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Different approaches to home education

With so many resources available, it is not always easy to decide what to choose. Below is a brief overview of some possible approaches to teaching at home. Hopefully, if you can decide on a style of teaching that appeals to you, then subsequently your choice of curriculum will be made a little easier.

The Textbook Approach

All home education materials fall into two main categories: textbook curricula or non-textbook curricula. Textbook curricula have graded textbooks and/or workbooks for each subject, and usually include teacher’s manuals and tests. Textbook curricula assume that you will be running your homeschool along the same lines as an institutional school, i.e. completing work from the texts in daily increments in preparation for tests or exams. Some work texts are designed in such a way that the students can work independently with minimum teacher preparation time and supervision. Some curriculum suppliers use the traditional school approach, but present their material on computer instead of using textbooks.

The Living Books and Life Experience Approach

This is based upon the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator. She disagreed with the tendency of modern educators to treat children as vessels to be filled with knowledge, and doing so by breaking knowledge down into isolated bits and by creating artificial experiences. Charlotte Mason believed in respecting children as persons, involving them in real-life situations and allowing them to read good books instead of “twaddle”. She called such good books “living books”, as they make a subject come alive, unlike dull and dry textbooks which assume that a child cannot reason for him/herself. For more information on this approach read The Original Home Schooling Series by Charlotte Mason or Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola.

Delayed Academics Approach

Dr. Raymond Moore has done extensive research into early childhood learning. He concludes that a) too many children suffer needless physical, emotional and mental stress from being place into academic situations before their visual, hearing, nervous system, reasoning abilities and muscular co-ordination are developed enough to complete conventional schooling tasks; b) children are often taught academic skills before they have the life experience or background knowledge to know what they are learning or grasp the concepts involved; and c) children under the age of 12 that spend more time with their peers than their parents become peer dependent, that is they derive their sense of self-worth from their peers. Dr. Moore and his wife Dorothy are leading advocates of home education, as it is within this framework that the above problems can be addressed. They advocate delaying academics until the child is physically, emotionally and mentally ready. When a child is ready, they advocate multi-sensory Maths and language programmes, and good books for all other subjects. For more information read The Successful Home School Family Handbook or Better Late than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.

The Unit Study Approach

This is taking a theme or a topic (a unit of study) and delving into it over a period of time, integrating all subjects as they apply. The advantages of this approach are: a) all ages learn together, each taking in and doing what he can at his own level; b) reduced planning time because “subjects” are not taught separately; c) curiosity and independent thinking are generated; d) there are no time restraints; e) intensely studying one topic at time instead of studying several unrelated subjects is the more natural way to learn, and f) because knowledge is interrelated, it is more easily learned and remembered longer. How to Create Your Own Unit Study by Valerie Bendt is a good book on this topic. KONOS is a unit study curriculum based on godly character traits.

The Classical Approach

This is an historical approach to education whose modern proponent is an Oxford graduate, Dorothy Sayers. In her essay, entitled The Lost Tools of Learning, she suggests that the great defect of modern education is that we teach our children subjects, but fail to teach them how to think. The remedy, she believes, is to reinstate the form of education that has produced many of the world’s greatest scholars – teaching language and thinking skills that can be used to master any subject.

The tools of learning to achieve this are collectively called The Trivium; the three parts each corresponding to a development stage in the child. The Grammar Stage, approx. ages 6-10, covers the stage when children most readily receive and memorise information. The goal as this stage is to master the elements of language and develop a framework of knowledge. Latin is included as part of the mastery of language.

The second stage, from ages 10-12, is called the Dialectic Stage. At this age children demonstrate more abstract and independent thought. Their natural tendency to argue is channelled constructively by making use of debate, logical discussion, and how to draw correct conclusions that are supported by facts. The final stage, from age 15, is the Rhetoric Stage. At this point the young person is taught to use language eloquently and persuasively, whether written or spoken, to express what he thinks. For more information read Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson or Teaching the Trivium by Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn.

The Unschooling Approach

This is based on the idea that children have a natural curiosity and an innate desire to learn that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. In his book, Teach Your Own, John Holt writes: “What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experience, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guide-books, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out.

"Unschooling" may also refer to any non-structured approach, which allows the child to pursue his own interest with parental support and guidance. The child is surrounded by a rich environment of books and resources, and adults who model a learning lifestyle and are prepared to interact with him. For more information see The Relaxed Home School by Mary Hood.

The Eclectic Approach

It is obviously possible to have your own approach, borrowing ideas from any or all of the above.

Whatever you choose to do, take all the time necessary to come to the decision that is right for your family and circumstances. Remember that home education can be so different from conventional schooling, that it takes extra time to assimilate all the new concepts and ideas. We have only ever known and had experience of conventional school, so all our thoughts on education are within that framework. For home education we need to establish a new framework for our thoughts – the home. Allow yourself time for this mental preparation.

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