It has often been said that there are as many homeschool methods and styles as there are homeschoolers. Most people just beginning to homeschool worry a lot about curriculum; however, finding the right curriculum depends a lot upon your motivation for homeschooling, your teaching style, and your children's learning styles.
Charlotte Mason Method -- Charlotte Mason (1842 to 1923) was a British educator who espoused the use of "living books" over textbooks. She also promoted narration, dictation, copywork, handicrafts, Bible study and music for developing both the character and the mind. Mason believed that nature should form a foundation of children's education. “The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading.” ― Charlotte Mason
Christian Homeschooling -- This method involves teaching subjects from a Christian or Biblical perspective. Content varies widely from family to family. Many Christian homeschoolers purchase curricula to assist them with implementing their studies. Some sample suppliers are Sonlight, A Beka, Alpha Omega, Bob Jones University, Christian Light Education, My Father's World, Tapestry of Grace, and Rod and Staff.
Classical Education -- The Classical Method is a teaching style which melds the Ancient Greek philosophy of three phases of learning ( 1) grammar, 2) dialectic, and 3) rhetoric) with Bible Study and Christian principles. There is a focus on Latin, Greek, classical literature and history and Socratic debate.
Distance Learning -- As homeschool has increased in popularity, a number of companies have been started which provide public education services to at-home learners. These programs generally provide a teacher to teach the materials, and utilize a brick and mortar school model for teaching. In many states these programs qualify as a form of public education and may be free.
Eclectic Education -- Eclectic homeschoolers develop their own curriculum by merging and melding a variety of resources and philosophies. The eclectic approach is more informal than school-at-home but more directive than unschooling. Parents will often use curriculum materials for any of the basics that the child is not naturally drawn to so as to guide his or her learning along a more conventional timeline than if they were to wait for the child's discovery through life situations. Parents might also be directive by assigning projects, but perhaps non-directive in terms of how and when the child carries out the task.
Media Schooling -- Over the last few years, technological resources for homeschooling have increased exponentially. Resources such as DVD/Video courses and activities, CDROM/DVD programs, Internet sites, Virtual Instruction, and Learning Forums have expanded the choices for curriculum delivery. These resources vary widely in terms of parental oversight and teaching responsibility.
Montessori Education -- Maria Montessori (1870-1952) developed an educational method which emphasizes experiential learning by providing children with hand-on materials that are appropriate for both their size and stage of development. " The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child" -- Maria Montessori
Multiple Intelligences Method -- Based on the work of Howard Gardner which posits that each individual has a unique form of intelligence, this homeschool method takes into account the different ways in which people learn best. A child's learning strengths are determined by an inventory and then the work is adjusted accordingly. For example, for kinesthetic learners, coursework would incorporate opportunities for movement and tactile activities. For a musical learner, coursework would incorporate the use of rhythm and songs.
Natural Learning (Unschooling) -- Natural Learning reflects the belief that children are born with natural curiosities which compel them to learn. Education, in this model, is based on the child's interests and passions rather than subject areas. Parents are considered guides rather than teachers, and the task of the parent-guide is to provide the child with a content-rich environment to explore. Natural Learning involves no direct instruction and a belief that the world is and should be the child's classroom. "Children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than anyone else could make for them." -- John Holt
School At Home -- This form of homeschool education mirrors brick and mortar school practices and techniques. As such, it features the use of textbooks and a prepackaged curriculum. Students generally learn in-home according to a regular schedule with grades and assessments.
Thomas Jefferson Education -- Based on the principles of Thomas Jefferson, this form of homeschool emphasizes literacy as a means to promote self-government, citizenship, and self-discipline. This method promotes the use of Classics instead of texts and the use of experts within a field to mentor education. "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree." -- Thomas Jefferson
Umbrella Schools -- Umbrella schools can be a variety of learning programs providing coursework to homeschoolers. Designed to provide legal and educational validity for homeschoolers, these schools vary widely from state to state and vary widely in terms of content, method, ideology, cost and degree of required parental oversight and involvement.
Unit Studies -- This form of education promotes the teaching of different subjects according to an organizing topic or theme. Thus, math, science, reading, social studies etc. would all be taught with materials which focus on an integrating interest in a topic. Typically, textbooks are replaced with workbooks, hand-on projects, lapbooks, notebooks, crafts and living books to name a few resources.
Waldorf Method -- Developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), this method emphasizes arts and crafts, music and movement, and the importance of nature in developing a spiritual sensibility. Steiner believed that the goal of education was to develop and encourage creativity and self-expression. Based on the principle that educational content should be developmentally appropriate, academic content is deemphasized for younger learners, and increasingly rigorous as the child increases in age. " To truly know the world, look deeply within your own being; to truly know yourself, take real interest in the world" -- Rudolf Steiner
Homeschool laws vary widely by state, so it is important to know what the specifics are for your state to make sure that you are in compliance with your state's statutes.
