For questions about specific curricula and their relationship to classical education. Express yourself politely! And remember that no single program can possibly meet the needs of every home schooler; let's benefit from the variety available. NO ADVERTISEMENTS!
Over the last few years I've been developing some homeschooling workshops for future homeschool conventions and I've done some small, in home, mini workshops for beginners explaining different homeschooling approaches and materials in more detail. Here are some articles I've written covering very general information about homeschooling that I think might be helpful to people considering it.
Choosing Homeschool Approach and Curriculum with Confidence by Evaluating Your Own Education
Without knowing what you want your curriculum to accomplish, it will be hard to evaluate if a particular curriculum or approach will meet your needs. It’s very helpful to articulate what you want and why, not only for choosing materials, but also in responding to criticism from others. It can clear up potential friction between spouses who may have different ideas on the subject.
The tremendous amount of homeschooling materials available today can be overwhelming to new homeschoolers. Beginning with a basic idea about what you want and what you don’t want can make the process of selecting easier.
Since homeschoolers vary widely in their views, it’s important each couple focus first on their own motivations and goals first then they can consider the motivations and goals of others and whether or not they would like to add them to their own goals.
To help parents new to homeschooling define their goals and choose a homeschooling method, couples can try the following exercises either verbally or on paper or a combination of the two. It will likely require several conversations and lead to other discussions-that’s a good thing.
1. List everything you learned in your K-12 education that was good and useful.
2. List everything in your K-12 education that was not good or not useful.
3. List everything you wish had been included in your K-12 education that would have been good or useful.
4. Describe in as much detail as possible the ideal education in the areas of academics, relationships, and life skills. Include not only general abstract ideals (like well-rounded and rigorous for example) but also specific subjects and skills that make up the abstract ideals (like Classic Literature, Formal Logic, etc.)
5. What are the main reasons you want to homeschool your children?
Three Homeschooling Mindsets
I am forced to generalize. It should be understood that the 1-2 million homeschoolers in the US do not fit neatly into categories. Many are represented in more than one of these mindsets to varying degrees. All three groups are represented in today’s homeschool community.
First Wave Homeschoolers
In the early 1980s before the public schools were, on the whole, viewed as performing poorly and safety was not generally an issue, two groups of people emerged creating the modern homeschooling movement.
The first were largely conservative Christians who wanted what they called a “Christ Centered Education” for their children. Their goal is to integrate family relationships, life skills, academics, and religious training in equal proportions along with what they call a “Biblical Worldview” into the education of their children. They believe that God had a particular plan for each child’s life, and it is the job of the parent to prepare their children as individuals for that purpose. They believe that children are designed to learn best in a family situation and that institutional educational environments are for adults. They are strong proponents of individualized learning. So, in essence, they define education as including more than just academics.
Meanwhile a mix of secular and religious parents, many inspired by John Holt’s writings, decided that keeping their children at home and customizing an education to suit their individual talents and interests emerged. They believe real life and academics should be integrated to give a greater understanding of the world. They see institutional settings and modern education methods as artificial, detached, and too compartmentalized to fuel the natural love of learning in children. They are also concerned that much of modern education is not relevant to the real world adults live in. They too have different definition of education.
Both groups have different motivations, but some of their educational philosophy is very similar. Most practice some variation of tutorial style education. It fits with their views of customizing education to the individual student. Apprenticeships, internships, and life experiences, in conjunction with academics are often common between them. Neither group likes the standard scope and sequence or fill in the blank workbook approach that is characteristic of most institutional settings.
In general they share the conviction that institutional settings are bad for children, so of course, homeschooling is the only acceptable option that meets their goals.
These two groups are primarily responsible for the legal battles legalizing homeschooling in each state. They currently fight to deregulate homeschooling nationwide.
Second Wave Homeschoolers
In the early 1990s several studies on academic performance revealed that homeschoolers were outperforming children in government schools on standardized tests. A group of parents took notice because academic performance was their number one priority. They began homeschooling their children and enjoyed combination of a flexible lifestyle and accelerated academics that homeschooling provided.
The do not have convictions that institutional settings are categorically bad for children, and many can afford private/religious education, but their children are thriving in the homeschooling environment so that’s where they stay. This group has a large mix of very religious and secular people, and everyone in between.
