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Educational Approaches



Selecting a curriculum (basically the teaching materials) for the homeschool is probably a top priority for homeschooling parents. And rightly so! But with a plethora of educational programs in the market, how do parents choose the curriculum that is the best fit for their child? Becoming familiar with the different education approaches, also known as teaching methods, can help parents narrow their options to make wise decisions.

Keep in mind that parents often pick and choose across the different methods to individualize and customize a program for their child.

Traditional / Textbook

The traditional/textbook approach is teacher directed and uses textbooks with a scope and sequence for 180 days of instruction. Programs usually cover all subject areas and include a graded textbook, workbooks, tests and teacher manuals. Many programs now include video and online programs. Umbrella programs often fall under this category.

Teacher manuals provide lesson plans. Record keeping is relatively simple as tests provide means for charting a student’s progress. This method may be a good way for parents new to home educating to start.

The approach may be less flexible for the student. Because a specific body of knowledge is taught, there is often less depth; reading additional books can help to supplement the program. Although textbooks are grade specific, adaptations can be made to teach multi age levels.

Examples: A Beka Books, Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), Alpha Omega Publications, BJU Press Homeschool, Christian Liberty Academy, Christian Light Education, Rod and Staff

You may find this method attractive if you prefer structure with prepared lesson plans and easy record keeping and grading.

Unit Study

The unit study approach centers around a theme or topic and integrates several subjects including Bible, language arts, reading/literature, social studies/history, art, and science. (Phonics and math are usually taught separately.) Lessons tend to be multi-sensory and usually involve hands-on activities; information retention is good. Books (not textbooks) and the internet often serve as sources of information.

Unit studies are appropriate for multi-level teaching so the entire family can study a topic of interest at the same time; assignments are given to the students according to their abilities. Flexibility in the pace and depth of instruction can be adjusted as appropriate for the family. A number of prepared unit studies are available.

Unit studies require more parent preparation and involvement; parents will definitely be learning alongside their children. Progress maybe more difficult to track; a traditional scope and sequence is not followed.

Resource: Amanda Bennett’s Unit Studies

Examples: Five in a Row, KONOS, Tapestry of Grace, The Weaver

You may be attracted to this method if you prefer the flexibility to plan your own lessons for multi-level teaching with hands –learning.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a turn of the century English educator, who emphasized educating the whole child through experiencing real life situations, cultivating good habits, and reading “living” books (books that are narratives or more conversational in style) Narration, copy work, and dictation along with nature walks and notebooks are characteristic of this approach.

Parents teach their children the basics in reading, writing, and math and then expose them to good books and the fine arts. The children are encouraged to draw their own conclusions.

Parent involvement and discussion is required for the nature walks, read a-louds, narration. There is an emphasis on the arts rather than higher level subjects. Progress may be more difficult to assess but the notebooks can provide feedback on a student’s progress.

Resources: A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola; A Charlotte Mason Education: A Home Schooling How-To Manual,Catherine Levison

Examples: Ambleside Online, Beautiful Feet Books, Five in a Row, Simply Charlotte Mason, Sonlight

You may find this method attractive if you prefer teaching through real life experiences, read-a-louds, narration, copy work and dictation.

Classical Approach

Classical education uses three learning stages referred to as the Trvium. In the Grammar stage, the elementary school student learns the rules for reading and language arts, mathematics facts, etc. primarily through memorization. In the Logic stage, the middle school student is ready for logic and abstract thinking in algebra, writing, reading and other subjects so as to analyze information and make connections. In the final Rhetoric stage, high school student uses his foundational skills to express his own ideas in eloquent and persuasive communication, both written and oral.

Classical approach follows stages of mental development and seeks to develop good thinkers and communicators. It is academically rigorous and includes the reading of classics and original works.

Classical education requires much parent involvement and interaction; there are some programs that are set up for parents to share responsibilities.

Examples: Classical Conversations, Memoria Press, My Father’s World, Peace Hill Press, Tapestry of Grace, Veritas Press, Well-Trained Mind (Susan Wise Bauer),

You may be attracted to this method if you prefer a structured program with memorization and rigorous academics including reading the classics and original works.


Unschooling Approach

Unschooling is a less structured approach but does not mean schooling does not take place. It assumes children have an innate desire to learn so parents can follow the child’s natural curiosity.

A rich learning environment of books and other learning resources are accessible for the child to explore his interests. Parents are mindful of what the children are learning and provide guidance as needed. Little lesson planning is required.

Parents model a love for learning. They determine how learning takes place and need to be aware of any neglected subject areas because the child may not show an interest. Progress can be difficult to assess.

Examples: The Relaxed Homeschool (Mary Hood)

You may be attracted to this method if you prefer a less structured approach where your children can learn independently through real life experiences.

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