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  • Angela Eve

"So I'm thinking of homeschooling... now what?" Part 1: Terms and approaches

This is quite the crazy time we find ourselves in. When this virus first dominated our newsfeeds, and we witnessed the partial or complete shut down of our governments, our schools, our healthcare systems, and businesses, I think most of us assumed all would return to normal in quick order. However, as time has passed (months now) clarity on the issue has become more illusive than at the start. So although many places are re-opening, they are doing so tentatively, with new boundaries, and regulations. At the very least they are 'achem' sterilizing much of the joy and freedom we previously took for granted. True normal does not look to be anywhere in sight.

In light of “necessary” procedures that are being proposed for education, it is no wonder that many of you are considering homeschooling rather than the highly sterile environments, or on line distance options, that are likely to be offered now and for the foreseeable future.

I want to commend all of you who are facing this head on. I have great respect for you moms who have had to navigate this thing with no warning, and have helped your families thrive through this crisis.

As a gift to you who are questioning the future, and are curious about homeschooling, I have decided to put together a few entries to act as an introduction to homeschooling. As with any group of society, there are certain terms and such that are known to them, but not to the general public. I will help you out with some of the main terms and methods, so you have a starting point. Did you know that school-at-home is only 1 of 7 different approaches to homeshcooling?! I am so excited to open these doors for you.

Homeschool terms:

School: something you do, not a place you go.

De-school: a period of time set aside without any set academics for a previously schooled child to relax and learn who they are outside of the school environment.

Why is this important? This time period may on the surface seem like a waste of time, but it allows the child to get rid of any preconceived ideas where it comes to school. This will make way for more creativity, ownership, and freedom in their education. It also allows you, the parent, to get rid of your own preconceived ideas, and figure out for yourself what direction this journey can go.

As I have stated in a previous entry, learning at home is vastly different than in a school environment. It requires a paradigm shift, which will take some time. This time is not wasted, but will bring peace and clarity for future direction and planning.

Mastery learning: Rather than giving a child a grade, many homeschool parents will make sure their child has a complete mastery of the subject matter before moving onto the next level. Can the child explain the concepts or material to you in detail without error? Do they know the material 100%? This is mastery learning. No grades, just mastery.

Read Aloud: This is self explanatory in action, but the benefits are not. Reading aloud is a key component of many homeschool families. It increases literacy, comprehension, complex grammar and sentence structure, vocabulary, as well as creating a bond between the reader and the listeners.

This mom created an incredible pod-cast and website around the topic (she is also my go-to for reading lists):

Morning baskets: Simply put, it is a time of learning together first thing in the day. A pile of gentle and beautiful books will be set aside for this early learning. Bible reading, poetry, stories, and history books are some of the options to use during this time. The children can colour or doodle while mom and older children take turns reading. Then discussions can happen throughout. If you are curious about how to make this work, pinterest has lots of ideas.

7 main methods of Homeschooling (in no particular order):

1. Classical: This method focuses on reading through history, science and art chronologically using great old texts. It uses levels of learning ability by age rather than grade levels. These levels are: facts and data in elementary school, logic and critical thinking in Jr high, and rhetoric and self-expression in high school. In place of tests and worksheets, children develop the ability to have meaningful discussions on the things they have read. This is one of the oldest approaches to education (Greek, Latin, and Hebrew roots). Some who use this approach still include learning these languages in their studies.

This chronological method of learning allows for children to gain a greater understanding of history's patterns including the ups and downs of human history, how and when discoveries were made, what brought on the destruction of societies, or their breakthroughs etc.

If you love classic literature, or if you view the bible and history as an important base to education this may be the right approach for your family.

2. Charlotte Mason: Again, this method trades in tests and worksheets (with rote answers) for discussion and other creative presentations. It focuses on the child talking about or recording what they have read. An emphasis is placed on reading great literature, biographies, and living books (stories that include historical fiction with an emphasis on honour, faith, and character) over text books. This method comes with a number of terms that need to be explained. Some of these methods are also used by those who use the classical education method.

Nature walks: Taking the time to walk through a park, forest, marsh, etc is important for observation and learning.

