Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Learning -- Family Style! (Part 3)

Learning -- Family Style! (Part 3)

So now that we have shown the clear advantages and benefits of the "learning tree" versus "spiral" learning, and that a family-oriented learning approach is superior, let's get practical.

We mentioned that based upon the analogy of Psalm 1, within your family, your children can learn together and become mighty, productive trees. OK, but how do you teach any subject to children of any age together as a family? (Yes, really!) Here are ideas that come from our home, our experiments with family style learning:

1.Together time: We had a home that was probably a lot like yours. Most of the time it was, well, crazy. Having five kids in six years was about as easy as driving your car down a creek bed. But Laurie made it a practice to have "together time." She would read together with the children by the fire. We read scriptures together in the evening or morning with Dad. We had school time in the afternoon with the older children while the baby was sleeping or playing. We read aloud with the older children with younger ones listening in while playing with blocks or coloring. We played educational games together.

2. We really believe that the one-room schoolhouse style environment, that lets older children work with younger children, will allow them to learn more from teaching than studying their own material. If you are a mom who studies with your children, you know how much more you learn just by teaching. The same goes for your kids! So, we studied our subjects together, allowing the older children to help the younger ones along.

3. In order to really begin learning family style, you must break free of curriculum restraints. A curriculum is a tool; it should never be in charge! So make the curriculum meet your needs. We were able to find some great options for curriculum that are not built on the spiral method. Here are some of our favorites that can be used from K-12:

  • Life in America series ( This series is one of the best for teaching integrated subjects. This curriculum can be used K-12 (really) and incorporates reading, history, science, English and Bible. An excellent choice!
  • Coloring the Classics. This is a supplementary music program that is really easy to incorporate with many ages of children simultaneously. Your kids will color and read together as they learn about music and composers. Our children loved it. It is available at
  • Diana Waring; The Warings provide a history series utilizing Diana's story telling abilities to make history come alive for children (and parents!) of all ages. Workbooks are available that are usable across several ages that provide supplementary projects, etc.
  • The Light and the Glory and From Sea to Shining Sea (by Marshall & Manuel), This is a series we used to teach American history and civics to our children. They have two levels of each book and a workbook for each level (elementary and secondary). We used this version by reading the younger version aloud, then assigning work in the older version for our secondary students. They each did work from the corresponding workbook. This allowed the entire family to all be reading about and discussing the same topic from history at the same time.
  •  Of course we often made up our own unit studies or used someone else's ideas. Since a unit study is focused around a particular topic, while integrating all subject areas, it was fairly simple to accommodate varying ages within the topic. This allowed the entire family to concentrate on one topic (baseball, horses, etc) at one time.

There are many more concepts that you can come up with. Just be creative and free yourself from the spiral! For example, here is a simple concept if you have children of a large range of ages:

  • The Top Down Approach: It is often reasonable to take high school level material and adapt it down to any age. For instance, if you have a high schooler studying invertebrate zoology, have your younger children do insect searches, color pictures of insects, etc., according to age while you work with your older student on his or her insect identification and grasshopper dissection (of course let the younger ones peek). Everyone will be learning and doing so at his own pace and level.

Remember, with the "learning tree" approach, advancement should be by achievement rather than finishing the curriculum or "passing" a certain grade. You are the best one to determine when that achievement has been accomplished. Ultimately, as parents, you have a tremendous part to play in your children's education. "Making learning an all-the-time, whole-family, life-long endeavor" should become a lifestyle for you and your children!

For more information on family-style home schooling for children Pre-K through 12, consider David and Laurie Callihan's family web site, and their book The Guidance Manual for the Christian Home School: A Parent's Guide for Preparing Home School Students for College or Career.