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Planning To Homeschool? Overwhelmed? Start HERE

on March 7 | in Home Schooling | by | with 28 Comments

Today I am honored to host a guest post from Ronda C. I first met Ronda in the nursery at our church, where I was very grateful for her willingness to put up with my seaweed snack, cloth diapering, crunchy mama ways. Her daughter, M, comes over and helps with Katie from time to time. M is a rare breed: articulate, gracious, thoughtful and creative beyond her years.The kind of girl you’d like your daughter to emulate.
So naturally I asked her mom for advice! Ronda has homeschooled her 2 daughters for the past 13 years. By the time she entered the picture, her stepson was already fully involved in private school, so he stayed put. Before homeschooling, Ronda was an oil and gas and corporate attorney in Oklahoma and Texas. If you’re thinking she must be one smart cookie, you’re right!!

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.

Textbook

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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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.

Unschooling

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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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.

Classical

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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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.

Unit Studies

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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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

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.

Pros

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?

Cons

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.

Do you have a question for Ronda? Have some wisdom to share? Tell us in the comments below!

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28 Responses to Planning To Homeschool? Overwhelmed? Start HERE

  1. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Ronda! It was SO HELPFUL. I always thought I would go the Classical route but now I think Charlotte Mason would be a better fit overall. Of course we’ll probably mix in a few other approaches as well. :)

  2. Rita Miller says:

    What a nice article. I was just talking to someone about the different methods. I think I will fall between the Classical and Charlotte Mason approach, but who knows? At 3 we just read and work on phonics and numbers.

  3. Caroline says:

    Thank you for this guest post. I’m considering homeschooling my children but expect to come up against some “odd looks and prying questions” from my parents and inlaws. Not to mention my hubs! Thank you for helping me begin my research. I’m going to try and compile a list of myths vs. truths of homeschooling families!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Caroline! A list of myths vs. truths about homeschooling families is a great idea. Although I’m sure each family is very different, I am very confident that homeschooled children can thrive both socially and academically. One of my good friends in college was homeschooled. After receiving his bachelors he “skipped” his masters and went straight to his PhD!

  4. Sara says:

    I’ve been thinking that I was unschooling, but based on the descriptions we follow more of a Charlotte Mason style. We read living books a LOT and also biographies and science stories. We definitely unschool for math. We haven’t done any book work to speak of in math. They break out an activity book with math problems sometimes if that’s what they’re interested in that day. My oldest is 7, so we have just this year gotten into the swing of homeschooling. I always knew I’d never start officially homeschooling until the kids were 7 because of Better Late Than Early and stuff by John Holt (my hero).

    I’m a second generation homeschooler, btw. My parents delayed my starting public school until I was almost 7. I already knew how to read and write and was never challenged much in school. At the end of 7th grade, we moved and started homeschooling from 8-12th grades. I loved it and always planned to homeschool someday. I happened to marry someone who was also a big believer in homeschooling (not homeschooled himself, but he and his ex-wife had homeschooled their kids). He’s the one who introduced me to John Holt.

    I love homeschooling and plan to do it til the kids graduate at age 14 and start college. :-) Not really 14, but I do expect them to get done a year or 2 early and go to the Jr college in town. Probably not until they can drive themselves, tho… I’m not driving them to school every day!

  5. Mae says:

    Thank you so much for this guest post!
    My husband was homeschooled until high school [he was given the opportunity to either go to high school or college, he chose high school for the socialization] and I was schooled through the public school system. Both of us are very disappointed with the condition of public school and are not even considering sending out children there at the time. Before we got married, I was beginning my Montessori Training and was planning on basing any “curriculum” we used off of that. We have a 10 month old and a new baby due here in a few weeks. Any suggestions?

    • Ronda C says:

      When you get over some of the sleep deprivation after your baby arrives, check out your local library and do a little reading on homeschooling. I loved Educating the Whole Hearted Child, but there are other books that survey what is out there. By doing a bit of reading, you will have a better idea what “fits” with your life and your interests. Remember, too, that you are already homeschooling. Every time you interact with your child, you are teaching…everything from “This is how we open the box” to a diaper change discussion of “These are your feet.” Little guys are learning all the time, and you are definitely their first teacher. For later on, take it gently. We used “Five in a Row” for a while (reading a classic children’s book and then drawing different lessons from it). I used “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” in a modified way to teach my girls to read. Once they can read, everything gets much easier!

