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How to Find the Homeschool Method That Will Work For You

by Christine Ralston

Photo Purchased From
Photographer: Floyd Anderson

The author describes popular approaches to home education and encourages you to consider your child's unique learning style when deciding which method or methods will be best for your family.

There are numerous methods of teaching and yet both public and private schools lean heavily toward one method: text books. As a homeschooling parent, you can choose any one or a combination of teaching methods based on your philosophical or religious beliefs. Studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of each method, but in reality success with any one method often will depend more on your teaching style, beliefs and the learning style of your children than a statistic. So after you have decided to homeschool, how do you make the next important decision: how to teach your children?

The first step is to read; read everything about homeschooling that you can get your hands onto. This not only includes books and articles, but also web sites and mailing lists. Learn about all the methods to get a feel for which ones may appeal to you.

The second step is to join a support group and find out what methods other homeschoolers are using. Which methods seem to work best with families who have similar situations and beliefs to your own? Through contact with other homeschoolers, you will also find great socializing opportunities for both you and your children.

The third step is to observe your children. How do they learn best? Public school programs usually focus on visual learning although many children learn better from different approaches. Maybe your children can learn better by listening or maybe they comprehend information faster when you take a hands-on approach. Math can be learned just as well (and sometimes quicker) by measuring out ingredients as it can from a textbook.

This method of observation before implementing styles of teaching is based on a theory established by psychologist Howard Gardner. According to Gardner, everyone possesses at least eight areas of intelligence. Parents can test their children in each of the intelligences to determine their learning styles. Free multiple intelligence tests can be found online.

Now that we have outlined the steps involved, let’s briefly examine some of the more popular homeschooling methods:

School at Home - This is a curriculum approach which often uses textbooks like a public or private school, but may also include some use of unit studies. Parents who believe in this method expect their children to learn certain things at certain times (scope and sequence). Children usually have a set schedule and assignments each day and their work is evaluated and graded.

Parents who choose this methodology are generally comfortable with a traditional school structure, but are frustrated by the high student-to-teacher ratios that plague public schools today. They want the individual attention for their children that homeschooling offers.

This approach may work well with older children who have attended public school and are used to a more structured way of learning. However, look for signs that your children may need “deschooling” first. This is the period of adjustment after a child is withdrawn from public school. Burnt out by the negative aspects of public school, your children may need time to rediscover their love for learning. It is perfectly fine to allow your children some weeks or even months before they’re ready to embrace learning again. Even if they fall behind their peers, in a homeschooling environment, there will be ample time to catch up and even excel.

There are numerous curriculum packages available or if you’re ambitious, you can design your own. You may find that no one curriculum perfectly matches your needs. If that is the case, don’t try to force it to work for you and your children. Instead, pick and choose from different curriculums and online material to cater a curriculum that best helps your children learn.

Unschooling - Parents who practice this philosophy believe that learning should come from everyday life. They don’t use a fixed curriculum. Instead parent and children live and learn together as one interest leads into another. We all learn this way before entering school by observing those around us. Unschoolers believe that learning should be child-led and that by allowing children more freedom, they are more enthusiastic about learning.

Some examples of learning through unschooling would include nature walks, cooking, grocery shopping and sorting toys. While on nature walks, a young child will ask many questions about the world around her and thus learn much firsthand about plants, animals and the weather. While cooking, a child learns to measure and count out portions. Can you think of a more fun way to learn math concepts? Grocery shopping will also teach math concepts such as comparing costs and counting out change to the cashier. By sorting toys (or any other household objects), your children will learn about grouping and develop organization skills.

Unschooling will probably work best with children who have had little or no experience with public or private schools, but if allowed a proper amount of deschooling, unschooling could be successful with any child.

Montessori - Maria Montessori, an Italian medical doctor, believed that preschoolers are eager to learn and thrive in an environment that encourages independence and autonomy. This method emphasizes the prepared environment. The teacher should provide proper surroundings and tools for the child, such as child-sized furniture and self-teaching materials. The child is allowed to proceed at her own pace. Her teacher mainly observes and serves as a resource person, demonstrating the proper use of materials. A child should be permitted to move about freely. As long as an activity doesn’t hurt or offend anyone, the child should be encouraged to continue.

There are many private schools that teach using the Montessori approach to elementary students. Some parents opt to send their children to one of these schools and then start homeschooling once their child reaches the junior high level.

Charlotte Mason - She advocated informal learning, recommending nature study to develop observation skills and appreciation of God’s creation. She extended this approach by teaching history and geography through travel and study of environment. She did not believe in using textbooks, but rather what she referred to as “living” books, story books containing factual information.

Travel and field trips mix well with this teaching style. If your family needs to travel frequently, then incorporate the places you visit into your children’s education.

Unit Study - This method uses a topic to cover several academic subjects. Unit studies can contain selections of activities and resources from which to pick and choose, making them more flexible than traditional packaged curriculums. They can also be adapted to teach children of different ages simultaneously.

For a unit study, you could have your children study butterflies. Using a butterfly theme, you can create a list of vocabulary words which could include thorax, antennae and metamorphism. Reading activities are easy to incorporate into this unit as you take your children to the library and help them check out books about butterflies. For science, they will learn how a caterpillar changes to a butterfly and examine the differences between butterflies and moths. You can even include a little geography in the unit by studying where certain types of butterflies live.

Many packaged curriculum incorporate unit studies, but you may find that you prefer to create your own unit studies based on your children’s interests. Many unit studies are also available on the Internet. Some of them are even free.

Eclectic - Many parents choose to mix and match elements from different methods to come up with their own teaching style. This is very common and the number of emerging homeschooling methods available are growing as fast as the homeschool movement itself.

Remember, that no matter what method you decide to use, no one knows your children better than you do. You’ve made the important decision to homeschool and you will grow into the method that works best for you and your family.

Copyright Christine Ralston. This article was previously published on her web site, Christine's Country Unit Studies. It is reprinted here with her permission.

Christine Ralston is a writer and unit study designer. See her lovely web site and unit studies at Christine's Country Unit Studies.

Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 3, page 5

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