verb, noun, etc. This works well for self-motivated learners, and it is exciting to learn new things together for all of us. Even those who need a little prod loves to chart their own course for how they would like to go about finding the information about a topic they choose. In this method, I realized my children were learning, and not just studying facts for a test. As stated earlier, there is a little Charlotte Mason and, as you are about to see, Eclectic mixed into Unit Study for my family homeschooling philosophy. To learn more about a true Unit Study, look for Konos. For the very young, I successfully used Five in a Row.
Eclectic is the approach that is the closest to describing our homeschool style. In this philosophy, we pick and choose from different curriculums, and very rarely use it as instructed. We pay a lot of attention to the learning style of each child and cater to their personal need. Learning styles can be verbal, visual, kinesthetic, reading/writing, or a variation of these. One child must touch it; one must read about it; one may need to hear it; there are many ways children learn. In public school, they are unable to teach to a specific style because of the number of students to teacher ratio. At home, we have the freedom to figure out the way our children learn best, and in our eclectic approach, find the curriculum that fits. In this approach, the biggest challenge is to learn about your own child and find what is best for them. Since each child is unique, you may not use the same approach with each one. One may love the Alpha Omega workbooks, while another will fail with the workbook method. One of my children was an auditory learner. He learned best with oral work. Discussions were very important in his education. He hated workbooks. One of my others did love workbooks and writing. Therefore, different approaches and different curriculum choices were needed. I bought a lot of used books at local homeschool used book sales, and tried different ones to find what worked best for each of my children. Of course, they each had to learn to write and speak publicly, but I did allow them freedom to learn new things in the way that was the best fit. It does sound like a lot of work, but teaching was a breeze after figuring out the learning style. Eclectic is all about mixing all the philosophies and curriculums to fit your children’s needs.
Unschooling is the last one to discuss, and it is one that is probably one of those extremes. I have not met many of those who adhere strictly to this philosophy, but the idea is to allow the child the freedom to direct their own learning. As can be expected, there is not a curriculum for this one. In the best scenario, there are a lot of good books in the home library, the public library is visited often, and many opportunities are given to learn by taking field trips and exploring. Personally I would not recommend this methodology for my own children. They would want to play video games all day, but everyone knows their own children and perhaps in your unschooling there are no video games for distraction.
Whether you are thinking about home educating, or you were just browsing about this weird idea, I hope you are more informed after visiting me here in the Mulberry Grove.