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Approaches To Homeschooling

  • 2003 18 Jul
Approaches To Homeschooling

Homeschooling changes and adapts to the needs of the learner, as well as to any special circumstances that may happen in the family (illness, a new baby, new job hours for a spouse, and so on). You do not, no matter what the law is in your state, need to plan out in precise detail what you will do for the entire year. However, you will probably want to have some sort of plan, or list of ideas, at the start.

It is useful for you and your spouse to clarify how you will homeschool, not only to answer skeptics' questions about what it is you're doing but also to keep yourselves from becoming rattled when things aren't going smoothly. It is also good to know where you stand philosophically so that you can present your home school in the best possible light to school officials who may question your approach. At the same time, it's crucial to remember that homeschooling is flexible. The word "homeschooling" doesn't refer to any one practice; it just refers to families learning outside of school. Choices you make at the start of the year are not irrevocable. You can-and you very likely will-adapt and change things as you go. You will also have many opportunities to learn from your mistakes, as we have found out in our own homeschooling. Live and learn!

All the books I mention in this chapter and in Appendix A will provide information, sometimes in great detail, as to the various methods of teaching and learning you may choose. For the sake of brevity, I will divide these approaches into two main philosophies:

1. School at Home. Families that choose this philosophy usually aren't worried about "why" their children must learn certain things at certain ages; they are far more concerned with how to help their children learn what they've decided their children should learn. Families with this philosophy of education have a large number of standardized textbooks and curricula to choose from, many of which they can purchase from school supply stores or textbook manufacturers. Often these materials can also be purchased in used book stores, at homeschooling "curriculum fairs," and through direct mail. The curriculum determines what and when subjects will be taught, the parent creates or purchases lesson plans to use on the specified days, and the children are regularly tested to see how much of the material they have learned.

A subset of this category is often called the "unit study," "thematic," or "project" approach. Parents following this approach design a series of projects, field trips, and readings that build on a particular theme and use it to address several subject areas at once. For instance, one can use Thanksgiving time to study the Pilgrim era for history, biology (what food Pilgrims grew), science (how Pilgrims took care of illnesses), math (calculating how big a plot each person could get at Plymouth Plantation), etc.

2. Unschooling. This is also known as interest-driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term "unschooling" has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn't use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn't require you, the parent, to become someone else, i.e., a professional teacher pouring knowledge into child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an "on-demand" basis, if at all. This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work. So, for instance, a young child's interest in hot rods can lead him to a study of how the engine works (science), how and when the car was built (history and business), who built and designed the car (biography), etc. Certainly these interests can lead to reading texts, taking courses, or doing projects, but the important difference is that these activities were chosen and engaged in freely by the learner. They were not dictated to the learner through curricular mandate to be done at a specific time and place, though parents with a more hands-on approach to unschooling certainly can influence and guide their children's choices. Unschooling, for lack of a better term (until people start to accept "living" as part and parcel of learning), is the natural way to learn. However, this does not mean unschoolers do not take traditional classes or use curricular materials when the student, or parents and children together, decide that this is how they want to do it. Learning to read or do quadratic equations are not "natural" processes, but unschoolers nonetheless learn them when it makes sense to them to do so, not because they have reached a certain age or are compelled to do so by arbitrary authority. Therefore it isn't unusual to find unschoolers who are barely eight years old studying astronomy or who are ten years old and just learning to read.

It is unfair to think that either of the philosophies I present above are mutually exclusive of each other, though to some "school at homers" allowing children to determine what they will study is as distasteful as being forced to diagram sentences can be for some "unschoolers." Try not to let purists of either persuasion get to you. You must do what you are comfortable with; like your children, you, too, will learn and change as you get more experience with homeschooling. You can start out with a package of textbook and "teacher-proof curricula" (actually that's how some curriculum manufacturers refer to their materials) and if that isn't working you can switch to a unit study or unschooling approach. Indeed, you can do a little of each depending on your child's abilities and your ability to juggle different approaches. You may start out highly programmed and gradually loosen up and let your children have more say in what and how they study as you get comfortable with homeschooling. You may start out highly free-form and eventually find your child engaged in a very strict schedule of music or language lessons, Scout activities, and clubs.

From the book Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Home Schooling by John

Holt & Pat Farenga. Copyright (c) 2003. Reprinted by arrangement with

Perseus Publishing. All rights reserved.