Out of the many homeschooling questions I get the hardest ones to answer are those concerning curriculum. There are a number of different teaching styles out there and finding the one that works for you and your family can be an intimidating task. Making the decision to homeschool is in and of itself likely to kick up self-doubt. What makes me think I can do this? Couple that with trying to navigate the numerous approaches and it’s easy to become completely overwhelmed.
Below is a list of the more popular styles, as you read through it know that many homeschoolers do not follow one exclusive school of thought. Four years into our journey, I’m still learning of new techniques and taking away from each what I think will work for us.
Ultimately there are only three things to keep in mind while you map out your lesson plans and decide what exactly you’re going to do everyday and those things are: what works for you, what works for your kids, and what works for your home. (Disclaimer: These descriptions are my personal interpretations and opinions.)
Classical: At its core the classical method suggests that learning be broken down into three stages (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) that coincide with natural personal growth, basically that translates to elementary, middle, and high school. As the name implies an importance is placed on using classical works and subjects as a foundation for future studies. For example most languages are derived from Latin therefore it is studied first. In the first stage of classical educating the facts are absorbed and memorized, during the second they are examined and understood, and in the third applied. A great reference for Classical education is The Well-Trained Mind.
Charlotte Mason: Nature walks, trips to the museum, and “living books” (narratives or stories written by one author who is passionate about the subject) those are some things associated with the CM Method which asserts that children learn best from real-life situations. According to Mason, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” She believed we should be educating the whole person not just their mind. Tests and workbooks are not commonly used, instead students demonstrate what they learn verbally through their own narrations and discussions. Mason’s annotated teachings are available online via the Ambleside website.
Unit Studies: This one is self explanatory. Lessons for every subject (math, language, science, history) are centered on one unit, or topic, of which the student has expressed an interest. If you’re studying tadpoles in Science, you’ll also draw pictures of them in Art, count them in Math, write a story in English, etc. There are many free online resources for unit studies, this post from The Homeschool Den is a great place to start.
Unschooling: Simply put, unschooling is child lead learning in a natural environment. It contends that through personal exploration, interests, and curiosity, a student gets a more meaningful and useful education. Most of the things we associate with schooling, such as tests, textbooks, and workbooks are questioned as effective tools but that’s not say they aren’t used if the student expresses an interest and eagerness to learn more about a subject. Of the many unschooling sites out there I think An Unschooling Life presents a realistic understanding of the style.
School At Home, Internet Schooling: Think of this as a school in a box, or a screen; everything you need, books, lesson plans, teaching tools, grading scales, tutors, etc., it’s all there and ready to go. When you first start homeschooling these programs seem like the answer, until you see the price tag. Most programs I’ve read about are also Christian based.
Eclectic: After a few years there is a natural progression towards combining various methods and creating a personalized curriculum that works not just for your home but for each child. This is eclectic homeschooling and it is by far the category that describes most homeschoolers I know. Sure there may be an emphasis on one style over another but having the freedom to meld together what’s effective is the root of this method of educating.
Others: Some consider Waldorf and Montessori schools a type of homeschool but if you read about both techniques it becomes quickly apparent that specialized training is required of teachers. Because of that I find it hard to consider either a mainstream homeschooling option.