On the off chance that you anticipate that you will encounter difficulties while homeschooling and you will be in need of legal assistance, there are organizations which provide these services to their members.
The most widely known of these is the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Christian and somewhat conservative in orientation, the HSLDA provides not only legal counseling, but also general homeschool information for home educating children from pK to 12. There have been reports of non-Christian homeschoolers being denied assistance from HSLDA. ($120 membership annually)
A similar organization is the lesser known, but equally influential National Center for Life and Liberty. In addition to legal advice, they also provide pro bono litigation assistance for those cases which advance a specific Christian agenda. ($35 membership then $50 annually)
Membership in the Homeschool Center provides access to the following:
Free legal advice if you or your family member has been subject to religious discrimination at work
Pro-bono litigation in cases that advance church, Christian education or religious liberty, or the sanctity of life
Legal guidance after a car accident. One of our attorneys will explain how to protect your rights after of the accident and we will refer you, if needed, to one our trusted attorney affiliates.
Unlike the aforementioned groups, the National Home Education Legal Defense group is completely secular in nature and there is no faith requirement to be a member. ($50 membership annually)
We can’t give legal advice to you since we aren’t licensed to practice law in your state but we can help you navigate through legal issues in the following ways:
* Provide a plan of action for your family to follow in the event of a problem encountered with government officials in instructing your children. * Provide a letter from NHELD, LLC, to the government officials involved, on your behalf.
* Provide a referral (if available) to Legal Assistance by an attorney licensed to practice in your state working jointly with NHELD licensed attorneys.
NHELD believes that most legal problems encountered by families who homeschool may be resolved without resorting to litigation or the adoption of new state or federal laws. NHELD believes that attorneys living, working, and practicing law in your state are most informed about the nuances regarding your state’s homeschooling laws. However, NHELD also believes that these attorneys will be better able to protect your freedom to educate by networking with other attorneys and homeschool associations throughout the country in order to foster exchange of ideas, information, and strategy. That is why NHELD is establishing a network of attorneys and homeschool associations nationwide
The "S" Word
One of the most annoying and misguided questions that homeschoolers constantly have to face is the dreaded "What about socialization?" We dread the question, not because we have no answer for it , but because it is an asinine question posed by people who really don't understand what they are asking, Let me explain. There is a difference between socialization and socializing. "Socialization," which is the universally recognized "good" thing, the buzz word of choice, refers to the process through which a sentient being acquires an understanding of social mores and expectations. We learn, for example, that while it is perfectly socially acceptable for babies to vomit upon people who hug them, it is far less so for after-party frat boys to do so. This kind of knowledge is imparted directly and actively by people and resources like parents, ministers, teachers, books, television, music, movies and also indirectly and often passive aggressively by society as a whole. We call it "imparting values" and it is the process through which behavior is codified and regimented so that society can run smoothly. This is an important idea, one we'll return to as we figure out just what people are asking when they express concern about homeschool socialization, and what it has to do with the true intent of a common educational experience. However, before we tackle that topic, we have to deal with what people think they mean by "socialization."
Generally, the question about socialization is followed by idiotic questions about whether or not homeschoolers lock their children away in dark cages or chain them to desks deep within the bowels of their homes, forcing them to complete worksheet after worksheet, never to develop friendships or have opportunities to play. (I may be paraphrasing.) Still, there seems to be an assumption made by these well-meaning family members, doctors, strangers and busybodies that school is and should be the place where kids socialize. Adults reason that if you corral 20-30 odd same age children in a room for 6 hours and forbid them to talk with one another, the hijinks are bound to ensue. Or they remember with fondness their own dodgeball prowess or their mastery of the jungle gym, and these memories of a few brief moments erase or compensate for the rest of the drudgery. I am not arguing that parents who choose to send their kids to school are sending them off to work in coal mines. More, I am saying that schools are not the optimal place for socializing. It is, for this reason, that there are so many after school and enrichment activities for all of our busy little beavers. You see, homeschoolers enroll their children in sports, art, science, acting, singing, dancing and myriad competitions just like their brick and mortar parent counterparts. In fact, homeschoolers have the freedom and luxury to be able to alter their schedules to accommodate whatever social needs or desires their kids have. And while it is absolutely true that not being in school means that homeschool kids have a smaller pool of potential friends to draw from, it is also true that their friendships generally develop as a result of shared interests with people of all ages. In other words, homeschool children are being socialized to learn how to establish mature friendships, the kind that are not simply based on proximity or sameness.
