Thursday, 24 June 2010

Different Homeschooling Methods

If you’re new to homeschooling, then sooner or later you’re going to want to explore the whole issue of different methods to try.

Here’s a short explanation of the main methods in a nutshell.

First, there’s the school-at-home option.  This is where you try to imitate the kind of schooling you probably grew up with: desk work, worksheets, workbooks, perhaps computer-based lessons, schedules, grades.  Some people try to cobble together a version of this with different curricula, while others might opt to purchase a comprehensive curriculum such as Sonlight or the Bob Jones University Press materials.  Pros: it’s all done for you.  Cons: it’s expensive, and sometimes, it’s difficult to pinpoint the right level for your child.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the un-schooling method.  Perhaps it would be better labelled as the child-led method since un-schooling smacks of doing nothing.  Most educators and parents come to realise that children are naturally curious and cannot help but want to learn things (think about how keen a toddler is to learn to walk or talk or feed himself).  This method is about trusting children to do just that. 

If you have withdrawn a child from school, then un-schooling can be a way of de-schooling a child; that is, letting a child regain confidence or self-esteem by dropping anything that seems related to school, especially if the child has had a bad experience.

John Holt is sort of the “father” of un-schooling (see How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development)). 
Pros: child-led, spontaneous, everything comes under the learning umbrella. 
Cons: justifying the method to others, worrying about “holes” in your child’s education, pin-pointing achievement.

In between these two methods are a lot of other options.  In no particular order, they are:

Unit Studies: basically, this is an inter-disciplinary, topic-based approach.  You pick something like bats, borrow a lot of books from the library, find multi-media resources on the web, go to some places of relevance to serve as field trips, and then choose some way to document your work: maybe a journal, a notebook, a lapbook (see for an explanation of lapbooking v. notebooking).  

Here’s a link about how to plan a unit study:  Konos is an example of a character-based unit study curriculum.  The picture to the right comes from the unit on Honour, when we studied Japan.

Pros: comprehensive, multi-disciplinary; flexible to teach wide age range. 
Cons: often there’s lots of preparation, and it’s sometimes difficult to juggle the wide age range.

Charlotte Mason method: Charlotte Mason was an educator living in England during Victorian times.  She was a pioneer in child-led learning which was a new concept back then.  Her method is characterized by reading “living” books – that is, written by one author who loves the subject rather than dumbed-down readers or textbooks; by nature study; short, sharp lessons; and narrating, or telling back, what’s been read as a way of “testing” what the child has learned.  Charlotte Mason described education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,” showing how wonderfully it meshes with the homeschooling environment.

Catherine Levison's book is a brilliant and practical summary.
A Charlotte Mason Education 

Karen Andreola's website and books are also recommended. You can find a free, ready-made curriculum from Ambleside On-line to help guide you.

Pros: living books are wonderful; can be an inexpensive option if you use the library a lot; emphasises fresh air and observation of nature; can be light on writing if you need it to be.  
Cons: not every child is good at listening to stories read aloud; not every child is that keen on nature; some children are actually more tired when changing quickly from lesson to lesson than if they’re left alone to work and concentrate for long periods of time.

Montessori method: Maria Montessori was another educator from the turn of the 20th century, this time in Italy.  She worked with deprived children and discovered many amazing, ground-breaking observations about the way that children learned.  Her books are still fascinating, and most beginners do well to read the The Absorbent Mind.  Other good beginning books are Montessori Read and Write, Montessori Play and Learn, and Elizabeth Hainstock’s Teaching Montessori in the Home.  One word of caution with this method: there are thousands of dollars to be spent on proprietary Montessori equipment, and there are hours of angst to be had in trying to imitate a trained Montessori directress.  Don’t panic.  You can achieve many of the same aims by using basic household items – just have a browse for Montessori blogs like those listed in my “other good blogs” section for more details.

Pros: very hands-on; encourages concentration and self-discovery; advises order and neatness in the whole home environment.  
Cons: can be very expensive if you try to buy the proper equipment; can be very time-consuming to prepare all the laminated cards; probably needs more space than other methods; may seem overwhelming if the parent tries to imitate a Montessori school in the home.

Classical education: based on the education systems of ancient civilizations, and mirroring children’s natural ways of learning, classical education breaks down learning into three distinct stages, or Trivium: the grammar stage, where children absorb facts and exercise their memory;  the logic stage of junior high, which is characterized by questioning and arguing; and the rhetoric stage of high school when the child focuses on explanation, persuasion, and debate.

 Susan Wise Bauer’s book, The Well-Educated Mind, is probably the best introduction on the topic.

Pros:  well-ordered and disciplined; prepares children well for further education;
highly enjoyable for children who like to read or who love history.  
Cons: can be teacher intensive; requires daily discipline and consistency; may not
be of interest to a child who’s not keen on history or reading a lot.

Finally, there’s the eclectic method.  This is the one that picks a bit from one method and mixes it with a bit from another, to make one’s own, unique brand of homeschooling.  It’s the one that comes together depending on priorities, personnel, and resources (such as money and space), and offers the most flexibility when it comes to the ebb and flow of children’s maturity and interests.

Pros: can pick and choose the best on offer from any method; flexible; adaptable.  
Cons: easy to lose one’s way in the jungle of options out there.

I hope you found these definitions helpful.  If you have any questions about them, or want to know further resources, then drop me a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kat! I thought I wasn't able to become a follower but I did. However, don't know why the picture isn't showing. This is a very interesting post. I do agree on what you say about Montessori: "may seem overwhelming if the parent tries to imitate a Montessori school in the home." If you have any book or further reading on this that you'd recommend let me know.
    Blessings and PEACE!


Whatcha thinkin'? Don't be shy if you've got something to say!