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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Approaches to Homeschooling


Before telling you about my approach to homeschooling I feel the need to pass on some information. Did you know that there are two basic approaches to homeschooling?  The Textbook or Worktext approach and the Non-Textbook approach. Hey, that’s pretty easy but now, it gets interesting. Under the Non-Textbook approach there are seven common teaching approaches.

They are : 

  • The Classical Approach 
  • The Principle Approach 
  • Living Books & Life Experiences Approach 
  • Unit Study 
  • Unschooling 
  • Delayed Academics 
  • and the Learning Styles Approach

The easiest way to explain the Textbook / Worktext approach is to say that it is an approach in which graded textbooks/workbooks are used that follow some form of scope and sequence with daily increments of work in mind. The Textbook / Worktext approach has testing or checkpoints that help you to see if the child has mastered each section before going on. This approach can even be done via computer.

Now, to explain the seven common non-textbook approaches will take a little longer so please bear with me as I try to give you the “Readers Digest” explanations. (I.e.... short explanations)


The Classical approach teaches tools of learning that are collectively call The Trivium. The Trivium has three stages that are to correspond with three different stages of child development. The first stage is the Grammar Stage. This is the stage where children are believed to be the most capable of learning and memorizing information. At this point they’ll focus on reading, writing, spelling, the study of Latin and the development of their observation, listening and memorization skills. Then they move to the Dialectic Stage where instead of trying to reduce and/or stop a child’s tendency to argue, the tendency is to teach the child the ability to debate. The teacher is to use logical discussion and debate to try to mold and shape the child so that they learn how to draw conclusions and support their conclusions with facts. The study of Latin is continued many times with the addition of Greek and Hebrew. This is also where higher Math and Theology begin. The last stage is the Rhetoric Stage. It hopes to create a student capable of using language both written and spoken to clearly and persuasively proclaim what he thinks. A trademark of the Classical approach is the study of Latin from a very early age and the immersion of the child in reading literature and such from the great minds of the past.

The Principle approach is based on the premise that America is a very unique and vital link in the westward expansion of Christianity. This approach attempts to restore three vital concepts to American Christianity. These concepts are : the knowledge of America’s Christian History, an understanding of our role in the spread of Christianity and the ability to live according to the Biblical principles that our nation was founded upon. To those that follow this approach, it is not just the way they educate their kids but it is a way of living. Four things are strongly emphasized in this approach. #1 - there is a recognition of God’s hand or providence in history, especially American history, #2 - there is an understanding that God has ordained three governmental institutions - the home, the church and the civil government. Through these he unfolds his purposes and represents Christ in the earth. #3 - Government starts in the heart of man as they learn to govern their own thoughts and actions. #4 - the assumption of responsibility for their own teaching and application of discovered knowledge to their own lives.

The Living Books and Life Experiences approach is basically what it sounds like and is based upon the writings of Charlotte Mason who was a turn of the century British educator. She felt that the tendency of modern education was to #1- treat kids as if they were containers ready to be filled with predigested information, #2 - to break down knowledge into thousands of tiny isolated bits and pieces of information to be fed into the “containers”, and #3 - to engineer artificial learning experiences. This approach is to teach basic reading, writing and math skills then expose the child to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects. This would mean not just learning and reading about Rembrandt and Picasso but also going to an art museum and seeing a Rembrandt or Picasso face to face. Seasonal and wildlife studies followed up or studied in correlation with nature walks and wildlife observation ...etc. The reading of what Charlotte called “living books”... books that made the subjects “come alive” instead of books like textbooks which tend to be dry and dull, assuming the reader cannot think for themselves. Charlotte believed children should be given ample opportunity to “interface” with art, literature and nature and allowed to draw their own conclusions without someone constantly telling them what meaning they should make of things.

The Unit Study approach is where a subject, theme or topic is taken and over a period of time is delved into deeply. This subject, theme or topic is integrated into language arts, science, social studies, math and the fine arts. The subjects are therefore not studied as separate and unrelated subjects since all the subjects are blended together and studied around the common theme. For example, a unit study on birds could include reading and writing about birds and famous ornithologists (language arts), studying the parts, functions, life cycles and aerodynamics of birds (science and math), determining the migration paths, habitats and ecological and sociological impact of birds (social studies), sketching familiar birds (art), building bird houses or feeders (“hands on” activities) and so forth. Many find that unit studies give them the advantage of all ages being able to learn together at their own level and no time restraints.