      • Mae says:

        Thank you Ronda!
        I guess I’ve just been so overwhelmed by the whole thing that I haven’t really jumped in to curriculum yet :] We do lots of intentional real world learning around here though! Counting when we go up/down our stairs to our apartments is one of Lily’s favorites :]

  6. Kimlyn says:

    I’m with Mae, any suggestions? We have a six month old and I know I want to homeschool. I learned alot from this great article and now have some authors I think I need to check out. Both my husband and I were educated through the public school system and nobody in our families was homeschooled. I/we know nothing about where to begin. However, I am hopeful that this article will give me a good starting point. I will check out some of the books mentioned in this article but what are your suggestions concerning early education? What can I be doing now to give my child a sound educational start?

    • Ronda C says:

      Same for me and my husband. We are the first, and so far, only homeschoolers. You have the right idea for beginning. Read up on homeschooling when you have a few minutes. I spent my girls’ preschool years carting home stacks of books from my local library and thinking about what I really wanted to accomplish. It is a great way to get familiar with the idea and to develop some confidence. As for early education, remember you are already homeschooling your child. Right now, your lesson is “Mommy loves you”, in a few months it could be what in/out, up/down and under/over mean. And in just a few years, it will be “B” makes the “buh” sound….
      Be sure to check out my comment above, too, for some other book ideas.

  7. Vanessa Stegner via FB says:

    Maybe and extremely!

  8. Whittney says:

    DFW locals might want to check this out – http://www.homeschoolbookfair.org/index.html

    I plan to attend workshops on just this topic! Click on Program to see workshop descriptions.

  9. Ronda C says:

    Whittney, I highly recommend the book fair. Going every year was the highlight of my homeschool planning. If you can do some reading ahead of time, you can make a list of things you want to take a look at while you are there. Sometimes that book that seemed so appealing in a review didn’t quite grab me in person. The speakers are usually very good, too!

  10. Jolee Burger says:

    For those interested in Charlotte Mason with older (school-aged) children, I really enjoyed Pocketful of Pinecones. It’s a fiction work, but created as a journal from a mother that uses Charlotte Mason. It introduces her principles to you with references.
    We have had a journey for sure with our homeschooling, as I’m sure everyone has or will have. It’s difficult to figure out what works exactly in YOUR particular home, how your children, in particular will learn, etc. My main concern with my oldest (age 7) was reading – I figure at 1st grade, reading is all he really needs to know, so we did Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Distar method). He approved this book before we started it, and he also expressed interest in learning to read. It worked well for him. We also have the Bob Books, and those have worked with my 5-year-old, as well as the 7-year-old.
    I think if you have that mentality of teaching and of learning yourself with your children, they are naturally going to pick up on things. If you make them a part of your day, they will learn. The oldest knows how to count money (he loves buying his own things at the store), he can tell time (because I would tell him he could do such-and-such at a certain time, so he has a vested interest in learning to tell time!). Just yesterday, I wrote him a check (exchanged for his $9.51 in change) so he could learn about how that works, and we are going to take it to the bank to cash it. He has a savings account and is able to look at the balance online (and loves to make a deposit and watch the amount increase).
    I think the journey in homeschooling is realizing what your strengths and weaknesses are and then figure out how NOT to feel guilty!! I am fairly laid back about what I feel like my children MUST know, but I’ll admit, I do check the websites that list what public school kids are covering at his age! http://www.worldbook.com/typical-course-of-study.html

    I limit computer time, but in the early years, I do let them look at http://www.starfall.com as a visual idea for learning phonics and letters. Take them to lots of activities, let them play – that’s all they truly need: time with their family. IMO, anyway.

    Thanks for the post, Ronda and Heather!! Great to read homeschool stuff.

  11. Jodi says:

    I love this post! It’s a keeper. We are just in our second year of homeschooling, and use My Father’s World Curriculum. Overall, I just love the freedom homeschooling allows us. The learning process never ends.

  12. Tana says:

    GREAT ARTICLE. You did a super job explaining the basic methods and the pros and cons. I homeschooled my oldest two all the way from K-12, and the other four to various ages before putting them into a Classical school where I got a job and taught Kindergarten, so it was great having my kids still with me all day, haha.. Currently I have two in middle/high school – great public schools (we moved to be able to take advantage of them because private school was about $18,000 a year) and am home again since having a baby and am homeschooling my ten year old. He has some learning difficulties and just could keep up in the Classical setting. We tried ALL of the approaches over the years, happily settling on Charlotte Mason in the early 90′s. Love homeschooling, but in case some moms are feeling worried, keep in mind that there are some advantages to private and even a few public schools, too.

  13. Lauren says:

    Thanks for this post! It comes at a great time as we are trying to decide which “curriculum” to get for next year. I homeschooled my first child for Kindergarten this year and am looking to change curriculums for first grade.

  14. Julianna Parker says:

    I have homeschooled my 12 year-old daughter all her life, and we want to add two great resources for homeschool families to check out.