Nature journaling: Recording what has been observed on nature walks through words and drawings. It is a great exercise to observe the same area every day for a month (or more) to witness and record the changes.

Journaling & Portfolios: For science and history, creating portfolios and journals act as an alternative to worksheets and tests. The child will draw and record what is learned daily with an emphasis on key facts and what was important for them. These home made books become treasures rather than the typical worksheets that are trashed.

Narration: Quite simply, getting the child to tell you what they (or you) just read in their own words. This is easily done as a family. Start with the youngest child, and work your way to the oldest. This works for bible readings, story readings, history readings, and science. For younger children it is best to do narration after a short amount of reading, while older children can narrate after a larger amount of reading.

Copywork: Writing out a passage from the bible or a great literature book word for word. This increases skills such as penmanship, spelling, and grammar, while helping the child memorize passages at the same time.

Living Books: Books that use a narrative style (story) to engage your emotions and mind in the subject matter, making remembrance easier.

Dictation: The child writes what the parent/teacher says out loud. This is used mostly for spelling and grammar practice or review. For example the parent would say "But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs." (C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia). The child would then repeat it in their head or out loud, and then write it down using proper spelling and punctuation.

If you love journaling, reading aloud to your kids, and talking through what you are learning together, this may be the right approach for you!

3. Montessori: This method I am the least familiar with. It is a humanistic approach that has it's roots in child psychology. It uses large blocks of creative play time, and tactile (physical objects) learning. It is less structured, is highly child focused but still greatly intentional. To do it properly a parent would need to be educated and certified. It is also used only for younger years. That being said, a parent could learn and implement components into their child's day. It is praised for it's effectiveness with children with special needs as well as those who are gifted and are bored by regular school.

If you have a drive to learn a new method of teaching, and you have a child with a special need of hands on learning, this may be the best approach for you!

4. Unschooling: This method is also more humanistic in nature. It is freeflow oriented, allowing the child to discover and delve into their passions and interests at an early age. This can allow a child to master a skill very early in life. The parent/teacher does not buy curriculum, nor do they tell the child what to read or learn. They allow the child to learn what they desire to learn at whatever pace they choose. They provide a rich environment of materials and experiences from which the child can draw from and expand on. The idea behind this philosophy is that authentic living is an opportunity to learn, and we do not need to provide artificial learning.

Strewing: Deliberately and strategically leaving out items around the home for children in order to spark an interest or encourage learning.

John Holt & Pat Farenga, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, 1st Paperback Ed. (De Capo Press, 2003).

Comments on unschooling:

If you are nervous about “learning gaps” or are a very structured family, this is likely not for you. I would still encourage you to look into this method, if only to broaden your view of what education can look like for your child and your family. As a Christian, it is biblically sound to want to “train up a child in the way they should go” in faith, morrality and education. It feels anti-Christian to entertain this “loose” teaching style. However, you can still support and guide your child as they discover who and what God created them to be. Perhaps the extreme complete handing over the reigns is not the Christian approach, but this method does put more ownership into the child's hands, and helps us parents to be more open and aware of where our children's gifting and abilities lie.

If you want to support your child in deciding what they want learn, or if you are more of a free spirit and do not want to be confined to curriculum, this approach may be the best fit for your family!

5. School-at-home: This is literally doing school at home as it is done at school. This is where you would buy boxed curriculum that covers all the same things, in the same order, as a school would provide. Each child has their own level of history, english, science, geography, english, etc. Books, questions, and tests are the general method used. This is most often where homeschool families start, as it is the closest to what they are used to and comfortable with. It necessitates a more rigorous schedule, and learning cannot be shared across grade levels. Many homeschool families create a wonderful routine and continue with this method for the duration of their children's education. This method can be the most time consuming, and often the most expensive. A couple examples of these curriculum choices would be Abeka or, which is an online option.

If you are a very structured family, and don't mind your school days lasting a few extra hours, then this may be the best option for your family. Also if you know you want to homeschool on the short term, this will ensure your child stays on the same trek as school kids.

