There are different types of homeschooling, and all of these have intrinsic strengths and weaknesses. It should be a matter of family choice as to which type you use, don't do what everyone else in your support group is doing if it doesn't fit your family or your child. You can make the choice a little easier by researching homeschooling (library & internet resources are valuable here), talking with other homeschooling families and then sitting down and looking at your family and child. The choice will depend upon things such as your family's lifestyle, your child's age and learning style, how many children you will be teaching, whether there are infants/toddlers/preschoolers in the home, your child's ability to work independently and their level of confidence or mastery in such things as reading and basic math skills. You may even find that a style which works fine for one child, turns out to be the wrong choice for another child in your family. On this page, I don't endorse any specific curriculum or homeschooling "method". This is simply a basic overview of the different ways to homeschool, including the up and down sides of the choices and what sort of family each type might best fit (IMHO).
- FORMAL HOMESCHOOLING, SCHOOL AT HOME
- UNSCHOOLING, DELIGHT-DIRECTED LEARNING, CHILD-DIRECTED LEARNING
- DESCHOOLING, DECOMPRESSION
- ECLECTIC HOMESCHOOLING, (RELAXED, MIXED, HOME-MADE, or INDIVIDUALIZED LEARNING)
- UNIT STUDIES
- CHARLOTTE MASON METHOD
This is where the family sets up a traditional school setting at home. There may be desks (or tables) for each child, a blackboard and "teacher's" desk, and typical school supplies such as textbooks, reading books (of various types), notebooks, a globe, bulletin board, and so forth. Each day is scheduled, often with the parent leading the activities and/or responsible for moving the child from subject to subject. A traditional curriculum is followed: math, science, social studies, language arts, physical education, etc. There may be a purchased complete curriculum or one put together by the family from different resources. Grades or percentages are often given for work, and work is usually expected to be turned in on a specific due date. The teacher (mom or dad) is available for help, keeps track of work in progress and makes lesson plans for what will be covered in the future.
- easy to tell what level the child is at in his learning
- formal grades and lesson plans are readily available to districts that require them
- scheduled days & set plans keep everyone "on-track"
- formal curriculums are often easier (and more reassuring) for "newbies" to use
- answers, resource lists, enrichment materials and future plans of study may be provided (or at least available) with formal curriculums
- a child who has been to public school will be familiar with this type of learning (*note* this may be a down side if they are "burnt out")
- formal "school at home" can be boring and limiting to certain children
- you must make sure to select the appropriate age and learning-level curriculum for your child(ren) to avoid frustration & discouragement.
- strict schedule may not allow for "off" days, unexpected changes or younger children's interruptions
- the teaching parent has the burden of the responsibility; for future plans, subjects that are being taught, scheduling, and the pace of learning
- the teaching parent will need extra time for things such as grading, creating lesson plans and schedules, and keeping records
- a set curriculum may not take into account a child's specific strengths and changing interests
- following a curriculum that might be too difficult can lead to "we're not getting enough done and will be total failures" panic
- the price of complete curriculums can be quite high
Who will this work for?
- Formal school at home will work best for a family that needs and enjoys structure, and who have the resources available to set up a "schoolroom" and to purchase a curriculum.
- Newer homeschoolers are often reassured by having a set and complete curriculum to follow, easing worries about missing something "vital" to the child's learning.
- Younger children may benefit from the proven reading readiness, phonics and basic skills math that most curriculums provide.
- Formal homeschool might be the best initial choice for children who tend to be "scattered" in their thinking (such as those diagnosed as ADD or ADHD), allthough care must be taken to create a schedule that allows for short attention spans and that includes frequent time-out for physical activities to help "blow off steam" or get rid of excess energy.
