There is no such thing as a “cookie cutter” or “one size fits all” education in today’s homeschool. Styles are as individual as the children and families they represent, with no two alike.
The delightful thing about educating at home is that parents can easily evaluate their children’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, talents, and learning styles.No one knows the bent of their children like parents do, and they can tailor a custom education to inspire their future entrepreneur, astronaut, farmer, ballerina, computer genius, all in the direction the Lord has for that particular child.
Formal Curriculum is a traditional approach, similar to most public and private schools, that focuses on textbooks for learning most subjects. A Beka, A.C.E., Alpha Omega, Bob Jones and Calvert are popular choices. Most families take a curricular approach to Math with Math-U-See and Saxon being popular choices. For science, the top choice for many families is the Apologia line, by Dr. Jay Wile, who is spurring home school kids into careers in the field with his phenomenal textbooks.
Unschooling is the polar opposite approach, unstructured, informal and child directed. The theory is that kids are naturally curious and will learn on their own, which worked well for the Colfax family in No Cal. This unusual family used a homesteading approach in the 70's and 80's to homeschool their sons, teaching them through running a family farm in very unusual ways. They wrote a fascinating book, Homeschooling for Excellence about their family lifestyle and experience. It worked well, they sent 3 sons to Harvard, who became attorneys and physicians.
The Classical Approach has the goal of “teaching children to think” by entering the Great Conversation with the minds of the past. Children go through different stages, and are taught according to the abilities of each stage. The Trivium, as it is called, has a Grammar Stage/Mastery of the Facts during the elementary ages 6-10. Older elementary, early middle school kids enter the Dialectic Stage/Study of Logic around the ages of 10-14 and the education grows with their knowledge, ability and maturity. About the time students are ready for high school, they begin the Rhetoric Stage/Use of Language, from 14 on. Children study Latin, logic, and the regular subjects, with classic literature as a backbone for all learning. Some study Greek and Hebrew, and try to read the Bible in the original languages. A classical education is largely what our founding fathers enjoyed, and you can see the leaders and thinkers it inspired.
The Charlotte Mason Method relies on whole, living books that make history, literature, geography and science come alive. Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the 19th century and found that textbooks distilled a fascinating world into dry, dreary snippets of information and deemed them twaddle. She thought that great books expand the mind of children and encouraged them to focus on ideas rather than merely learning facts by rote. Observation is important, nature notebooks, history timelines, narration, copywork, fine arts, music and self motivated learning. The CM method works very well with many children with non traditional learning styles.
Unit Studies are a fun way for kids to learn, wrapped around a passion. A single topic can be studied and cover language arts, math, science, etc. Horses are a terrific example, as you can study horse literature, science, art, and then pull the horse theme into math lessons. Unit Studies can form a whole curriculum or subjects can be studied individually, like the human body.
The Thomas Jefferson Education approach has taken the country by storm the past few years with the goal of “teaching a generation of leaders.” Through a mentoring approach, reading great books, and discussing them with mentors, it encourages students to become statesman, entrepreneurs and the great thinkers of the future. As Sir Walter Scott said, “All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.”
Eclectic Homeschooling is probably the most popular style of homeschooling. Eclectic homeschoolers pull bits and pieces out of each style to craft an extraordinary education for their children based on the best ideas of each, for their family, at a particular time. Eclectic homeschoolers run the gamut, but many tend to be literature based, studying history in particular through the classics. Realizing there are seasons in each family and that educational needs may change during seasons makes eclectic a great choice. Perpahs, during the birth of a new baby, or an illness, adapting a more flexible Eclectic approach, and trying a unit study or getting some simple workbooks at Sam's or Costco for the younger kids, can help a family weather a difficult season.
The challenge of choosing a style is to find one that appeals to the parents, since they must teach it, yet takes into account the child’s learning styles, interests and ability levels. Most families find they start off with one style, but different years or children may do better with other styles.Ultimately, home educators have the flexibility to change and do what works best for their family, in a given time.
The goal is always to light the lifelong fire of self directed learning, and keep it burning brightly.