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Homeschooling methods: How to find the right approach for your family

Kori Ellis is an editor and writer based in San Antonio, TX, where she lives with her husband and four children. At SheKnows, she writes about parenting, fashion, beauty and other lifestyle topics. Additionally, Kori has been published i...

What works for you?

As homeschooling increases in popularity, more methods emerge and more types of curriculum become available. Your approach to homeschooling may evolve as you educate your children, but you should select a method (or a combination of methods) for a general direction when you begin homeschooling. Here are some of the most common homeschooling methods and some tips to find the right one for your family.

Traditional method

With traditional homeschooling, your homeschool is extremely similar to a regular public school in teaching method, curriculum, grading and other aspects. The only real difference is your children are being taught at home, rather than at school. This method is good for parents who are looking for a lot of structure with set coursework and typical curriculum.

Classical education method

Author Dorothy Sayers' essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, is the basis of this Christian homeschooling method. The core of Classical Education is the trivium -- a teaching model that tailors the curriculum to a child's cognitive development. The trivium emphasizes concrete thinking (memorization of facts about subjects) in grade school, analytical thinking (understanding subjects) in middle school and abstract thinking (articulation of the subjects) in high school. The goals of the trivium are grammar, logic and rhetoric.

With this homeschooling method, exposure to art, culture and history of Western civilization, along with the language, literature and philosophy of Western civilization and Christian tradition. The book The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education, along with the corresponding website, is an amazing resource that provides step-by-step, grade-by-grade, subject-by-subject insight for this method.

Charlotte Mason method

British educator Charlotte Mason is often considered the founder of the homeschooling movement. She was a homeschooled student herself in England. The Charlotte Mason method incorporates all core subjects with a strong focus on the humanities -- classic literature, noble poetry, fine arts, crafts, and classical music. Her "living books" (select classical literature) are often considered the center of this method.

The Charlotte Mason method is one of the most popular homeschooling methods and uses a three-pronged education approach centered around atmosphere (home environment), discipline (good habits) and life (teaching living thoughts and ideas). This is one of the more popular homeschooling methods.

With Charlotte Mason, your child's days are balanced by spending sufficient time with the core subjects while also allowing a good deal of free time to enjoy life.


Why so many parents are choosing homeschooling >>

Montessori method

You have probably seen Montessori preschools in your area. The same methods used in those preschools can be carried over to your home. Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian scientist, physician, anthropologist and philosopher, developed this method in the early 1900s. The Montessori method is based on the idea that learning is a natural, self-directed process. With Montessori schooling, the child has freedom in a prepared environment to repeat activities until an inner sense of self satisfaction is met. The activities and materials in the prepared environment offer an opportunity for the child to develop emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually and socially.

Implementation of the Montessori method can be extremely expensive and/or time-consuming because of all the materials. If you purchase them all, it will cost you a pretty penny, so it's best to try to make some of the necessary materials. However, the Montessori homeschooling method is popular enough that you can find a number of books, websites and support groups where you can learn how to make the materials, swap materials or purchase used materials from other homeschooling moms.

Some believers in the Montessori method say it doesn't work for homeschooling because the method incorporates socialization with a large group of children on a daily basis. However, many homeschooling moms who use the Montessori method will adamantly disagree.

Read about the homeschooling debate >>

Waldorf Education method

The Waldorf Education method is based on the spiritual-scientific research of the Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner. This method aims to balance artistic, academic and practical work in a manner that educates the child's mind, hand and heart.

The Waldorf Education philosophy is based on three phases of childhood development broken into seven-year parts. In the first seven years of a child's life, they are basically helpless and learn by imitations. Therefore, it's important the parent (and other adults) display values, attitudes and skills that are worthy of imitation. In the next seven years, the child is ready for formal education as they can think logically and use their vivid imaginations. And in the final period of seven years, the child is a more individual thinker who learns more independently.

The method, especially for young kids, relies heavily on nurturing the child's imagination through hands-on activities and materials to foster their creativity as they learn.

Are homeschooled kids really lacking in socialization? >>

Principle Approach

This homeschooling method looks at each subject through a Christian viewpoint. It encompasses the idea that all learning centers through God's word. Students learn the methods of America's Founding Fathers -- research, reasoning, relating and recording. If you are a Christian family, the Principle Approach is one of the homeschooling methods you should certainly consider.

Eclectic method

Every homeschooling method isn't one size fits all. So what works for many families is to take bits and pieces from various homeschooling methods to form their own education approach. Do your research and learn about the most common homeschooling methods. Then you can use their fundamentals, materials and ideas, along with your own value system and philosophy, to create a tailor-made homeschooling method for your own family.


Unschooling

This educational approach consists of practices that allow the children to learn through play, household responsibilities, social interaction, natural life experiences and self-directed activities rather than any type of traditional curriculum. Also known as interest-driven, child-led, self-directed or organic learning, this method is somewhat controversial and has led to public debate in homeschooling circles and beyond. Some naysayers say a child needs more structure and conventional schooling, but unschooling parents believe self-driven education in a natural environment is the best approach to prepare a child for the "real world."

Most homeschooling methods use a variety of curriculum that consists of everything from books and videos to lab books and unit studies to computer programs and field trips. As you embark on your homeschooling journey, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of information available. However, if you think of it as an evolving process that can always be changed, you will have less stress and more fun homeschooling your children.

More on homeschooling

Is homeschooling right for you and your child?
5 Homeschooling myths debunked
Homeschooling 101: How to get started homeschooling

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