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This is the least formal way to homeschool, and is sometimes controversial. What unschooling actually means can vary widely from family to family and even from child to child within the same family. Some unschooling families wait until a child shows an interest in a subject or asks questions about something, and will then provide answers and resources (books, tapes, unit studies, hands-on materials, mentors) for the child to explore and study with at his own pace, until he exhausts the available resources, or tires of the subject. Other families simply see everything in life as a learning experience and provide an enriched and stimulating environment for the child to live in, full of learning opportunities, but never formally presented. A trip to the grocers is seen as promoting math and life skills; building with legos would be math and science; writing to a pen-pal in a foreign country is social science, language arts and life skills; and so on. Learning is at the childs own unique pace, and according to his desires, with no set schedules, no grades and minimal advanced lesson planning. Little or no curriculum is purchased, and if the child rejects it, it is not forced upon them. The parent is seen more as a "facilitator" than as a teacher, ready to help and assist the child when needed and to guide them to further resources.
- the child is truly interested and focused on what they're learning
- lower cost to parents for curriculum and school-type materials (but there will be cost for books and other resources)
- relaxed, happy, no-pressure learning environment
- the (older) child takes reponsibilty for his own learning
- learning can be at a child's pace and will often leap ahead of "expected" norms
- no schedule means a child can learn when they're ready, at their best and most comfortable (even if it's after dinner)
- parents must be willing and able to provide plenty of opportunities for learning and enrichment (books, research materials, transportation, etc.)
- you may find yourself scrambling to find obscure materials and resources, only to have the child give it up in a day or two
- it can be difficult to get a child onto a new track when they've run through all the material you can find but are still not satisfied in their learning
- the parent must be able to subtly promote subjects to a child who does not show initiative
- no formal records or grades can make return to public school or college entrance more difficult
Who will this work for?
- unschooling can work for any family, but they must be willing to search out materials for myrid subjects, must have access to resources such as libraries, scientific catalogs and the internet, must be creative enough to find learning opportunities in everyday life, and relaxed enough not to worry about people who ask why you aren't doing "real" school
- an enriched environment should be available, but this doesn't mean fancy "educational" toys; instead it means books (lots and lots of these), audio and video tapes, manipulatives, building blocks, tools, musical instruments (simple or fancy), art supplies, and hopefully an outdoor place to play and explore.
- most important, you'll need interested parents, siblings, and friends who can help support and nurture the childs's growth.
- older children who are well-grounded in the basic skills and who have a genuine interest in many subjects can thrive as unschoolers
- younger children are natural unschoolers, but be sure that they have an opportunity to learn math basics, you should also be ready to read many and varied books to them (some, but not all, children will learn to read on their own simply by being read to on a regular basis)
- a child who has been burnt-out and discouraged by formal schooling may benefit greatly from a year or two of unschooling (see Deschooling )
- gifted (and not so gifted) children who have an intense interest in a specific subject or talent (music, art, math, science) will be freed to pursue it to their heart's content, but care should be taken that they do not miss out on other opportunities, or become too narrowly focused
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Deschooling (sometimes called decompression)is a measure that some families take when they're faced with a child who has become burnt out and discouraged by formal schooling (public, private or home) or who has become caught up in rigid schedules and too-high expectations. In true and total deschooling, all schooling stops. That's it, no books, no notes, no expectations, no grades... nothing. This can last for a short time (a few weeks or months) to a year or more. In most cases, the child will tell (or show) you when they feel ready to learn again, but the parent must also be prepared to take the step back into schooling again. Many deschoolers become unschoolers once learning begins again, and sometimes the two terms are used interchangably. A more mild form of deschooling is seen when the family begins to back off from rigid schedules and formalized learning to a more child-centered, unschooling system, or when parent's realize they need to let go of their own unrealistic expectations of what homeschool should be (usually based on their own life/school experiences and perhaps fueled by worries that they aren't going to "get it right"). And finally, families might plan a yearly, 2 or 3 month, "deschooling" vacation (often in the summer) in order to give everyone some needed down time, while others will scatter shorter vacations throughout the year.
- deschooling allows a child who has had a negative school experience time to rest and recuperate, without pressure
- deschooling gives the family time to prepare for a different way of learning, and gives a break to a teaching parent who may be feeling overwhelmed
- deschooling allows time to order new materials and to gear up for the next level of learning
- deschooling can help parents and children to let go of unfair or unrealistic expectations
- an extended time off can lead to loss of basic skills, with the need to review extensively before beginning new lessons
- children (especially teenagers) may take advantage of a sympathetic parent, and stretch the deschooling time beyond what is really needed
- it can be quite easy to get "stuck in a rut" with a deschooling child, you may have some trouble getting back into learning again
Who will this work for?