6. Unit studies: This method incorporates as many subjects as possible into a single unit of study. Incorporating science, history, geography, math and literature into a single unit is valuable, as it teaches the interconnectedness of the fields of study. It is also tremendously fun to play games, read books, watch movies, etc all on the same subject matter. Better yet, it can allow all the kids in the house to be working on the same project. The older kids can research and write details, while the younger ones do colouring sheets and crafts, and the middle kids help with an incorporated meal. This method is also more child led. It is incredible to watch a child pour their enthusiasm into a subject they are passionate about.

lapbook: a file folder that is folded so you can open it like a double door, and is filled with mini books of information. This can be printed information or home made. Think mini science fair board. These are also a great alternative to reports for book studies. if you are curious about lapbooks, again pinterest is full of fun ideas.

If you like the idea of incorporating different fields of study together, or simply spending large periods of time on one topic, this may be the right approach for your family.

7. Eclectic Education (sometimes called relaxed homeschooling): The eclectic homeschool uses pieces of some or all of the methodologies to teach their children. For example an eclectic family may use a boxed curriculum for math, while doing unit studies for science, and a Charlotte Mason history approach of reading aloud all together and discussing and journaling, while allowing the children to read whatever books they desire for english. Simply put, an eclectic home is not married to any particular methodology or curriculum, but will constantly share, learn, and adapt to their children and their family's needs. They will change things from year to year, or even week to week.

If you do not like to be put into a box, or if you are a learn as you go type of person, this may be the best homeschool method for you and your family!

It's a journey!

It will likely take a long time to find your homeschool groove. Each kid is different. You can use all the same curriculum for all your kids to start off, in fact this is likely the best starting point. But don't feel you have to stay there. Don't be a slave to your curriculum. Feel free to skip, add, or ditch as needed. Watch where your kids are struggling, and feel free to try something new.

As you sit down to assess your children, you may find one or more of your children are behind. Do not feel the need to push your child into the next grade if they are not ready. It is completely normal to redo a year your first year of homeschooling. Many homeschool curriculum are advanced. Whatever you choose to go with, trust where your child places on their placement assessment. I switched language curriculum for my middle child this year, and realized that she did not know enough to do her grade level. So we redid kindergarten with the new curriculum. Her reading skills and confidence are now the better for it. We are finished for the year, but she was able to work her way through about 40 of the lessons for the next level. So we may be able to "catch up" to grade level next year.

Enjoy the Process!

Have fun exploring your options, and putting together a plan. I have said in a previous entry that we follow a movable daily plan, rather than a rigid schedule. Although this is true, I still put together a plan for the “ideal day” and “ideal week”. I include all subjects, time for projects, groups, etc. Even though I know we will not follow this to the letter, it is useful for me to have as a guide.

Many types of homeschooling families:

Many of the websites, blogs, and books I have read focus on figuring out how to best teach each individual child. I do agree that it is amazing to be able to do so, however I want to highlight that no individual child is an island, and what works for him/her has to fit into the greater unit of your family. Keep that in mind as you begin looking at different methods and approaches. Also, and this is extremely important, whatever you choose has to work for YOU. I have found through using different curriculum and approaches over the years, that there are simply some things that will not work for me. Being at peace with my own personality, and my own limitations is just as important to what we are learning as using what works for each of my children. It is easy to see the fancy projects on pinterest or the highest academic excellence curriculum a friend uses for their children, and feel you are limiting your kids. This is not the case. Children will learn and grow in an environment that is healthy and intentional. Finding resources and approaches that work for you and the dynamics of your home are key to having a successful year. Don't worry about the glitter and the extremes.

One final point: regardless of what path you choose, please be careful to respect other families. I have incredible moms in my life that have their kids in school, others who use highly rigorous curriculum, others who completely unschool. None of these approaches are the path I have chosen, however I deeply admire each of these women and the ways they pour into their families. Lets all support each other in our diversity.

My next entry will have reviews of the various curriculum I have used. I will include recommendations, and links in there as well. In the mean time I encourage you to look into some of these approaches. Knowing your preferred approach will help you to narrow down your curriculum choices.

From my slightly less lock-down home to yours,

be blessed, choose joy, and stay sane!

Angela Eve

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