When we first decided to homeschool, I was fortunate to find a local class to help families get started homeschooling. One of the topics they covered was the different methods of schooling. Over the last three years, we have tried pieces of most of these methods and I would now describe us as eclectic homeschoolers as we incorporate ideas from different methods. Here is an overview of each area and several links to help you learn more.
In its truest sense, traditional schooling looks similar to a traditional school, you are just bringing it home. It incorporates purchased curriculum. Sometimes families purchase all of the curriculum from one company and sometimes they pull different curriculum together for each subject. If you want to be able to pull out a book and follow explicit directions, this is the method for you. If you are hesitant about homeschooling and not sure where to start this can be a good way to organize your day. However, it can also be expensive and does not give you the flexibility in your day that homeschooling often affords you.
Pick out your curriculum: Curriculum Reviews by Cathy Duffy
A classical education method divides the school years into three sections. The first covers grades 1-4 and is called the “grammar stage”. During this stage the foundation for the later stages is set by the learning of facts in each subject area rather than focusing on self-expression and self-discovery. The second stage, which covers the middle school years, is call the “logic stage” and is focused on cause and effect and how information from different subjects fits together into a logical framework. The high school years are called the “rhetoric stage” and are built upon the previous stages and focused on writing and speaking. Students start to specialize in different areas at this stage. Many families enjoy this method of schooling, but for the most part I did not feel it was a good fit for my boys. However, we are using a history curriculum based on this method next year and we loosely use this approach to writing, focusing more on spelling and grammar in the early years before tackling actual writing in the later elementary years. This differs from the traditional schools near us, which have the children start working on original writing in kindergarten.
For a Christian approach to the classical method: Classical Christian Homeschooling
For a secular approach to the classical method: The Well-Trained Mind
The Charlotte Mason method looks at education as three-pronged. The first is ‘Atmosphere’, which refers to the natural environment created for children by their parents. The second is ‘Discipline’ or instilling good habits in children and the third is ‘LIfe’ or academics. Ms. Mason believed that children should learn from living books instead of dry textbooks and that handwriting and spelling should be learned from works of good literature. She also promoted time outdoors and learning about art and music. We incorporate the idea of ‘living books’ in our history learning, using lots of biographies and historical fiction. The Life of Fred series of math books is another set of living books that we use. We tried to incorporate more of the Charlotte Mason method in the beginning and it seemed overwhelming to me, especially because I was also trying to figure out the best way to work with my children’s learning differences. If you are interested in this method, the Simply Charlotte Mason website is very comprehensive and a great place to start.
Montessori is an educational approach developed by Maria Montessori where children learn by working with materials rather than by direct instruction. Children choose their activities from a set of specific options and then have large blocks of time to work on them. Because of the amount of high quality materials one needs to use this method, it can be a particularly expensive method. It is also requires time spent learning how to present the materials and structure your physical space as well as learning time. You will need a dedicated school area where the materials can be presented. We were lucky enough to have a friend gift us several Montessori math materials and we have used them to assist in our math instruction, but we do not structure our school day as you would in the Montessori approach.
The Waldorf method divides child development into three stages. During early childhood education, it focuses on hands on activities and creative play. During the elementary years, the focus is on artistic expression and developing social skills, and the secondary years are focused on developing critical reasoning skills and empathy. This is the method I know the least about, but the website below is full of beautiful resources.
Unschooling is an approach to learning that does not use a fixed program as all the others methods above do. Rather, the child directs the learning. This is an approach we often use on weekends, vacations, and in the summers, but “true” unschoolers use this approach as their main method of schooling. So, for example, we may work in the garden and learn about plant and bug identification and the plant life cycle and change of seasons (science), pulling in resource books as needed (reading) and then drawing or writing some of this information (art/writing/spelling/grammar). We could incorporate math when planning how close to plant seeds in the spring and determining when each plant will mature.
The “founder” of unschooling: John Holt
This is an interesting read about one family’s approach to unschooling: Home Grown by Ben Hewitt
An eclectic approach is when you pull from a few or more different methods to guide your schooling. This approach best describes the way our family homeschools. I enjoy using traditional curriculum for the basics like reading, spelling, and math to make sure we are covering those well. We have used the living books and nature study ideas from Charlotte Mason and some of the math and geography materials from the Montessori method. And we enjoy unschooling or learning through life when we are not involved in our more structured school day. It took us a couple years to figure out how we wanted to incorporate each method and it is possible that this will change again. I would love to be able to have more “unschooling days” as the basic fundamentals are learned and we move more toward applying them to real life situations. So don’t feel like you have to pick a specific method and stick with it for all of the school years. Try what seems best for your family, see what works and adapt as needed.
Next in Getting Started Homeschooling: What is Your Child’s Learning Style?
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