- children who have been traumatized by a bad school experience definitely benefit from time off from schedules, grades and the pressure to perform for others (rather than learning for learning's sake)
- parents who find their child reluctant or upset by their present homeschooling system can take a break, step back and reexamine their homeschooling plans
- high-strung and perfectionistic children might need short "deschooling" breaks throughout the year, just as a way to relieve self-imposed pressures
- Deschooled children should not be allowed to watch too much TV (or play too many video/computer games), or laze around all day. Regular chores should still be done and the children should be expected to participate in family activities.
- Be sure to watch for signs of depression in a burnt-out child. Deschooling is not a cure for a child who shows these signs, don't be afraid to get counseling or other help if it seems necessary.
- Families who feel the need to totally deschool for an extended time must realize that this complete "time out" may lead to loss of basic skills (younger children). Time and classes lost will have to be made up in order to get credit on transcipts (older children).
- Families may also face problems if they are in school districts that require lesson plans, specific classes and subjects, yearly evaluations and/or portfolios.
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Eclectic homeschool (also called by many other names), seems to be the most common type of homeschooling. This is where the family takes a variety of learning resources and chooses the mix that will work best for their children. Curriculum might consist of: a "formal" math textbook and tests, a unit study for science, maybe some historical fiction or biographies found at the library for social studies, grammar & language arts may be a series of workbooks, reading could be family Bible studies or age-level books that the child chooses. Homeschooling in this way can be as scheduled or as relaxed as the family wishes, and can even change from month to month. Siblings can often be taught together, using the same books or lessons, with age-appropriate assignments being given after the introduction by the teaching parent (example--mom & kids read a biography of George Washington, an older child might be asked to write a short report or a persuasive essay while a younger child is asked to draw a timeline or cut out magazine pictures that have something to do with Washington's life). Some eclectic homeschoolers will take advantage of co-operatives, partial public schooling, or community college courses, especially for older children.
- the curriculum can be tailored to meet the specific strengths and weaknesses of each child and of the family in general
- children in the same family can use many of the same basic courses and materials (saves money)
- if one small part of the chosen curriculum does not work--it's easy to try something new
- more "formal" resources can be used to bolster an area that the parent is not comfortable teaching or that they have not had experience with
- care must be taken to satisfy state or district requirements when using a mixed curriculum
- it is easy to "hit or miss" with so many choices, so be sure to research and/or talk with other homeschooling parents about unfamiliar curriculum
Who will this work for?
- Because the curriculum and tasks can be created to match the family's specific needs, this method will work for just about everyone
- Works well for a family that finds the idea of unschooling attractive, but also worries about specific subjects that they feel should be taught more formally (like math or grammar)
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A unit study is the in-depth study of one specific topic (stars, flowers, cats, etc.) which tries to include many areas of learning within that subject. It parallels what some schools call "whole language" in which the child sees what they're learning as inter-connected rather than separating everything into diverse workbooks or classes. Reading is supported with the various books suggested (often a list of library books) Writing skills are developed through written reports, research notes or journals. Depending on the subject, unit studies will try to include science, history, map-skills or geography, and the arts. Math concepts may be introduced through hands-on activities and subject-related analytical problems. Some unit studies even include Bible verses for family study. Unit Studies usually come in a small booklet or folder, with a strong basic overview of the subject and resource pages (categorized by age/learning level) listing suggested books, activities, assignments and further study possibilities. The family is responsible for finding these resources and for directing the chosen activities. Most unit studies are intended to be covered in a short amount of time, one or two months is the norm.
- A unit study tends to be more interesting and imaginative than standard textbooks or workbooks, especially if it is on a subject that really grabs your child's attention
- Units can be worked on together by all the children, with the parent varying assignments and books according to age or capability.