    One is the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential — they have terrific early learning programs for babies and young children that make homeschooling such a breeze by laying a strong foundation in all subject areas and cultivating a great joy in learning, and excellent teamwork between parent and child, right from the start. Here’s a link: http://www.iahp.org/

    Another problem area many parents run into is math — many parents don’t feel competent to educate their kids once they get into algebra, geometry and so on. Again, we have found an AWESOME math program that is manageable for parents and truly joyful for kids of all ages. It actually makes math understandable right from the start (instead of just a bunch of algorithms to memorize and apply appropriately) and FUN! CIMM lays such a strong foundation that the more advance math is simple, too and truly enjoyable! And it creates mastery of all the math that science requires, so you get proficiency in both math and science. CIMM is a revolutionary approach to math, and perfect for homeschooling families. Here’s a link to some info about it: http://www.iahp.org/

    If you decide you would like a great tutor in CIMM, instead of learning it independently, you can contact Dr. Chris Horton (PhD physics): http://sites.google.com/site/themathdoctorsite/Home/about-the-math-doctor/tutoring-resume.

  15. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have a 3 year old (an 11 month old and one due in Sept) and we are in the middle of starting to make some decisions regarding schooling. I was just talking to a friend about it this week and after our conversation and talking about all the pros of homeschooling I don’t think I could NOT do it! Although some times I still think I’m on the fence. But I know God will give me the grace when the “real decision” has to be made. But I have started a minuscule bit of research and just starting to collect some pre school books to start my little one on. I’ve never read about the different schools (haha) of teaching for homeschooling so this was a nice broad approach to a beginning. Keep them coming!! :)

  16. Alina says:

    Very informative post! Alot to think about. Just wondering for those of you who homeschool… how family and friends responded when you made the decision? Were they supportive?

    Heather, I think it’s great that you seem to be apart of a community of like minded family/friends who support your decisions and also embrace these non “traditional” ways of living! How did you become involved and find others who share much of your views within your local community?

    • Heather says:

      Hi Alina! I met most of my friends through a local wellness center where I am a patient (http://www.family-wellness.com/). The husband/wife team that started it are really the main hub of the community. They don’t follow the distant doctor/patient philosophy . . . instead they host events and intentionally introduce people that they think would make good friends. Obviously this doesn’t work for everyone, but I think in most areas there is a group of some kind (Holistic Moms Network, Weston A Price Chapter, La Leche League, etc) that will help like-minded people connect.

  17. Cyndi says:

    Hi Ronda! It’s so great that though you explained different styles, you also brought up that your family was a MIX. Families don’t have to settle on ONE way – but can explore many ways to homeschool. Moms often find that different children excel with different methods – or that different methods are more appropriate for different seasons of her family’s life.

    In our homeschool experience, we use real-life experiences as the bulk of our education throughout the years. This is wonderful for kindergarteners with a bug fascination… or 5th graders who like to disassemble computers! We can combine much of this real-life learning with reading and living books. We also do a lot of Unit Studies when our kids are younger (and I do like Five in a Row for little ones,) yet, I am an “unschooler” in some ways, too. However, even with all that fun exploring, because I am a wahm and run two businesses from home, my older kids do a lot of their schoolwork on their laptops. (I guess this would be textbook-like.) But at the same time, beginning in middle-school our children start and run their own real-life businesses, too, so there is much learning outside of their set curriculum. While our curriculum covers our “basics,” we find that real-life experiences continue to be our main focus for education, and how our children make their education personal for themselves. My point is that it’s ok to mix it up a bit. ;)

    I think most all homeschool families receive a little push-back from relatives and friends, so finding a community is super. There are many great homeschooling co-op groups in the DFW area. Our family has been enrolled in a homeschool co-op for many years now, which allows the kids to experience many more forms of education and a variety of teachers. Coops also give the children the ability to join group classes (ex: drama classes) or to take higher level science lab classes, etc… Additionally, homeschool bookstores can also be a good way to find community or more information.

  18. Wendy says:

    While I enjoyed this post, I wonder why you didn’t touch on Waldorf education? It’s where so much of my research has been based and I think it encompasses so many of the pros of the other educational styles!

    Do you feel you have a strong homeschool community? That’s my biggest worry sometimes… That my kids and I will feel isolated and the socialization factor may be lacking. Do you include your kids in any organized sports?

    • Heather says:

      Hi Wendy! I think she probably didn’t touch on it because it is not very common where we are. (Or were, I just moved!). I am planning to join a homeschool group this year to make sure my daughter gets some good socialization opportunities and we’re looking into other activities like dance, gymnastics, etc.

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