There have been many stories in the news of late which are all about people, in a sense, losing their humanity. Children of increasingly younger ages no longer play with one another. Adults become technology "friends" and forget how to truly share their hearts with one another. We vie with one another to be liked for vapid comments and reassure ourselves with cute animal pictures just to be certain that we can make connections and still feel something. Ironically, the fact that we can "share" any and all information about ourselves so easily has created a generation of narcissists who believe that every aspect of their daily existence must be fascinating to everyone around them. Our children are swept up in this phenomenon as well. We cart them from one activity to the next, each designed to supply some missing element in their lives. We direct their every moment and act as though any second spent without structure, without visual or verbal or social input is a failure. We believe, as a culture, that the world has the responsibility to constantly entertain or be entertained by us. So if we are not twittering or gramming or chatting with one another, we are joining each other on imaginary battlefields or amassing and hoarding various forms of virtual wealth and power. In this climate of dissociative associations, it seems kind of disingenuous to me to have strangers question the social impact of homeschool. We have bigger problems. So, let's return to the original question: What about socialization?
When I began this piece, I mentioned that people often confuse socialization with socializing. I began by making a distinction between the two. However, the words are confused not only because they sound so similar, but also because there is a relationship between them. The manner in which we socialize, how we play, how we interact, how we entertain ourselves and each other, and what we believe about these things is instrumental in what we interpret to be the correct way to behave. In other words, we use play (just as we use humor) to establish the boundaries of what is acceptable and as the means through which power is and should be stratified. Increasingly, it seems that children have lost the ability to empathize with one another. It is as though they interpret their lives to be cinema spectaculars peopled by extras in which they are the one and only stars. Everyone seems to be ready for their close-ups at the drop of a hat. This self-absorption has far-reaching consequences. We are seeing children willing to bully their peers into committing suicide without showing a bit of remorse. We see embattled boys who believe that the best way to solve a social problem is to strap on weapons and go to war. We increasingly see boys who believe that rape without consequence is a perk of popularity (and see adults who reinforce this), and we see girls who believe that sex is social currency. These social woes are hardly new, but new forms of media in which a story can travel the world in an instant make their impact more dramatic. This means that the majority of both socializing and socialization, for good or ill, occur outside of the classroom.
So, let's return to those poor earnest people in first paragraph who have now moved on from the obligatory question about socialization to the question about how my poor deprived children will ever learn how to stand in a line properly or learn how to walk single file. (Seriously. I get asked that question all of the time.) And while this question sounds infinitely more ridiculous than couching the whole issue as one of "socialization," it is, finally, the heart of the matter. You see, the concern about homeschoolers and socialization is not derived from a recognition that we, as a culture, are failing to socialize our children so that they can grow to become healthy, well-balanced adults with deep and meaningful friendships and stable relationships. The true concern is that our children will not learn to be meek; will not learn to accept authority without question; will not learn to give up their seats to sit at the back of the bus. Our children might not know that they need to ask for permission to tend to their bodily functions; might not understand that they need to raise their hands to have an opinion or make a point; might not know how to color in the lines; might not understand that there is a table for cool kids and they're not invited. This is the "real world" of our concerned questioners, the one they say we're sheltering our kids from, this world in which we dare not dream or defy. And while our educational system teaches our children about visionaries, artists, adventurers, explorers, scientists and revolutionaries, it also teaches them that this is the stuff of legend. Instead, we create a house of mirrors where those students who are variations on a theme, those who most able to reflect back what we want to see are the most popular, the most intelligent, the least medicated. So, my fellow homeschoolers, when you get asked "What about socialization?" feel free to give a sympathetic nod, maybe a pat on the back and say, "Exactly!"
Testing the Standard
In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.
Imagine that little Billy has been enrolled in a cooking class for the last 6 months. Over that amount of time he's learned all kinds of amazing cooking techniques. Now the time has come for him to produce one final masterpiece to exhibit his skills. All of his knives and cooking tools are laid out neatly on the counter. The fresh, wholesome ingredients gleam in the light, beckoning to be used. The oven is set. Billy steps up to the counter, hair pulled back and covered, hands washed, apron on and then whips out a number two pencil and starts to fill in a Scantron sheet.
