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How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum: A beginner’s guide (Part 2)

Textbook and curriculum publishing companies go to great lengths to assure us that we must buy their products if we expect our children to be properly educated. . . . In the midst of all this, it can be difficult for a new homeschooling family to think that an alternative approach is possible.—Earl Stevens, The Natural Child Project

When I consult with a family, I first ask a series of questions. Often the parents have already started homeschooling or are bringing their children home from public school. If your children are starting school for the first time, you may not know the answers to these questions.

1. Do they have any learning struggles?

2. Is there any learning activity or subject that causes them stress?

3. Do they like workbooks?

4. How well do they work independently?

5. Are they distracted by overly decorated pages or computer programs with flashy images?

6. Do they comprehend instructions well?

By answering the questions in part one of this guide, combined what you know of the questions above, you can now consider a method, or style, of homeschooling to pursue. Some children love the structure of textbook or workbook assignments. They require little instruction from you and enjoy working independently. Others need lessons for a different learning style like something hands-on or highly visual.

You can find advocates for every style of homeschooling, but I caution you against forming a strong loyalty to a certain method. Instead, consider the way your child learns best, how much time you have to work with your children, and what resources are available to you. Here’s a quick look at some popular homeschooling methods.

Traditional method

A traditional curriculum purchased for all subjects will cover all recommended skills for each grade level. Most come complete with teachers guides, answer keys, textbooks and/or consumable workbooks, and whatever else you’ll need for the school year. An exception would be when you need to separately purchase science experiment supplies. Some programs include grading options along with a record-keeping system.

This method is based on a 36 week school year. Subjects are learned by studying chapters followed by quizzes, and a test at the end of each unit.

Unschooling method

Unschooling allows for a child’s interest to determine the course of study. For instance, if your child is interested in hummingbirds, she’ll spend time reading about, drawing, watching, and whatever else she can do to learn about hummingbirds. Once curiosity wanes, show find another subject that interests her. Few or no textbooks are used.

Unschooling is known by different names but one of the best names it is self-directed learning. To unschool, you’ll take the child’s interest into account instead of the norms traditional schools have put into place. Also, unschoolers are uninhibited by rigorous course structure and have ample time to pursue the arts, hobbies, or business in an entrepreneurial style. The unschooling movement was widely promoted through John Holt's book Growing Without Schooling.

Classical method

This method first became popular through Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind. The classical approach is based on the Trivium, a method of teaching children according to the phases of a child’s cognitive development: concrete, analytical, and abstract. Great works of literature are studied along with rhetoric and logic.

The Classical method is often referred to as “leadership education” because it builds skills needed for leadership. Each subject is practiced using logic, debate, public speaking, reasoning, research, writing, and communication. All of these subjects intertwine.

Charlotte Mason method

Characteristics of Mason’s method are divided into three equal parts: 1. ideas that rule your life, such as the atmosphere in the home and your beliefs; 2. the discipline of cultivating good habits in your child’s life; and 3. giving children living thoughts and ideas instead of a list of facts.

A standout feature of this method is the use of living books described as “living conversational or narrative style”. These books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and the facts. A guide to this method can be found at Simply Charlotte Mason.

Unit study method

Unit studies combine multiple learning styles, subjects, and grade levels. You can create your own or purchase guides. Topical unit study examples include subjects such as space exploration, westward expansion, the American civil war, and many others. Some are based on a book, or book series such as The Little House on the Prairie series.

When using a unit study to teach several ages at once, older students will work at higher levels or complete additional assignments. A short study will last one week and a longer study, six to eight weeks. Combine kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and reading/writing skills into each study. That way, everyone will shine in their strong areas and be challenged in weaker ones.

Give yourself time before making the first decisions

Understanding how you want to approach homeschooling will help you choose a program to follow. Look for online groups in each method you’re interested in, then join and ask questions. It’s also a good idea to attend a homeschool conference where you can get a hands-on look before purchasing.

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