- Unit Studies are often less-expensive than other types of purchased curriculum
- Because they tend to be short, but focused and in-depth studies; children may retain facts and learn more quickly
- Families have many and varied options for studies throughout the year and can be flexible with their choices
- Unit studies can be an effective way to learn, but may be lacking in "concrete" areas like math, phonics and grammar
- Parents are the ones responsible for tracking down suggested books and other resources, and for choosing/creating the assignments or activities that best fit their children, this can be time-consuming and occasionally frustrating (materials, books may not be available)
- The quality of unit studies varies greatly, there are some real "bad ones" out there ! (It's most important to get some feedback from parents who have used the same studies, or who have worked with the same author/distributor)
Who will this work for?
- Families or children who tend to focus strongly on many subjects but who need quick turn-over and variety are perfect for unit studies
- Children should have a good foundation in the basic-skills of reading, math and grammar before using only unit studies for their learning
- Unit studies work especially well to "fill in" on a subject that is fascinating to the child or family, but has not been covered in other curriculum
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Charlotte Mason based her teaching philosophy on the Latin word for education, "educare" (to feed and nourish). The hope is that families using this method will develop a lifetime love of learning. The method uses a variety of "living" books, based on core subjects and include a focus on the fine arts. It relies on the use of narration, with younger children "telling back" what they've learned; emphasis being placed on what the children do know rather than what they do not know. Worries about proper grammar are saved for a little later. "Copywork" is also used later, with children copying quotes, poetry or chosen paragraphs or pages from their books. Some copywork may be from the teacher's dictation, to encourage listening skills. With older children this narration/copywork method can be used in questionnaires and multiple choice tests, or to produce written essays and reports. Charlotte Mason advocates the avoidance of dumbed-down or pre-packaged literature, focusing instead on classic literature and poetry. Her method also includes a unique style of dictation and spelling. Lessons are kept very short (10-15 minutes for young children, up to 30 minutes for older children) and promote concentration versus dawdling. With some families, there is a definite amount of work to be completed in a definite amount of time, with others they simply work until the alloted time is up, then move on. Successive lessons are varied, going from an academic subject (grammar or math), into something physical (outdoor play or gardening), or perhaps something light and fun (reciting children's poetry or silly rhymes). This seems to be a "love it or leave it" choice, some parents who swear by the "CM Method" will heavily promote it to other homeschoolers.
- It is easy to incorporate literature, fine art, nature study, and classical music into your curriculum
- Short lessons are reportedly an effective way to help children retain information
- Interesting book choices and knowing that the less "fun" lessons will soon be over can help avoid boredom & burnout
- Well rounded, "classical" education, hopefully promotes a love of good literature
- Children of varied ages can often read the same books together (the older child can even read aloud to the younger), with age-appropriate assignments following
- Strict "no dawdling" rule can lead to some friction when the child is having a stubborn day
- Parents are responsible for collection of all books and materials (purchasing or borrowing from library) as well as for schedules and most curriculum decisions
- Method can be labor and time-intensive with younger children, the teaching parent does most of the reading and listening
- If the family has a large number of younger children, listening to each one's narration can become time-consuming, careful scheduling and cooperation might be needed
- Some children balk at the "copywork", esp. those who do not enjoy writing by hand
- Occasionally the book you choose just doesn't work for your child, be prepared to find another, similar book
- If the child is reading independently, the teaching parent may need to do extensive "pre-reading", in order to know what listen and look for in the child's narration and written work
- Math (and perhaps other subjects such as science or civics) will most likely need to be supplemented by additional materials and workbooks.
Who will this work for?
- Younger children really enjoy the "let's cuddle up together and read a good book" method of learning
- Parent's who were avid childhood readers (esp. of the more classical books) will enjoy the chance to re-visit favorite books and poetry
- The short lessons can be beneficial for both scattered and high-strung, intense children, be prepared for some wandering off or protesting ("But I'm not finished yet") at first. (some CM parent's recommend using a timer for lessons)
- A tighter schedule often works well for new homeschoolers, or for those who have "doubting" spouses or other family members (write it out & post it in a prominent place, even if you don't follow it all the time, it looks good)
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