Then we come to Unschooling. It is probably one of the most misunderstood homeschooling approaches. Unschooling is defined on one hand by John Holt who came to the conclusion that children have an innate desire to learn and a curiosity that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. He believed that both desire and curiosity are destroyed by the usual methods of teaching. He wanted kids to have more access to the real world, plenty of time and space to play and think giving them the chance to think over their experiences.... and find out what they want to find out. On the other hand, it is defined as referring to any non-structured learning approach that allows the child to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance and lets children learn by being included in the life of adults. The child is surrounded by a rich environment of books, learning resources, and adults who model a lifestyle of learning and are willing to interact with the child. Formal academics is not usually pursued unless that’s what the child desires.

The Delayed Academics approach is based upon the studies of Dr. Raymond Moore who was part of a task force of leading American educators who studied early childhood learning for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. After his studies, Dr. Moore came to the conclusion that #1 - many children suffer needless physical, emotional and mental stress because they are placed in academic settings before their vision, hearing, nervous systems, reasoning capabilities and muscular coordination are developed enough to complete conventional schooling tasks, #2 - children are often taught academic skills before they have enough life experiences and background knowledge to comprehend what they are learning or grasp the concepts involved, #3 - children under the age of 12 who spend more time with their peers than with adults become “peer dependent,” that is, they learn to derive their sense of self-worth from their peers.  It was therefore Dr. Moore’s belief that #1 - Formal education should be delayed until the children are mentally, physically and emotionally ready and this determination should be made on an individual basis. #2 - Children who learn good habits, help with housework, family service projects or home business learn to be responsible and to serve others both inside and outside the home. #3 - If a child’s associations with peers are carefully limited and guided, the family will remain the center of his life and he will not become peer dependent. #4 - Children will excel at academics when they are surrounded by loving, interested adults who will interact with them, read to them, show them a great deal of affection and present them with as many enriching life experiences as possible.

The Learning Styles approach was developed in response to research that showed that each child has a specific way in which they learn best. They are either visual, print, auditory, kinesthetic or interactive learners. In addition to one or two favored learning styles, each person has a dominant thinking style dependent on which hemisphere of the brain they process information on. Yet another component of learning is what is called the Seven Intelligences which states that different people have different innate abilities that make certain studies easier for them. Finally, the teaching environment is a very important factor in learning in that children learn best in a positive affirming atmosphere with enjoyable surroundings. Therefore knowing a child’s learning style can be a great help in educating the child especially when many specialist are discovering that children often labeled as “learning disabled” are not learning disabled but instead being taught using a method or environment that frustrates their ability to learn.

Now remember, when I started I said that there were two basic approaches to homeschooling. Well, I’m about to change that, you see, there really is another approach... it’s called the Eclectic Approach.  It is where you take a mixture of the other approaches and use what’s best at that time. Many parents choose the Eclectic approach because they feel they can tailor their child’s education to what fits the child best. Families that choose this approach usually are curriculum scavengers choosing only the bits and piece of different curriculums that they like and using them. They wouldn’t be considered to have any partiality for any particular curriculum. In essence, rather than settling for just one of the above approaches, they choose to incorporate the best of many (or even all) of them into their educational approach.

Funny thing, if asked, other homeschoolers would label me as a Textbook / Worktext approach because I faithfully use a curriculum with my children that comes from that approach. Yet, I would differ with them and call myself Eclectic. You see, after only a few years of homeschooling I could see that my preferred approach, while being the right thing for my kids had a few blind spots.... areas where I felt it fell short. As a responsible parent I started trying to figure out what I could do to fill in those areas. Before long I realized that I was picking and choosing from the other approaches what I felt were some of their strongest ideas and adding them to our basic curriculum. 

For example
(Learning Styles) I took time to observe and experiment so that I could better find out the Learning Styles that my individual kids had. I tried to teach them in the way they learned best and at the same time, give them opportunities to grow in the areas they were weak in. 

(Delayed Academics) I waited as long as legally possible to begin their formal education and then was careful to pay attention to what they were and were not ready for and teaching accordingly. 

(Living Books and Life Experiences) We have tried to raise and teach them in a positive and loving environment surrounded with books on a wide range of topic. We've also included them in nearly all we've done so they've been involved in real-life situations on a regular basis. 

(The Principle Approach) We've made it a vital part of their education to understand that this nation was based on Judeo-Christian values and to instill those values as well as introduce our children to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is my hope that someone will find this information useful in their homeschooling or that it may answer questions others have about homeschooling. If you have any questions about homeschooling you are more than welcome to respond to this or message be.

*** The above information about the approaches to homeschooling was a mixture of paraphrased summaries and direct quotes from the 1995/1996 Elijah Company Catalog.  Therefore I give full credit for the above information to the Elijah Company Catalog.***

***I claim only my experiences and opinions in this article***

[This catalog was not only a wonderful resource at the time for all manner of curriculum and books but also a wellspring of information that I found extremely useful as a new homeschooler in 1996.]

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