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The Seven Approaches To Homeschooling

Aug 17, 2007
When parents make a decision to homeschool, one of primary decisions they must make is what approach to take to homeschooling. There are many approaches. None is right or wrong. Rather, it is a matter of philosophy.

Here is an overview of the seven approaches to homeschooling for any potential homeschool parent to consider:

1. Traditional Textbook
In the traditional approach, parents use graded textbooks and/or workbooks. They follow a certain schedule for the entire school:ear of 180 days. There are usually teacher's manuals, tests and record keeping materials that correspond to each text and workbook. This material is also available on the computer. You can also find these kinds of courses or "curriculum" through some public school districts, through private schools, through companies that sell pre-packaged curriculums or parents can pick and choose by buying directly from textbook publishers.

2. Classical
Children under age 18 are taught the tools of learning known as "The Trivium". The Trivium has three parts. Each part corresponds to a childhood developmental stage.

Stage 1: Grammar Stage: Early elementary ages focuses on reading, writing, and spelling, study of Latin, developing observation, listening and memorization skills. The goal of this stage is to develop a general framework of knowledge and to acquire basic language arts and math skills.

Stage 2: Dialectic Stage: This stage starts about the age of middle school. Children begin to demonstrate independent or abstract thought, which is molded and shaped by teaching logic discussion, debate and how to draw correct conclusions and support them with facts.

Stage 3: Rhetoric Stage: This is the final phase of the Trivium which seeks to produce a student (usually by 15 years of age) who can use language, both written and spoken eloquently and persuasively.

3. Unit Study Approach
A Unit Study takes a theme or topic (a unit of study) and investigates deeply into all there is to know about that topic, integrating language arts, science, social studies, math and fine arts. Instead of studying seven or eight separate, unrelated subjects, all the subjects are blended together. For example, a unit study on bears could include reading and writing about bears (language arts). You could also include famous biologists who studied bears, studying their body parts, eating habits and life cycles (science). You could calculate the body fat needed to hibernate all winter (math) and learn about the habitats and ecological impact on their life. You could learn to sketch bears and so on until you have learned everything there is to know about bears.

4. The Living Books Approach
This approach is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator. She felt that educating a child was preparing them for life and helping that child to live the fullest right now. She believed in respecting children as persons, involving them in real-life situations and allowing them to read really good books instead of what she called "twaddle," worthless, inferior teaching material. This approach is probably best for elementary aged children. They are taught good habits, to be involved in a broad spectrum of real-life situations, and given ample time to play, reflect and create. Young children were not to have formal lessons at all. But when children are at an older age she would use what she called "living books" to educate. For example, for literature the children would read the classics. For history, she would pick historical biographies. For geography: well-written travel books. In art, the children would study great art pieces. If the children couldn't read they would be read to. Arithmetic is not mentioned at all but I suppose you could add this in for a well-rounded education.

5. The Principle Approach
This approach uses three American Christian concepts: the knowledge of our Christian history, an understanding of our role in the spread of Christianity and the ability to live according to the Biblical principles upon which our country is founded. Learning is based on seven principles: 1) Individuality, 2) self-government, 3) Christian Character, 4) A person's conscience is the most sacred of property, 5) The Christian Form of Government, 6) How the seed of local self-government is planted and 7) The Christian principle of American Political Union. The belief here is that God has given us principles that govern every area of life: politics, education, and business. These areas of focus make up the curriculum for this approach. This kind of learning has been misunderstood as a history course but it is not. It does involve the study of much American history and encourages the use of notebooks for recording information. The whole emphasis as Mary Pride tells us is "on reasoning through basic principles rather than regurgitating facts." Thus the principle approach.

6. The Unschooling Approach
This is probably the hardest approach to explain and least understood. Unschooling is letting the children learn through their own desires and curiosities. It is the least structured learning approach. This allows children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance. The child is surrounded by a rich environment of books, learning resources and adults who model a lifestyle of learning. John Holt had started this style of homeschool. His motto was "trust children". He believed that children really want to learn and that they will learn what they need to know if left entirely to themselves. This style of learning is particularly scary for parents. There is always that doubt in the back of the mind, "Is my child learning all that he/she needs to learn to be an educated person?" I have known several families to use this method and they like it.

7. The Mixed Approach
Also known as Eclectic, this is a blend of the different approaches. I think that is the best way to educate and I have used this approach throughout most of my homeschool experience. Parents can use the best ideas from all the different approaches. I think strictly using one approach can limit what a child will learn. For example, you can use traditional math and science textbooks, but use unit studies around historical periods and geography. Then maybe use a computer program to teach typing and foreign language. I really like the idea of learning history through historical biographies. I have used this approach many times.

There is a lot to think about when trying to decide whether you want to homeschool your children. It seems scary at first, but with good preparation and lots of praying, it can be done at any time in your children's life. Some women (as you will read) know they want to homeschool from the time they give birth to their first child. Other women don't really know they want to homeschool until their child is already in 3rd grade. At times, public school will accentuate learning problems and it becomes obvious to the parent that something more needs to be done.

I have known some mothers who pulled their children out of middle school, homeschooled for a year or two, and then let them go back for high school. There are many different ways to educate your child and at any age.
About the Author
Joyce Jackson is an educational expert and consultant in northern California. For her latest book and information see Homeschooling Easy.
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