Homeschooling Basics – 4 Popular Approaches

Homeschooling can seem like an overwhelming concept. Anyone who has searched the internet with an interest in homeschooling or attended a homeschool convention will quickly feel like they are drowning in information. Add to this the potential for homeschooling to come across as a weird cult of strange (and at times prideful) parents who want to convince you why you should be doing the same thing they are, the topic can become both confusing and controversial. Andi and I rarely talk or write about our journey in homeschooling and that is intentional. My sister is homeschooling her daughter and I’m thankful that she does not employ the endlessly annoying habit of having nothing else to talk about on social media or otherwise. (By the way, this isn’t limited to homeschooling. If you are selling a product or are passionate about some kind of healthy lifestyle option or any other “cause”, folks do not want to hear about it every 30 minutes through yet another Facebook status update).

Having said that, Andi and I have been receiving questions about homeschooling. I thought it might be helpful for those praying through the possibility to know 4 popular approaches to homeschooling. There are, of course, more than four and I will be painting in broad strokes here. But for the most part, homeschooling typically follows one of these approaches:

1. Traditional
This is probably the approach you grew up learning under. Traditional education is textbook based and is concerned primarily with learning and memorizing facts. There will be a different textbook for each subject and students will be tested, and graded, based on how well they have memorized and understood the information. The lecture is an important component of traditional education.

2. Classical
The primary goal of classical education is to teach a student to think for themselves. This is typically accomplished by incorporating a “Trivium” model of child development. This model breaks child development and education down into three stages:  Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. The grammar stage is somewhat similar to traditional education and students begin to learn about the world around them, increase their vocabulary, and build knowledge. The logic stage begins to bring in the “why” question, usually around age 10-13. The rhetoric stage begins to sharpen communication and application, usually around age 13-18. Classical education desires to set off a spark in a child to deepen their desire to continue the learning process and keep thinking for themselves.

3. Charlotte Mason
Named after the British educator, this approach uses literature and “living books” instead of textbooks. Living books are usually narrative in form and are used to touch the student’s emotions and imagination. Ideas are emphasized over dry facts. The Charlotte Mason approach is based on the belief that parents must educate the whole person, not just the mind. Thus, “atmosphere”, “discipline” and “life” are three areas heavily targeted. Atmosphere being the child’s surroundings (what do they hear, what do they see at home?), discipline being the cultivation of good habits, and life being the concept of bringing living ideas and thoughts to the academic world.

4. Unit
The unit approach is at times incorporated into the other approaches, but it seeks to take a single topic and let all other academic disciplines circle around that topic. So, on a particular day a student might be in a unit topic of trees. Science, math, literature, social studies, and the rest would be taught through the lens of a tree. Then, for physical education, a student might go outside and climb a tree, etc.  Unit studies are also referred to as “cross-curriculum.”

When you begin to explore the various homeschool curriculum options available for parents, most will make fairly clear which model their curriculum embraces. For example, Sonlight is a popular curriculum option that describes their learning process like this: “Literature-based learning is an educational philosophy based on children’s natural curiosity and love for stories. We use outstanding books as the centerpiece for learning. We also help you teach from the perspective of God’s truth and His love for all people.” This would fall in the category of a Charlotte Mason approach. A Beka, on the other hand, is a popular homeschool curriculum option that provides a traditional approach to homeschooling. Some combine different elements from the approaches above, and some parents prefer to be “eclectic”, which means they pick and choose every subject from different providers based on their desire for that particular topic.  

Andi and I are choosing to primarily align with the Charlotte Mason approach, but are blending it with classical and unit flavors as well. We both believe that books and stories are essential and primary for sparking the mind and planting deep educational roots. Thus, for example, when I have worship or bible study with the kids, my goal is to read them the story and then instead of giving them a 10 question exam, I have them repeat the story back to me in their own words. I ask them what parts of the story excite them, scare them, or confuse them. And so on. For Callie Grace, this is working beautifully. For Justus Gary, he is beginning to catch on and is listening more intently so he can share the story back to me. For Eli Andrew, he is usually throwing pillows and running into things. Oh well!

Andi and I are going to be reaching out to fellow homeschool parents in our community a bit more this school year. We promise not to annoy you to death and will certainly respect whatever educational decision you make with your children. Nevertheless, we are here to be a resource and to learn together about the journey of homeschooling. Grace and Peace.

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