They are primarily responsible for taking homeschooling into the mainstream.
Third Wave Homeschoolers
By the late 1990s and after the turn of the new millennium public schools were getting bad press specifically about negative social issues and poor academic performance. The floodgates of homeschooling opened and a new group of parents poured into the homeschool community.
They are refugees fleeing what they see as a bad situation. They do not like or have access to charter schools or cannot afford a private/religious institutional setting, so they choose to homeschool. Some left because they see government schools as indoctrinating their children into secularism and socialism. Some have children that are above or below average and want something more specific to their children’s individual needs. Others are very unhappy with the social norms in public schools. Many are very concerned about what they see as a decrease in academic standards and performance in American public education.
This group has helped fuel the current debate about school choice nationwide.
8 Different Approaches to Homeschooling
Most homeschoolers use a combination of two or more of these approaches. Homeschooling is inherently flexible, so these approaches can be adapted and modified in any way the parent chooses. This is a bird's eye view making very broad generalizations. Popular curricula, websites, and authors detailing these approaches are listed. Let me know of others and I will gladly add them to the lists.
===Traditional School Approach ===
Typically uses prepackaged curriculum with a Scope and Sequence educational philosophy. Their daily and yearly schedules usually follow the 6 hour days of institutional settings and a 180 day school year with the summer off, but many allow their children to work at their own pace and finish early. Grading systems like those used in traditional school settings are the norm and aged grades mimic schools. Textbooks and workbooks are their primary texts. Fill in the blank and multiple choice answers are characteristic of this crowd. Children are generally taught the same information around the same age and proceed along the same path, although some may do so faster or slower.
Think institutional school.
Christian Liberty Press
=== Unschooling Approaches A and B===
This is a broad term that applies to two distinct groups.
Generally believes children are wired for learning, and their job as teachers is to avoid interfering with the learning process. Their job is also to provide access to learning (books, lab equipment, etc.) guided by the child’s interests. They do not necessarily think children need to be “taught” outside of answering a child's questions. Real life, hands-on projects and applied learning experiences are strongly preferred to other methods of instruction. Some will allow children to take classes of interest in an institutional setting-usually college.
Think Thomas Edison and John Holt.
Christian Unschooling (website)
Learning without Schooling Magazine
John Holt’s Books
Free Child Project (lots of links and resources)
These parents design every learning experience to answer the question, “When am I going to use this in real life?” by actually using almost exclusively real life, hands on, applied situations and projects. Only the real world here. They tend to be systematic and adult directed but are very careful to take additional time to follow a child’s interests some too.
No known packaged curriculum, websites, or magazines that address only this approach to homeschooling.
===Unit Study Approach ===
Typically these people integrate studies based on an era, historical event, person, character trait, technological development, or historical person. For example, if the Depression is the core of the unit study, Math (if possible), Literature, Science (if possible), History, Economics, and Writing will hinge on different elements of the Great Depression. This gives the student a multidimensional understanding. Each child in the family is given different assignments based on ability, but all study the same core theme.
Learning through History Magazine
Moving Beyond the Page
Trail Guides to Learning
Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett
All Through the Ages
Timetables of History
===Living Books Approach ===
Only the best literature and writings on each subject are used. Think of it this way, instead of reading from a distilled over simplified textbook on the Civil War, these parents have their students read several of the books about the Civil War that an author of a textbook would read preparing to write the textbook. Now, think of doing that for Science, History, Economics, Literature, Art, etc. This crowd is also known for
nature studies, narration, and dictation.
Heart of Dakota
My Father’s World
All Through the Ages
Classical education has at least three distinct camps. They can be integrated as much as the parent prefers. They all have a strong preference for first source materials and use primarily Western Classics (Also called the Western Canon, or the Common Book of the Western World.) Some can include the study of "dead" languages (Hebrew, Classical or Biblical Greek, and Latin) although some are content with good English translations of Classic works while others opt for studies of Latin and Greek Roots in English.
Characterized by the Trivium. The 3 stages have many terms:
Stage 1 Grammar (facts)
Stage 2 Logic (cause and effect) All stages of formal Logic inductive, deductive, material, etc.
