Most homeschoolers consider their choice of methods to be eclectic. It's rare for a family to fit within the confines of one specific educational philosophy because homeschooling offers flexibility for families to choose and blend different methods according to their children's needs in each stage of development. If you're thinking about teaching your child at home, here are eight common methods to consider. Find the one that best fits your beliefs about education or combine different approaches.
Traditional homeschooling mirrors the classroom approach to learning. Parents use textbooks, workbooks, and tests to teach and keep track of their children's progress. They may have a dedicated room in their home for school hours. Some kids love checking off boxes and completing worksheets, and this method works well for them. But if you're taking on the responsibility of teaching your children at home, you may want to experiment with a few other educational philosophies first, as one of homeschooling's main benefits is the freedom it gives families to think outside the box about learning.
Classical homeschoolers base their children's education on the trivium -- three distinct stages of learning, each with its own focus. Languages such as Greek and Latin, as well as the study of classical works of literature and philosophy, form the framework for much of this method. Young children start in the Grammar Stage, in which memorization of facts and figures plays a main role. Around fifth grade, kids enter the Logic Stage, which begins when they can more fully understand the relationship between events and the concept of cause and effect. During their teen years, students progress to the final phase -- the Rhetoric Stage, in which they focus on expressing their own original thoughts, through both speech and writing, about what they're studying.
Charlotte Mason developed a distinctive approach to school education in the late 1800s in Britain. Refusing to give her students textbooks, she had them read original works by noted authors instead. "Children familiar with great thoughts take naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth -- physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual -- is the sole end of education, " she says in her book The Original Homeschooling Series. Mason's philosophies have seen a revival among homeschoolers, who model her emphasis on nature study, short academic lessons in the early years, art and music study, and narration, a retelling in a student's own words of the information learned.
Founded by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and teacher in the late 1800s, this method takes a holistic approach to education. It seeks to develop not only a child's mind but also his character, compassion, and creativity. Academic subjects such as math and reading incorporate drawing or painting, and teachers integrate storytelling, nature study, and handwork (including knitting and woodworking) into their curriculum. The principles of a Waldorf education have led to one of the most popular private school movements in the world.
Families who embrace interest-led learning, also referred to as unschooling, let their children's personal goals and interests form the basis of their education. This movement began when John Holt, an experienced classroom teacher, found himself frustrated by flaws in the traditional school system. He became an early pioneer of homeschooling in the 1970s. In his book How Children Fail, Holt wrote that "children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than anyone else could make for them."
Proponents of Leadership Education, also known as Thomas Jefferson Education, believe that children learn differently at various stages of their development. Drawing on the work of Jean Piaget and other educational philosophers, the method leads students through three distinct phases of learning: Core, Love of Learning, and Scholar. Classic books, mentors, and inspiration from the parent-teacher also play key roles in the curriculum. The Core phase lasts until around age 8 and focuses mostly on play and family relationships rather than academic development. Children then transition to the Love of Learning phase and continue to learn according to their own interests. The Scholar phase begins around age 12, when the majority of a student's traditional book and academic learning takes place.
Parents who use the unit study method (which is the most common during the elementary years) take a subject their child finds interesting and incorporate it into a variety of academic fields. For example, a child who eats, sleeps, and breathes trains would read books about trains, delve into the history of trains, and use miniature trains as manipulatives when learning math concepts. Arts and crafts and handwriting assignments can be integrated into the unit's topic as well. Unit studies require more preparation time than other methods, but they can be a good fit for families who enjoy this type of hands-on work.
Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, developed this method in the early 1900s. Her philosophy, which has resulted in a popular private school movement, includes a focus on hands-on experience, freedom and choices for the student, and order within the learning environment. In a homeschool setting, the Montessori parent-teacher observes what the child is developmentally ready to learn and then provides gentle guidance and direction. According to Montessori, "The instructions of the teacher consist then merely in a hint, a touch -- enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself."
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