I was visiting relatives a few months ago, and while they have cautiously warmed a bit toward homeschool, one of the things they find most difficult to understand is how I can ensure that my kids are learning if I do not make them take standardized tests. How, they fret, do I know that my children are learning what they need to become productive members of society. To me, it's an absurd question. When my kids learned to walk, I knew about it because one moment they were taking tentative, wobbly steps and the next they were walking across the room. I acknowledge, however, that it may be a bit more difficult to verify mastery in something like, say, algebra than it is to verify whether or not my youngest can write her alphabet, but the principle is the same. The strategy motivating all testing is identical: you set tasks for your students to accomplish, and if they can accomplish the tasks, they pass the test. I recognize, however, that what motivates the question of how I know whether or not my kids are learning if I do not use standardized testing is more a question about authority and social sanctioning that it is about learning. So, to truly answer this question, we have to investigate the pros and cons of standardized testing, explore other options for testing knowledge, and consider whether or not testing as it is conducted by our educational system actually encourages or confirms that a subject has been learned.
One of the reasons why the use of standardized tests is so hotly contested is because it can be shown that there are frequently contradictory and opposing benefits and deficits in terms of using the tests.
Tests provide incentives for students to learn.
Often, kids find themselves more motivated
to retain information when they know that they
will be tested on the material.
Standardized tests allow you to be able to have
an objective way of comparing your student's
proficiency against a nationwide pool of
Standardized tests test the same content for
all students, so they are a fair way of measuring
Standardized tests are easy and efficient to
administer. Because they are created by outside
sources, they take no time away from
instruction to develop, take very little time
to administer, and no class time to grade.
Tests do not guarantee long term retention or
achievement. In spite of radical government
overhauls of education in which testing
has become more frequent, national student
performance has not improved.
Standardized tests may limit educational
options. Rather than students being allowed to
explore their interests, they may be forced to
only study those materials measured by the test.
Not all students have the same access to
educational excellence and differences
within school systems are not taken into account
by the tests.
The efficiency of the standardized test is derived
from its multiple choice format. The multiple
choice format relies on only the most basic
problem solving skills and rote response abilities.
For school systems who need to have some way of measuring student and teacher performance and quantifying educational results, the benefits of using standardized testing may outweigh the deficits. Unfortunately, many studies have shown that he primary thing that students learn from taking standardized tests is how to take tests rather than the material being tested. In other words, the learning that is supposed to inform the test is hijacked by the test itself.
So, let's return to Billy who is still waiting by the counter with his number 2 pencil, Scantron sheet and counter full of ingredients. Common sense would seem to dictate that the best way to test whether or not Billy knows how to cook is to allow him to prepare his recipe and then evaluate his performance. And the bonus is you can eat the test.
The point of all of this is that standardized tests, particularly in a homeschool setting, can often be replaced with other evaluative methods. Here are a few that we use in our homeschool:
1. Make or do something -- Over the summer, I usually have the kids switch over to projects based learning. They set goals, carry out experiments, make models, take notes, gather samples and explore their worlds. Over the process of the project, each child has to research, problem solve and record results. We've made rockets and catapults and trebuchets. We've gardened and hiked and taken countless pictures. We've dessicated Cornish hens, pressed flowers, created culinary masterpieces. Mostly, though, we've had fun.
2. Shout it out – One of the best parts of learning is sharing it with others. Take pictures, make a magazine, write a newspaper, create a website. Not only will your children have records of their accomplishments, but sharing with others may ignite even more passion for learning.
3. Be Spartacus – Contests and competitions are excellent ways to test what your kids know. My son loves the annual science fair not just because it provides him with an opportunity to be recognized for his knowledge and skills, but also because he can apply his expertise creatively. We love 4-H precisely because it encourages exploring passions and then providing evidence of learning through a variety of disciplines.
4. Sing a song – If you have musically inclined children, another great way to show what they know is to create music of some kind. Granted, our Rock Cycle Rap may never top the charts, but it was fun to do and required a number of skills.
5. Get your move on – A lot of kids, particularly those who are very young, enjoy moving. My youngest is a constant blur of running, hopping, skipping, and wiggling. It's easy to tape a grid on the floor and have your child answer a question and then skip or slide or spin to the next spot. In my house, we dance grammar, clap out spelling and jump math.
6. Teach it forward – Last summer, my son volunteered to help with the local gardening program for kids. The best part of the experience for him was being allowed to teach the younger kids what he had learned about gardening and caring for plants. He even got to lead a workshop on the nutritional benefits of chia seed. Of course, not every interest will have a built in teaching opportunity, but we often pull out the video camera and make recordings of my son showing other kids how to build, make or do something.
Our ambition when we educate our children is to ensure that they will have the skills necessary to excel in any occupation that choose. Proficiency on a job is rarely proved by filling in a bubble sheet. We don't ask our emergency room doctors to stop caring for a patient so that they can respond to a multiple choice quiz. Instead, we anticipate that once people have achieved mastery, their performance will reflect this. In denying students a chance to truly show what they know, we do both them and their teachers a disservice.