There is lots of talk about what type of style people use when homeschooling, but what are they, really, and how do you choose one? The first thing to do when choosing a homeschool style is to consider your parenting style and what you know about learning. If you are more comfortable with a lot of structure and feel the need to know exactly what your kids are learning then you should start with a more structured style of homeschooling. Over time, though, most families become more relaxed as they gain confidence in homeschooling and in their kids’ abilities to learn with ease when not being forced to learn. You’re not at school and you have the freedom to do something completely different.
A lot of people start out in a traditional style, trying to do “school at home.” This is what most people think of when they imagine homeschooling, with the kids sitting at desks or a table all day working on a curriculum while the parent instructs. This can also be the most expensive way to homeschool, and one with the highest burnout rate. What do you do when your kids rightly rebel against boring curricula that may or may not be on their actual skill (and interest) level, even if it’s at their supposed grade level? You can force the issue and make everyone miserable, or you can give up and feel like a failure.
Not to worry, there are other ways to homeschool that don’t lead down that path! Learning happens best when it’s pursued by the student; don’t chase the student down and try to force that learning into them. Most families I know have ended up with what is termed an eclectic style, which just means that they use different styles at different times for different kids.
It’s useful to know a little about the styles so you and your family can choose together what is going to work best. Three types of homeschooling styles are fairly structured and use discussion instead of tests: Classical, based on memorization, discussion and persuasive arguments; Charlotte Mason, based on classic literature, time in nature, and discussion; and Thomas Jefferson, based on classic literature again, mentors, real world application of knowledge, and inspiring instead of requiring work.
Unit studies is a style that focuses on one main subject at a time, for example volcanoes. Then everything is related to volcanoes: where to find them geographically, how they were formed geologically, the ecology and biology of areas surrounding them, volcanoes and human history, even measuring them mathematically. Taking a hike in a lava field can even count for physical education. Then move on to lakes or another subject of interest.
The Montessori method is very structured in the setup of the learning environment, where everything is set up in areas, and it is more open-ended in letting students choose whichever areas interest them right then. It also stresses that there are no mistakes, only learning.
Unschooling is the least structured style of homeschooling, focusing on giving students the freedom and responsibility to learn about what interests them. The parents’ role in unschooling is to facilitate learning, to help look things up and provide support where needed.
What we do
We provide curiosity and interest. We foster the idea that learning is fun, that the whole family loves to get in on learning things. We model this by being interested in what they are all finding out about, and in suggesting ways to find out more or explore further. Sometimes a surface understanding is all that interests them for the moment, sometimes they will come back to a subject months later to find out more, and sometimes they just jump right in and delve deeply into a subject. Here are some examples.
Currently our oldest son has a passion for music. When we saw how dedicated he was to playing piano we moved up from a keyboard to an actual piano and squeezed it into our small house. We don’t push him to practice, he loves to play and pushes himself. Just because I thought he might be interested, I took him to a Gamelan workshop, where we learned to play Indonesian ensemble music. He loved that, too, and has signed up for lessons.
Our middle son made games for years. He made card games and board games and video games, and we joined a board game design club. Then he discovered Dungeons and Dragons and doesn’t make physical games anymore. Now he is caught up in learning about storylines and how to interest his gamers and what works when trying to get everyone moving in the same direction.
Our youngest son loves electronics, so we buy him books and wires and resistors and LEDs and let him take apart old fans and phones and cameras. It’s not exactly the usual kindergarten curriculum, but I have no doubt that he is learning every day. He’s even learning to read and write by copying circuit diagrams from his book on electronics.
Choose what works for you
There is no one right way to homeschool. Each family, and each child in the family, is unique. Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to make learning fun and interesting in the way that best works for your family. Go out and play!