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So Many Homeschooling Styles My Head Is Spinning!

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New to Homeschooling?

So Many Homeschooling Styles My Head Is Spinning!

By Judith Waite Allee

homeschooling

You can combine methods and materials in any way that works for your family.

There seems to be a homeschooling continuum. On one end are families who “unschool,” learning through living and encouraging a child’s interests and passions rather than following a set curriculum. On the other end are those who “school-at-home.” They purchase a “fifth-grade curriculum” for their fifth grader, using textbooks and workbooks to cover all the standard subjects.

There is a stereotype that “school at home” families are involved in the Christian homeschooling movement, while “unschoolers” populate the secular homeschooling movement. From where I sit, though, I don’t see many families on either end of the continuum. Most are somewhere in the middle, picking and choosing among materials and methods. Some people call this flexible approach “eclectic homeschooling,” implying a judicious mix with a broth of interest-led learning, seasoned with parental prerogatives.

Homeschooling and Unit Studies

Unit studies tie in traditional subjects to one topic at a time. With the Konos Character Curriculum, for example, one month the focus is on patience, and learners read about Thomas Edison and how he tested hundreds of materials to find the appropriate filament for the light bulb.

Our foster son, Danny, a struggling reader, had never paid attention to the newspapers until hearing, as part of our study of civil rights, a Filipino nun speak about civil rights violations when Ferdinand Marcos was in power. Suddenly he began watching the front page, following Marcos’s fall from power. Then a Peace Corps worker told us about the common foods, poverty, climate, and cultural differences in the Philippines. We tried Philippine foods, doubling or halving the recipes. Under a single topic, we tied together social studies with reading, weather science, and cooking math.

Homeschooling Cooperatives

You don’t have to “home” school at home, or by yourself. Learning “co-ops” spring up in creative ways. For example, six families who use Konos meet every Friday with the parents alternately preparing an activity and craft. An Alabama homeschooling group sponsors formal classes one day a week. An Illinois mother we know homeschools six teenagers; two are her own, one a niece, one a neighbor, and two are friends’ children who were unhappy and struggling in school. The other families pay a small fraction of what a private school would cost. A learning cooperative can also be as simple as rotating children between two or three families – you take mine on Tuesdays; I’ll take yours on Fridays.

Charlotte Mason and Homeschooling

Both “school at home” parents and “relaxed homeschooling” parents can use Charlotte Mason’s theories. Charlotte Mason, a Christian educator from the late 1800s in England, founded a school for governesses, the primary “homeschoolers” at the time. Mason promoted the narrative method of learning – meaning that a child should retell the story or passage he or she just read or listened to – and build good work habits and character. She encouraged the use of “living books” that make history and literature come alive. Her own series of six books, including Home Education, are still in print.

Classical Homeschooling

Another theory making a comeback is classical education. While logically it might fall into the “school at home” category, it’s quite different from the curriculum used in today’s schools. The focus is on stages of learning for different ages, called the trivium. Classicists teach facts and memorization during the “grammar” phase (which is why elementary schools used to be called grammar schools). The second stage, for middle schoolers, is “logic.” They study relationships between various subjects and events, and develop logical thought in speaking, writing, and reading. The third stage, “rhetoric,” focuses on high school-level problem solving and original thought.

Is Distance Learning Homeschooling?

The latest twist is distance learning programs sponsored by public schools. I guess you could call this “public school at home,” rather than homeschooling, since the school controls the curriculum. This is not really new – Alaska has had a home-based option for decades, originally for children in remote areas but open to anyone. Now some states make a conscious effort to woo students away from homeschooling and back under the public school umbrella with online classes, often offering a free computer as enticement. This approach offers a ready-made curriculum along with a public school diploma, and the schools get to keep the student on their rolls, but not in class.

See also Homeschooling Is a Pathway to Social Opportunity

One concern is that the schools will co-opt the homeschooling movement, which encourages freedom and experimentation, and put it under tight controls. That free computer and curriculum are strong lures; however, the same-old textbooks and drudgery remain, only now the student works alone in front of a computer.

I have seen happy and successful homeschooling families from every philosophy, style, curriculum, and method. While so many options are daunting to new homeschoolers and some veterans alike. Remember that your decisions don’t have to be “all-or-nothing.” You can combine methods and materials in any way that works for your family. And you can change your mind if you see that what you are doing is not working, or if you want to try something new.

Homeschooling pioneer Judith Waite Allee answered just one of many of your questions about homeschooling in The Homeschooling Book of Answers: The 101 Most Important Questions Answered by Homeschooling’s Most Respected Voices by Linda Dobson. You can get your own copy, or buy one as a gift for a friend’s family.
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4 Responses to “So Many Homeschooling Styles My Head Is Spinning!”

  1. We are happy “combiners” over here! Life is too short to try to squish inside just one education-ese box.

    I like how you point out homeschooling can be what you make it–no need to have to only stick with one route to the same destination.

  2. Katie says:

    Great post! I spent the entire first year we homeschooled, trying to make us fit in one style or another. We were pretty miserable. :/

    I did finally realize that taking bits and pieces from different methods/styles was perfectly acceptable. So we are also “combiners” now, lol, and have been for several years. 🙂

    Again, great post. Thanks for sharing!

    Katie
    A computer junkie, workbook hating, TV watching, iGadget addicted, eclectic homeschooling, soccer mom of 2 boys.

    • Hi, Katie, I’m grateful that our family started so long ago there weren’t any boxes into which we felt compelled to place ourselves (of course, it kinda felt like educationally free-falling [g])! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and your solution! P.S. Love your self-description!!

Leave a Reply to Katie