Stage 3 Rhetoric (application and persuasion) Formal argumentation is studied.
Formal Logic and Rhetoric are studied specifically. History is usually studied chronologically. Logic is studied formally, and Science is studied with experimentation, biographies, and original writings of the greatest minds. Classic works from masters throughout Western Civilization in all eras are studied. Some integrate History, Geography, Science and Literature into a more unit study approach.
Think Dorothy Sayers.
Tapestry of Grace
Teaching the Trivium
The Well Trained Mind
The Circe Institute
Characterized by the Mentor Model and sometimes called a "Statesmen" education. Morals, virtue, and character are emphasized above all.
In the early years children are allowed to follow their interests and learn good moral character while developing a strong work ethic.
The middle years are when the parent begins inspiring students by reading classic works by the best minds on the subjects and entering into apprenticeship situations with masters of certain skills.
The later years the students are mentored in apprenticeships in entrepreneurial situations for their future leadership roles and professional pursuits.
Think Thomas Jefferson.
A Thomas Jefferson education by DeMille
A Thomas Jefferson Companion
Also known as the Principle Approach. This is a method often attributed to how many of the Founders were educated.
Research the topic by looking up ideas
a. first source materials (original writings, documents, autobiographies, first hand historical accounts, etc.)
b. look up terms in dictionary (keeping in mind dictionaries that are specific to the era)
c. look up terms in your sacred writings or other sources related to your beliefs (Christians-Bible)
Reason through the material looking for the underlying principles.
Relate the information you have found through research and reason and apply it to your life.
Record your findings in a logical, systematic, and persuasive format.
Think James Madison.
Preschool and Early Elementary Decisions
The way to reduce insecurity is to know what your choices are and why you chose one over the others. That means homework up front and taking an active rather than passive role but it spares you the endless shifting sands of blindly accepting recommendations, experimenting with them, and then repeating the process over and over until you finally find something that works. It saves time, money and energy in the long run and creates a more satisfying, cohesive homeschooling experience for you, your spouse and your children.
It also gives you something intelligent to say when people question your decision to homeschool. If you're not able to articulate what you're doing and why you're doing it the way you are, you're going to be very insecure when someone brings up the subject.
Since you're beginning at the beginning, you can take a deep breath and rest easy. These are the early elementary issues that come up. Focus on those first THEN look at curriculum.
I would consider people pushing academics for any child under the age 6 in the same category (assuming their children didn't beg daily to learn academics.)
There are 2 uses of the word preschool:
1) the time in a child's life BEFORE a child learns reading, writing, and arithmetic-usually under the age of 6 in our culture
2) a time when a child under 6 is learning reading, writing and arithmetic
There are different schools of thought on which is best for children in general and for individual children. I suggest any parent starting out familiarize herself with the arguments for and against both and decide for herself what she thinks is best for her family and each of her individual children.
How much academics does she want for her kids? What kind of academics? How much exploring their interests? How much creative play? How much free play? How much group play? How much exploring nature? How much physical play?
Whether you choose academic preschool or not, I strongly suggest any parent (regardless of how they plan on having their child educated) start a read aloud routine. There are plenty of excellent resources out there for finding quality books at the library and at book sellers. Here are good books to help you find good books:
1) Honey for A Child's Heart
2) Books the Build Character
3) A Thomas Jefferson Education (the book lists for different age groups in the back is excellent)
You can also google award winning children's books for book lists. Start with the American Library Association’s website.
My husband and I read aloud to our kids from preschool-high school about 2 hours a day (not all in one sitting.) Search this website [The Well Trained Mind Forums] for read aloud information, suggestions, and book recordings. It's one of the most important and neglected aspects of education in America-even among many homeschoolers. There are book recordings for parents who want someone else to help read aloud to their kids and for kids who aren't reading fluently yet but want to be read to constantly.
There are a couple of categories for teaching reading.
1) Look Say (often mislabeled whole language) which is memorizing each word by how it looks
2) Phonics which is memorizing the sound each letter and each letter combination so each word is sounded out enough times until a child memorizes it by sight.
