Friday, 5 February 2016

Homeschooling 101: Methods

By now you should have thought about why you want to homeschool, and you should have some idea of the legal requirements to homeschool in your jurisdiction. If not, please go back to here or here.

There are as many ways to *do* homeschool as there are people. How you homeschool is largely up to you, your family, your reasons for homeschooling and your priorities in homeschooling, and your lifestyle. This is going to be a brief overview of some of the major "ways" to homeschool.

The method of homeschooling varies on its approach. I liken it to a continuum of sorts. On one end, you have the most-like-school approach, that we'll call "school-at-home". On the other end, you have the least-like-school approach, that is known as "unschooling".

School-at-home takes the public school format, and tries to recreate it at home. This usually includes a set school-room, complete with desks, bulletin boards and shelves, and may use some combination of online public school, tutoring, or textbooks. The parent-as-teacher will spend their days preparing lesson plans, teaching said plans, assigning school work, marking and grading work, and gathering supplies and activities. Depending on what kind of school-at-home you choose, this can have either the most amount of parent involvement, or the least amount. Either way, your child's day will probably follow the same school schedule as their public-schooled peers, both daily and yearly. (As a side note, many homeschoolers start out here, and morph into one of the other approaches as they settle into homeschooling).

Another option for "school-at-home" is an online version. There are many charter virtual public schools. These will often give you the same grades and report cards as public school, and graduation will result in a state-recognize and state-certified diploma. They don't avoid the government-sponsored curriculum, but your child is at home with you. For some this may be the best option.  Another online option is to pay a monthly (or yearly) fee for online learning. Examples here are Khan Academy or Time4Learning.  As a parent, an option like this is much less work for you, because someone else takes care of the planning and grading for you. You do need to check on completion and understanding, and it does mean that your child sits in front of a screen for a few hours every day.  There may also be a need for supplementation, to give some practical experience of the subject -- it's hard to learn how to write/print from a computer.  Online school options are usually recommended for middle and high school options, not early elementary students.

Unschooling takes the opposite approach. Rather than trying to recreate public school, these homeschooling families want to avoid anything that could remind them of it. So there will be no set-aside room, but rather learning takes place anywhere and everywhere. There won't be any set time for school, but instead, families may find themselves learning at odd hours of the morning or evening, or even on weekends. It lends itself to a year-round school year, without scheduled breaks. The philosophy here is to "strew" the child's environment with things that will stimulate curiosity, and the skills a child needs to have to satisfy their curiosity, they will learn when they need them. In this approach, things like grades, schedules, tests, and lesson plans are seen as unnecessary. Again, depending on your child and your involvement, this can have a great deal of parental involvement. For parents leaving a public school system, this also requires the greatest amount of adjustment in your thinking, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your reason for homeschooling.

Unschooling sometimes will branch out into a style of parenting known as "radical unschooling", where all aspects of life -- meal times, sleeping, discipline, etc -- will be modified based on the child's needs or wants. This is a lifestyle often followed by those who embrace "attachment parenting", and may include more unconventional aspects, such as co-sleeping or family beds, vegetarian or paleo or other unconventional diet, extended breastfeeding (often beyond the WHO recommended 2 years), and more.

An offshoot of traditional unschooling is "child-led learning" or "delight-directed learning". This is where the parent will design their educational planning around their child's interests, while not completely letting go of schedules and plans. Methods here may be combined with notebooking, lapbooking, unit studies and nature journaling (all discussed in later posts), the approach is that rather than sticking to a more artificially designed determination of "what your child must know by x age", education happens best when you follow your passion. School can be very fluid and flexible with this kind of homeschooling, and skills are learned while immersed in a theme of sorts. For example, if your child seems currently obsessed with dinosaurs, math skills may be taught by counting dinosaurs or comparing lengths/heights of various species, language arts is practiced by reading dinosaur themed books, and writing reports on various types, and even art or phys. ed. can be included with a dinosaur theme -- acting like dinosaurs, creating them out of modeling clay, going on a dinosaur track hunt, etc.

In the middle of the homeschooling approach continuum are the alternative approaches to education. These are based on methods taught by Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (also known as Waldorf education). Each of these people were pioneers in the education field, and experts in child development, and each advocated for a different kind of education than is traditional in public school. You can find brick-and-mortar examples of each of these types of education, but each is easily adapted to a homeschool setting.

Waldorf education begins with a wholistic approach to people, based on the ancient Greek philosophers. It divides a child's education into 3 stages, known as reverence, artistic and scientific, mirroring what endorsers believe is historical human development. In the reverance stage, a child is guided into exploring their world around them, through play and creating a relationship between child and teacher. In the artistic stage, the tools of the fine arts are used to learn the academic skills  -- using color, rhythm, melody, repetition, form and movement to understand and relate to the world and each other.  In the scientific stage, a more formal attitude is cultivated, using the methods of inquiry, hypothesis, observation and theorization to determine information about the world around the student.  It is the closest to unschooling, in that there is a definite bent toward allowing the child a great deal of freedom in learning, but still providing more guidance and tools.

