You have decided to take the plunge–you are going to become a homeschooler! You have some idea of why you wish to homeschool, and what you would like to achieve through homeschooling. It’s time to consider how you wish to approach homeschooling. Many homeschoolers try to ask about specific books or curriculum plans, but before diving into those specifics, it’s important to think about what kind of homeschooling family you might be, because this will impact what materials (if any) you download or purchase!
Breaking out of the walls of a traditional classroom means that you have the ability to break out of the traditional routines and restrictions placed on classroom learning. Although you are obligated to provide a “substantially equivalent education” for your child or children, how you choose to approach this and what that will look like is now entirely up to you and your family–and it need not bear any resemblance to a classroom. There are many ways to approach homeschooling; here we will introduce you to a brief overview of several. Note that you can continue to broaden your research from here–no list of this type can be comprehensive, and even among homeschoolers there is often some disagreement about terminology and rigidity of certain definitions. Again, it will come back around to you. The only things you can encounter that are truly “wrong” in homeschooling are educational neglect–failing to educate your child–and dogmatic definitions of terms, or an attempt to apply one definition to all families. In fact, most homeschool families ultimately utilize a blend of several of the following approaches (listed in alphabetical order):
- Charlotte Mason: Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the mid-to late 1800’s who had definite ideas about how children should learn and live. She advocated short lessons, plenty of engaging literature, sunlight, and plenty of activity, among other elements. Her approach is compatible with many other methods of homeschooling. Her original writings are written from a religious viewpoint, but her basic ideas are appreciated by homeschoolers of all backgrounds.
- Classical Homeschooling: A classical approach to homeschooling provides an emphasis on a logical progression of child development through the stages of grammar (usually the elementary years, with emphasis on acquisition of facts, when kids love learning to name all the dinosaurs– or Pokémon– and will readily absorb lists of facts, and love to learn through games and play) logic (usually the middle grades, around ages 10-13/14, where the emphasis gradually shifts to making connections between ideas, beginning to write more, and revisiting topics from the grammar stage in far more depth) and rhetoric (the high school years, or roughly ages 14-18, when the focus shifts to forming and analyzing powerful arguments, supporting ideas with external sources, increasingly independent learning in some subjects, and much deeper exploration of topics). A classical homeschooler avoids asking a grammar-stage student to write a persuasive essay, viewing such an exercise as developmentally inappropriate, preferring to expose the grammar student to examples of excellent writing, putting off argumentation for the later years. Many classical homeschoolers emphasize classical literature, history, grammar, arts, music, and languages throughout their homeschooling years, while still placing proper focus on math and sciences as an integrated, important part of an overall educational plan.
- Eclectic: An eclectic homeschooler simply refers to a homeschooler who utilizes ideas from several different homeschool philosophies. In reality, most homeschoolers end up somewhat eclectic in approach!
- Online: There is a range of online education available to homeschoolers, from ala carte single course offerings, to vendors who will teach every subject, create transcripts and report cards, offer electives, and provide grading. Be aware that accreditation doesn’t mean much, and is not an indicator of quality, so do your own homework if you find online schooling is right for your family. Remember that even if your child is fully enrolled online for all schooling, in the state of Delaware you are still required to open a homeschool and complete annual attendance and enrollment confirmation.
- School at Home: School at Home can be a very charged term; it is often used disparagingly to imply someone isn’t “a real homeschooler.” We discourage this disparaging usage, as some families find they are happiest simply following the familiar routines and expectations set by the local schools, and homeschooling is supposed to be about finding out what works for you and your child. Families who school at home have set start and end times, possibly set times for each subject, dedicated workspace or even school desks, and follow either roughly or precisely the subjects covered by their local school, right down to tracking grade to grade promotions and graduation requirements. While following a SAH philosophy in detail is not a common approach, many homeschoolers do find some elements of the SAH approach helpful, responding well to predictable scheduling and the peace of mind that comes from following common standards.
- School in a Box: This approach is often easiest for new homeschoolers who are not yet sure of what to do, but are not confident about taking a slow build-up approach to homeschooling (or are starting homeschooling in the later years and don’t want to lose several months with graduation looming on the horizon). It can also be helpful to homeschoolers who simply find that they succeed better if they have help with planning and scheduling. School in a box means purchasing everything–the plan, the daily schedules, and either all of the books or a complete list of books to purchase or borrow– in one package. A well-designed School in a Box is flexible enough to allow for different learning levels across different subjects, as most homeschool students find they are not truly in one “grade” in every subject.
- Unschooling: Unschooling has as many definitions as it has participants, but a common thread is child-led learning in which the student’s interests guide the educational process. We tend to remember things with which we have a strong positive or negative emotional connection, and unschoolers try to tap into this effect by tying learning into their child’s natural interests. Some unschoolers translate this approach into providing library materials and resources that match their child’s interests within a structured school day; others watch to see what the child engages in with little parental direction, and then extend that activity to provide some guidance, turning a baking session into a lesson on fractions, or a Lego session into arithmetic or an engineering lab, or a day in the woods into a nature study, phys ed, physics lab, hydrology lab, history lesson, geology study, and weather study all wrapped into one. Still others simply provide a wide array of rich learning environments and simple downtime, and observe and interact as their children explore. Unschooling is not, however, synonymous with “no schooling.” Many homeschoolers incorporate some unschooling ideas into their homeschool philosophy.
Ready to read more about homeschooling, from the overall approach to the day to day how-to’s? Start with this reading list!