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How Can I Teach Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...

My apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but her poem inspired me today. There are so many ways to homeschool! Some I love. Some I do not like. Some fit my family so well. Others would make me crazy. That's the beauty of homeschooling! Each family can do what is best for their children. I believe everyone should have the freedom to choose how education happens. That includes choosing public school, private school, or homeschool. I was actually excited that many public school parents got choices during the pandemic on how their children would attend school. Children don't fit very nicely into boxes.

Let's start with the one that likely seems the most familiar to you: School at home. Families that adhere to this model might start their day with the Pledge of Allegiance. They may have each student sitting at individual desks facing the front. They likely work out of textbooks and workbooks. The teaching parent probably does the grading. Tests are taken. Report cards might even be made. This is a very traditional approach. It mimics school, but in a one-room-school-house kind of way. Does this appeal to you? There are both benefits and challenges with this style. And of course there are any number of variances to the example I have given. Some families might work solely from textbooks, but work all around the house instead of at desks. Each of these methods is completely customizable. Some families who are new to homeschooling may begin with something that looks similar to this method and later branch out into other ways as they get their bearings.

Let's step away from that model for a minute to talk about another approach: the Charlotte Mason method. Charlotte Mason lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s in England. She was an education reformer, proposing a new way of teaching children. Mason's educational philosophy was recorded in a series of books she authored. You can still read those books today. Here is the first one in the set. You will want the whole set. Mason believed in setting up an atmosphere of learning around the child and that children should be offered the best things to think about and learn. You will hear the phrases "living books" and "twaddle" in reference to this method. (The former being good books and the latter, books full of trivial writing and nonsense.) You won't find the traditional textbook method here. And what good news for children who do not learn easily from textbooks! You will see a lot of art, composers, outdoor time, good habits, reading living books, and narration. You will also find a lot of support. Some excellent websites to start exploring this method are Simply Charlotte Mason, and Ambleside Online (which is a free curriculum).

Now we will discuss unschooling. This is a method that is the most free in terms of your schedule. With unschooling, your child's education will not be directed by a chosen curriculum, or even really by the parents (although the parents spend time guiding and setting up learning opportunities). Instead, it is a learner-led and interest-led way of learning. You will see a lot of real-life experiences, play, exploration, personal interest, curiosity, travel, reading, electives, mentors and other adults who can share their knowledge, and even learning from and alongside other unschooled students. That is a very broad definition and you will want to look more closely at this way of home educating before making a judgement. There are some who are opposed to this method, so be sure to look at several different angles. John Holt is an author associated with this informal way of learning. Here and here are some John Holt books you might like to look into.

Another type of homeschooling is based on classical education. As a public school student and later, teacher, I did not know much about this method. However, it is a well-known homeschool method. This way of thought divides education into three sections: the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage. This is a more modern and adapted form of the original primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of classical education. It is based on the development of a child's mind. At the youngest stage, there is great emphasis on learning facts. Later, when a child is more able to think analytically, they begin to put things together and ask "why?". The logic stage marks a transition to more mature and abstract thinking. The classical method is also very supported by many groups and organizations so you would not have to figure it out by yourself. One popular way of going about it is to join a Classical Conversations group in your area. The Well Trained Mind is another source of help. Classical Education is not a new way of thinking (parts of it date back to the Middle Ages), but has been modernized and adapted for homeschooling in many ways.

Some families may choose unit studies as their main way of learning. Unit Studies allow various ages of siblings to work on the same subject matter at the same time, each on their own level. This is very useful if you have several children close in age. For example, a family may choose to study the ocean. The youngest students could listen to books and make crafts on various sea creatures that live in the ocean, while the older students could study Marine Biology. Experiments on salt water vs. fresh water could be done together. Field trips to an aquarium or the beach would be in order. In this way, the whole family can get excited about a subject and there are innumerable activities that can be added in. All subjects can just be rolled into the unit study by having the writing, spelling, and even math be about oceans. Some unit studies would last several weeks while others may last months at a time. The strengths of unit studies are that they involve everyone, are completely customizable, get learners excited about the subject matter, and include all (or most) subjects.

The last method I want to share with you I will call "Farming Them Out." Ha ha. Not really. Perhaps "educational delegation" would be better. In this day and age there are just so, so many opportunities for homeschoolers to take classes outside of their home. Some homeschoolers sign their children up for classes full-time. The only thing done at home is the required homework. Other families sign up their children for a few classes so that some days are spent at home and some in class. There are online classes, full-semester classes, full year classes, etc. The downsides of this method are that is can be costly and that you aren't spending as much time with your children. Instead, they are spending more time with peers. The good things about this is they are exposed to so many other people, with different knowledge and experiences and these classes can cover subjects you do not feel able to teach. For this reason, taking outside classes is more popular in the upper grades. Another benefit to this method is that it allows you to be in charge of their education and still work. A more cost-effective way to obtain outside classes is through a homeschool co-op (short for cooperative) where parents take turns teaching classes. Many homeschoolers attend a co-op once a week, but I have known several homeschool families who attend multiple co-ops so that all of their classes are covered in this way. We talk more about co-ops in the "Getting Connected" section.

Did you know there were so many choices? Wait! I haven't gotten to the one my family uses yet! It's called...the hybrid method or eclectic homeschooling. This is just like the name sounds: we pull from a variety of methods and have built our own way of doing things. This is one of the things I love most about homeschooling--you find out what works best for your family. I hope this information has been helpful to you in your planning. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to contact me. Just click on Contact at the top of the page.


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