Montessori education was designed to support children's natural development, with an emphasis on independence, respect and freedom (within limits) to learn. Here, children are provided with choices of learning centres and tools, as pre-determined by the educators, and are encouraged to spend as much or as little time with each learning station. There are stores and manufacturers devoted to the creation of toys, materials and educational supplies to support the Montessori philosophy. This style of homeschooling is ideal for young children, for special needs children and for those who are very hands-on learners.

Charlotte Mason is an education approach that is much more structured than the other two. It is based on the idea that children must be educated as a "whole person" rather than separating information into subject areas. The three main tenets of Charlotte Mason include atmosphere, discipline and life. Atmosphere refers to the idea that children must be surrounded by the right kinds of ideas and tools that help learning, and that one-third of a child's education is based on their environment. By discipline, Charlotte Mason advocates mean the cultivation of good habits in children, particularly habits of good character (ie. responsibility, self-discipline, etc). And "life" simply includes the idea that children learn best when facts are connected to living information -- the stories and observations that our human life is made up of.

Growing closer to traditional public school, yet still alternative are the classical approaches. Here we can include the Trivium, especially made famous by the book "The Well-Trained Mind", a coop method known as "Classical Conversations" and lesser known approaches such as the Robinson curriculum, or Thomas Jefferson Education. All take the approach that the best way for children to be educated is with a good knowledge and understanding of the ancient and historical figures, and their writings. They vary in which historical figures and writings they emphasize, but all have a great deal of reading included.  The classical approach doesn't use grade levels to divide children, but instead divides into 3 sections, based on an understanding of child development. In the Grammar stage, children are given a great deal of information to absorb and memorize, without much comment on it. In the Logic stage, children are taught to think critically and manipulate information, making connections and judgements based on what they have learned. In the Rhetoric stage, students are asked to express themselves, making coherent arguments of their own, and learning to analyze and master the subject areas.

Another option is the project-based homeschooling, which can take several formats. In a Unit Study, the student learns about all the subjects tied to a theme. For example, one can teach language arts, math, science, history, and art all under the umbrella theme of studying Ancient Egypt.  The student would read stories based in Ancient Egypt, work on geometry and direction from the pyramids, study astronomy as the pyramids were aligned with the stars, or study human anatomy from the viewpoint of the mummies, look at hieroglyphics and Egyptian architecture for art, and learn about the pharoahs and the impact of Egyptian history on western civilization. In a lapbook, the student will create a poster or folder with different components related to their subject or topic. There are many packages you can find online (homeschoolshare is a great option for free lapbooks) for this option. It allows for children to learn about different aspects of the subject, and see the connections for themselves, giving a hands-on component for the crafty, and makes a great keepsake or portfolio piece when completed. Another, similar, choice is notebooking. Like lapbooking, it makes a great portfolio piece or keepsake, only with a smaller storage footprint. It does involve much more writing and less scissor work. Check out Donna Young for tons of resources on how to notebook for homeschooling.

Even the school-at-home methods can vary in approaches. You could take a literature-emphasis approach, a history-emphasis approach, or a traditional subject division approach. A literature-based approach means that the "textbooks" of school are based on either fiction or non-fiction, non-traditional-textbook books. For example, Sonlight curriculum is a Christian, literature-based boxed curriculum, that includes all books and workbooks necessary for education, and lays out the lesson plans in teacher manuals for the parent teacher.  A history-based approach means that the skills are learned in the study of history, and for a good example here, look at Tapestry of Grace or Mystery of History.  And a traditional approach can include worktexts, textbook-workbook combinations, DVDs, and online courses, with traditional subject divisions.

Finally, there is the eclectic approach. Here, the family chooses from all the varying styles and approaches the best things that suit them and their lifestyle and goals. For example, math may be studied in a traditional school-at-home method, with a textbook or work-text, but science and history and art may be studied in a literature-based or classical based approach, and language arts may have a Charlotte Mason flavor. And the varying materials and styles may change as the children grow, the circumstances change, and the parent-teacher becomes more comfortable with their role as their child's primary educator.

With all these options, you may consider having or joining a coop. In a homeschool coop, parents organize and help teach children in larger groups various subjects or topics. It may or may not look like a school classroom, depending on the format your coop has chosen. But the greater numbers allow for discounts on resources you may not otherwise have access to, or be able to trade specialties like bartering. For example, you may watch other parents' infants and toddlers while your child gets music lessons from a trained teacher, or learns to play volleyball in a gym with a coach. Check with your local support group, or create your own! The possibilities are endless.

Whatever you choose, be aware that changing from one style to another is never as big a change as bringing or keeping your children home from traditional school. You don't have to pick one now and have it last for the rest of your child's education. Nothing is ever set in stone.

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