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Discover the 5 Most Popular Homeschool Methods

So, you’ve chosen homeschool as a viable option for your children. Now what? Don’t forget to grab my printable to help you sort these out!

At any moment, on any Facebook homeschool group, I guarantee you that right now there is a conversation about math curriculum. It goes something like this: 

     “I’m struggling with math this year … what curriculum do y’all use?” 

Go into the next room, warm up a bagel, pour some coffee … sit down. Prepare to be assaulted by every, single math program known to the homeschool community. Within minutes, you’ll discover why each brand is the best fit for any child. Take notes because you’ll find that not only is it known to produce the most Fields Medal winners, but why it is also associated with higher SAT scores. Homeschoolers are proud of their curriculum. And we’re happy to tell you about it. 

My recommendation for new homeschoolers is to completely ignore curriculum.

You heard that correctly.

Stick fingers in your ears and scream every time an expert mom or dad tells you about the one math program that saved  their child. Instead, take time to analyze and agree on the method you wish to pursue. Remember, how you homeschool is more important than tools you use. 

In my last post, I asked you to consider a vision for your homeschool. What does it look like? What do you believe about education? Does it take place in the real world? Or does it take place in a classroom setting? Is your child stimulated by seeing things? Or is your child an avid reader? Does he or she instinctively fix and fiddle with gadgets? Or is your child content to write a poem or act out a play? Is your child a gamer? Take time to watch and learn from your child. 

Teaching at home is, in a way, like teaching in the traditional school setting. By that, I mean a traditional school method fits the institutional setting. The difference is that your home is your school — it’s your classroom. Let’s deconstruct five popular methods of homeschooling and how to identify where you should probably begin.

Your home is your school -- it's your classroom. Let's deconstruct five popular methods of homeschooling and how to identify where you should probably begin. #homeschool #homeschoolmethods #charlottemason

Traditional Methods

When we first started homeschooling, I rang a school bell. I literally rang a bell and then had circle time. I did this because it’s all I knew. I’m a trained teacher, and classrooms are the only setting we learn about in ED school. Traditional school is probably the most popular method for parents converting from public/private school into homeschool. If you’ve been to a school in you’re life, you already understand this style. 

This is how it works: children enter a classroom with other students. A teacher conducts a lecture and students generally rely on a textbook and some busywork to help assimilate information. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I plan on re-entering a public or private school setting?   
  • Do you appreciate predictable quarters or semesters with accumulating grades?   
  • Do you plan on frequently utilizing standardized testing?   
  • Do you enjoy the predictability of a textbook and preset lesson plans?

If you answer yes to these questions, the traditional style of learning might be a good fit for your family. So, get a school bell and some desks!

The Classical Method

Classical learning styles are fantastically popular in homeschool circles. As the name implies, this method employs traditional forms of learning — intense memorization and rigid adherence to classic literature and texts. The Classical model is fairly intricate method of utilizing classical literature and philosophy into what is known as the Trivium, or, the three roads of learning. Teaching the Trivium requires the parent to follow three general learning subjects. We do this by dividing the child’s education into three stages: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. 

In the Grammar stage (early elementary ages), parents focus on mastering language. Focusing on language typically means mastering and memorizing the basic elements of language. During this time, students focus on historical concepts and timelines as those events occured. In other words, students start with the beginning and end with current events. These years are full of reading, memorizing and immersion. 

In the Logic stage, middle schoolers learn how to use the information they’ve learned to make arguments and learn how to use what they’ve learned in a more comprehensive way.

In the Rhetoric stage, high school students apply everything they’ve learned in a way that demonstrates mastery of a subject. Parents at this stage teach very little since maturing students in the classical method are looking for a mentor and partner … not an instructor. Parents that follow this method note that children express a sort of wisdom about subject matter … not just a mastery of fact.

  • Do you value learning about history in the order it occurred?      
  • Do you value a thorough immersion in facts?     
  • Do you find organization comforting?   
  •  Would you like to have a more hands-on approach to your child’s education?

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason methods are increasingly popular among homeschoolers. Mason was an British teacher and educational reformer in the 19th and early 20th centuries. She dedicated her life to rectifying what she saw as an imbalance between wealthy access to a superior classical education and the average child who experienced very little formal education. While Charlotte Mason homeschoolers are very similar to Classical homeschoolers, there are a few differences.

First, true Charlotte Mason homeschoolers utilize this method through middle school and then utilize classical education in the Rhetoric stage of development. Two methods of arriving at the same place, really. The biggest difference between the two is that Mason valued the use of superior literature over text books. It would be like choosing to read the actual Tale of Two Cities over a literature book’s abridged version. Mason methods employ activities (nature studies, poetry reading, family fitness, and lots of reading) over workbooks with the goal of stimulating a true love of learning. I can always spot a Charlotte Mason family … there’s definitely a closeness and inquisitiveness that’s easy to identify.

  • I’m fine ditching textbooks and trimming down the amount of school work my children do.   
  • I love the idea of taking a nature walk and having my child journal about his or her experience.   
  • I hope my child reads books but would be fine never seeing a textbook. Stimulating curiosity is as important as learning facts.

Unit Studies

A fascinating trend in homeschool is the unit study. As a teacher I tried to constantly find ways to connect subject matter to other disciplines. The unit study is exactly this but the steroids version.

Here’s how it works: The child picks a topic of interest (this is one of the aspects that most families enjoy — being self guided). Then, the parent helps the child study all possible angles of that subject. Let’s say the topic of study is eye glasses. Historically, the child might study Benjamin Franklin. Maybe they then study the science of bifocals and how companies manufacture featherweight lenses. What about the science of metals and economics of mass production? Maybe the student then moves to the anatomy of the human eye and how surgeons are able to operate with lasers (more science and math) to eliminate the need for glasses! Unit studies continue for a few weeks or until their interest is exhausted. For parents who are fine suspending traditional notions of education, this is a fantastic and liberating method of education. 

  • I want my child’s study to be filled with personal interests.   
  • I want my child to have a certain amount of self direction. 
  • I like studying a topic deeply.

Unschool

Let’s round up this discussion with Unschooling. Counter to what the media misinterprets as non-school, unschoolers follow a more relaxed method of schooling. It is not the absense of schooling. This is an important distinction. Unschooling is based on the premise that adults drastically underestimate the child’s ability to learn. That, given the right resources, children will learn on their own. For any teacher who has stood in front of a room full of half-sleeping, unengaged students, you know you’ve asked this question: am I even doing anything here? So, while the environment (your home) may not be structured, the quality and quantity of what the child is processing is indeed very structured. Keep in mind, sending your child to the basement to play video games is not unschooling. that’s non-schooling. Discussing with your children their interests and how to consume them is the foundation of unschooling. 

  • Do you like the idea of not planning your daily activities?   
  • Are your children self directed readers? (this is really important)   
  • Are you worried about academically over burdening your child?    

You’re probably wondering how my little circus fits into all of this. What homeschooling style do we fit into?

I guess I would call us relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers with a smattering of Charlotte Mason sandwiched between obsessive control tendencies but with an overarching desire to unschool in a traditional classroom. 
That’s what we are. And it seems to be working.

What about you?

Free printable about my top four methods

I'm a dad currently mastering the art of the "hands full" with my four children. A former English teacher and photographer, I've been a homeschool teacher, stay at home dad, and advocate for men in the home-place for almost ten years. Together we're taming this unbalanced yet sublime circus ... one day at a time.

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