What’s Your Style?
There are several different methods of homeschooling. Almost no one I know has ever used just one method, but identifying your “style” sure makes life easier by keeping you from being constantly pulled in multiple directions.
The main styles are: textbook, unschooling, classical, unit study, and Charlotte Mason. Each of them has pros and cons, and honestly you can find worthy graduates in all of these venues. Largely the decision is based on your family personality, goals and strengths and, hopefully, God’s leading.
This is the type of schooling most of us received. Reading textbooks–usually written by committee, filling out pages in workbooks—ad infinitum, memorizing facts—at least until the test was finished, and forgetting everything soon after.
Variations of this approach include online academies and computer-based courses like Switched On Schoolhouse.
Easy for the teacher—just grab a teacher’s guide and everything is laid out. If you are planning to pop your kid back into a public or private school within a year or two, this approach will keep them “on track” and they wil be used to the typical classroom procedures. Textbooks are readily available…just go to Abeka or Bob Jones and get the list. When kids are older and can work more independently, this can be an option for a homeschooling parent who has to work during the school day. Programs like Switched On Schoolhouse can be handled by responsible kids with very little supervision.
Boring. Uninspiring. Lots of BUSYWORK, which is designed to keep students occupied while a teacher deals with issues, not so helpful when you only have a few students. Not easily individualized.
The opposite of the textbook approach, involves letting the child learn what he or she needs to learn by exposure to the real world, with the theory that a child will naturally gravitate to learning things he or she is interested in. A variation of this approach is called delight-driven or child-centered education. If you want to know more about this approach, read books by John Holt, its leading proponent.
This approach can allow a gifted child to excel in one area. Think of an Olympic gymnast who has the time to train for hours on end. This approach can also be useful to help a child who is burned out from the school experience that needs to decompress and regain a love of learning.
I think Dr. Tim Kimmel, author of Grace-Based Parenting, put it best when he said “most kids are born with a lazy streak, which inclines them to aim too low when it comes to personal development.” Most of the kids I have encountered who were educated in this way don’t seem to learn to “harness their potential, discipline their desires, regiment their strengths, and face their weaknesses with courage.” Not that I blame them . . . it takes a disciplined approach to overcome the ever-present lure of technology. Sadly outside of moving to Northern Idaho and disconnecting from electricity, most of us face an uphill battle in turning our kids’ attention from the glitzy to the important.
Revival of a medieval model of education where learning is broken into three stages which correspond with the intellectual maturity of the child. During the first stage (ages 6-10), emphasis is placed on memorization and the fundamentals. During the second stage (ages 10-14), students learn to discuss and debate, learn logic and some higher- level analysis. During the last stage (age 14 +), students spend a lot of time writing and speaking to support their arguments. Also, students learn Latin, and sometimes other ancient languages like Greek and Hebrew. To get more info, look for books by Dorothy Sayers or The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer.
In-depth education that prepares a child for almost any academic future. Exposure to some of the great thinkers of the Ages, through their writings. Students who complete this type of study will be very competitive in college.
Very difficult and demanding. Great amount of pressure on kids. It takes a great amount of time and leaves little time and energy for any other pursuits. Demanding for parents as well, since they will need to hold up their end of these great conversations.
Integrates several areas of studies around a common theme. For example, a study of Medieval times could incorporate study of the Roman Catholic Church, early medicine and astronomy, what foods were served, monetary systems, the plague, architecture of cathedrals, etc. The theory is that a student will more naturally learn when a topic is approached from several related perspectives.
Can allow a student to pursue a passion. If your son loves dinosaurs, you could spend weeks learning more about them. Also, it’s memorable. My kids still remember the medieval feast that we prepared during a unit study.
Again, requires a lot of effort by a parent. Presents the risk of skipping important areas of learning because they were not incorporated in the unit.
Charlotte Mason was a British educator at the turn of the century who rejected what she viewed as the soulless British education system. She espoused a system of education that emphasized formation of good character, or habits, basic learning skills, and learning through real life experiences (like museum visits). She also emphasized reading “living books”—books that make the subject come alive, instead of just presenting dry facts. In addition to reading a lot, students had to narrate back what they had read, which served to cement the learning. She also encouraged lots of exposure to the fine arts, by listening to classical music and viewing fine art. My favorite homeschooling book of all time is Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Sally Clarkson, who does a great intro to this method.
A warm, cozy home where learning is considered a joy. Lots of exposure to fine thoughts and excellence tends to create a hunger for that in a child. Tea parties, classical music in the background, nature walks and sketching, picture study of a DaVinci. What is not to like?
Some would argue that the education is not comprehensive. In older years, it is harder to explain the learning for a transcript.
What We Did
Frankly, our educational journey has encompassed a bit of all of these methods. When my girls were little, I used a unit study curriculum called “Five in a Row” based on children’s classics. We also participated with a group where we jointly taught unit studies on horses and medieval times. We truly enjoyed the fun and fellowship of these “part-time” studies.
For most of the time, we used a largely Charlotte Mason approach, though we never succeeded at keeping all of our lessons short. We read tons of living books, using Sonlight curriculum for the most part. We used textbooks for math and later for upper-level science. We used some classical techniques—sadly, while I was drawn to the idea, I found the practice more than we could squeeze into our day. In general, we spent most of our days reading great literature together, and talking about what we read. Because of that, I think my daughters can hold their own in any conversation, can confidently read to educate themselves, and can put their thoughts down in a lucid, interesting way. Unfortunately, my lack of attention to penmanship means that they should probably do it on the computer! Ahh, well. c’est la vie.