Familiarize yourself with both schools of thought and decide for yourself which you want to do and why. The vast majority of homeschoolers choose Phonics. Different Phonics curricula vary to some degree. The most immediate difference is whether the letter names are taught first or only the letter sounds (and the names aren't mentioned.) Ruth Beechick explains why letter sounds first are preferable (both in the short and long term) in her book A Homestart in Reading. Most other phonics approaches choose to do the letter names first. The other huge difference is how many sight words are taught in the Phonics program.
Having a good solid grasp of the two approaches will make you a savvier shopper.
The other big difference is that some phonics programs include spelling along with phonics instruction. Decide if this is important to you or if you’d rather do spelling later after a child reading fluently.
Different children are ready to learn to read at different ages. My oldest (17 and in college now) learned to read fluently between the ages of 4 and 5. By her 5th birthday she could read any of the books in the house like an adult. My middle child (15 and in college now) wasn't ready to learn to read until she was almost 8. We got out the phonics when she was 6, did 2 short 10 minute sessions per day for a couple of weeks. Nothing stuck. We put it away for 2-3 months and repeated the process until it did stick. By the time she was 11 she could read fluently like an adult. My youngest (now 😎 was ready when she was 6. She is a very strong reader, but not fluent like an adult yet. She'll get there when she gets there because we're voracious readers around here.
When it comes to math there are different approaches out there:
1) Most people learned to do math in a very symbolic way (counting pictures or on their fingers and adding written out numbers.) This approach emphasizes rote memorization more.
2) Others incorporate a concrete representation of what's written on the paper with what are called "manipulatives." Read about why and how they're used and decide if it's for you or not. There are variations in curricula that use manipulatives and some also add in drawing some sort of representation of the thought process going on (putting groups of things together, taking a larger group and making them smaller groups, etc.) First they emphasize the concrete representation until it's mastered, then they focus on memorizing math facts for speed.
Decide for yourself which you prefer and why then you won't have to waste your time looking into curriculum that is clearly not a good fit. You can look into the different curricula that do things the way you know you prefer.
Writing has different schools of thought, styles and priorities when it comes to the mechanics of writing. Some start earlier and some later because of their views on brain development and the development of fine motor skills. Then you have to decide which style of handwriting you want. What is your goal? Beauty? Legibility? Speed? Easier transitions between print and cursive/italic script?
When it comes to writing in the sense of putting ideas on paper in understandable ways, there are two approaches:
1) Narration based writing. Children listen to something read, then they put into their own spoken words what they remember. In the early stages a parent writes down what the child said out loud and the child copies it on paper. Later the child does all of it on their own.
2) Not narration based. There are lots of different approaches with different techniques and priorities. Some are more formulated than others. Consider the arguments for and against teaching writing according to formulas before you invest a lot of time and money into an approach.
Narration is a skill developed over time with practice. Generally speaking, there are two different approaches, Parts to whole and whole to parts. Decide if it's something you want to do. Decide if you want to do it exclusively or in combination other approaches.
School at home or not?
There are roughly to two big categories of homeschoolers:
1) People who mimic school with pre-packaged curriculum like institutional schools use. All subjects are segregated, they use grade levels, they use workbooks/textbooks that require the child to fill in the blanks, write short answers to questions at the back of the chapter, answer multiple choice questions, do a test at the end of the week, etc. They tend to have their children doing seat work several hours a day, etc. They usually follow a schedule like the local schools do during the day and throughout the year. This type of person is usually doing a grading system of percentages and letter grades.
2) People who don't do school at home. They use other types of materials, they often avoid any sort of grade level mindset at all (most consider it a way to slow children down) and assign different kinds of assignments that require different levels of thinking. They have a tendency to look for approaches and materials that are more customizable and that are more flexible in nature. They tend to prefer what they call "living" or "real" books over workbook/textbooks. They sometimes integrate subjects together. Sometimes they do subjects, like formal logic, not done in most packaged curriculum. They often have multiple children at different developmental levels studying the same core content at the same time, but doing different levels of study and assignments. Some focus more than others on their children's individual interests and build an education around it.
What do you think of the typical education in America? (Or wherever you live.) Are you interested in doing the same at home or do you want to do something different? Do you want to do a mix of the two? If you're interested in different, what kinds of different do you want and what kinds don't you want?