Homeschooling: Which Model Is Right for You?

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Many reports demonstrate that homeschool students outpace their peers in standardized tests, writing, reading, and reasoning. Other studies show that they perform better in college, and serve their communities.

But not all homeschooling is the same.

One of the key advantages of homeschooling is also among its biggest challenges: Options. Homeschooling is roughly as old as humanity, but according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, the modern homeschooling movement can trace its roots to John Holt’s writing on Unschooling back in the 1970’s. Later came the Christian homeschool movement in the 80’s and 90’s. By 1993, Homeschooling was legalized in all 50 states.

With the swelling ranks of homeschools came an influx of options. Homeschooling effectively set off an earthquake in the educational world.[1] It triggered flooding in the market of school choices, with a veritable tsunami of methodologies, curricula, publishers, projects and what not. Today, newcomers and veterans alike may find the sea of options overwhelming.

To help you narrow down the search, we offer an overview of the leading homeschool styles. As you read over these summaries, think about what sounds most appealing to you and what would best suit your needs. Each summary includes resource links preceded by an informal assessment designed to help you determine whether or not a given style suits your needs.

Homeschooling can be as traditional as "school-at-home" programs where students study the same stuff at home as do their peers at the local school. Or homeschooling can be as radical as "Unschooling" education where the lessons are student-directed explorations devoid of homework and tests.

We hope this rundown helps you weigh your options and find the homeschool method best suits you.

Overview

There are roughly seven main approaches to homeschooling [2]:

Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Unschooling, School-at-Home, Unit studies, and Eclectic education methods.

Each of these is introduced hereafter with considerations of the benefits and drawbacks. Following is a brief sample assessment describing the general personality best suited for each method. If that method really appeals to you, and it looks like it fits your personality, then you can dig deeper by using the resource lists, which links to pertinent teaching guides, curricula, and homeschooling networks.

Bear in mind, there is considerable overlap between many of these educational models. This means that there is plenty of room, if needed, to share and borrow ideas between styles. Homeschool teachers typically mix methods and materials liberally. But to avoid any unsavory creations, it’s probably best to get a good working knowledge of your teaching materials and methods before splicing them with others.

The Classical Method

The Classical method is one of the most popular homeschooling styles. It borrows the wisdom of time-tested educational practices dating from as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome. In the case of Biblical-Classical models (A.K.A., the "Principal Approach"), the roots trace back even further, to Hebrew concepts in the Old Testament. Typical classical homeschools employ "Great books" (Adler, Hutchins, and Van Doren) and an "Applied Trivium" framework (Wise-Bauer). That means, the "canon" of Great Books (classics and masterpieces) get top billing, as students learn facts and data in grammar school, logic and critical thinking in middle school, and rhetoric and self-expression in high school. The Classical method often incorporates Greek and Latin learning, though these are not required. Biblical-Classical education will also place a heavy emphasis on the Bible and biblical worldview training.

The subject areas are, as much as possible, interwoven into a chronological reading plan so that students are studying the various subject areas historically. In this way, students are equipped to understand the consequence over ideas over time. This method is distinct from conventional schooling and other homeschooling methods (Unschooling, Unit studies, School-at-Home), which tend to "jump around" from topic to topic, or which reserve history for a separate subject area.

Another prominent feature of Classical learning is the use of Socratic dialogues. Socratic dialogues foster robust discussion and debate through open-ended questions, encouraging students go beyond mere "comprehension" or "skill training" in order to achieve enriching understandings of self and world. See also, TheWellTrainedMind.com and "Definition for Classical Ed."

Benefits

Classical education offers many benefits, making it one of the most popular homeschooling methods today. This method also has the reputation of being the most prestigious homeschool method, noted for producing little geniuses who are better readers than most adults. While that prestige comes at a cost (see "Drawbacks," below), it’s generally not as expensive as school-at-home (unless it’s a classical school-at-home).

Drawbacks

While the classical method has many strengths, no method is perfect. And there are some real trade-offs one should bear in mind before committing to the classical method. Also remember that each of these drawbacks can be mitigated or resolved with a little ingenuity on the part of the parent-teacher.

Classical/Principle Approach might be for you if...

Resources

As mentioned above, there are oceans of information on classical education. Parent-teachers can find many curricula and networks to power their classical classrooms. Also, don’t be afraid to sample outside sources, from other methods, and non-classical publishers. Most "classical" homeschools are really eclectic homeschools in nature, simply with an emphasis classical methodology.

The Well-Trained Mind materials from Susan Wise Bauer, coauthored with her mother Jessie Wise, are probably the best place to start, along with the accompanying website. It walks the reader through the basic theory of (modern) classical education, and gives straight-forward advice and recommendations for conducting a classical homeschool from pre-K to 12th grade. Each chapter has curricula and material recommendations most of which the authors have either created, or used extensively.

The site ClassicalChristianHomeschooling.org fully aligns with the Wise-Bauer method, but is more distinctly Christian in its framing and recommendations.

For an article length treatment of Classical, see the landmark speech by Dorothy Sayers "The Lost tools of Learning." This article is cited all over the homeschooling world as a groundbreaking critique of modern conventional schooling and a call for homeschooling. This article answers conventional "factory style" education with a classical liberal arts emphasis. After that, you can read Robert Harris’s development of the liberal arts theme in his article, "On the Purpose of Liberal Arts Education." This 1991 article updates that conversation with a more modern answer to the problems Sayers saw in 1947. The book Liberal Arts Tradition, by Jain and Clark, advances beyond the Wise-Bauer method, utilizing a "holistic" and traditional liberal arts method. This text is recommended for parent-teachers who are familiar with the modern classical method but would like to gain a deeper and richer understanding of the underlying liberal arts tradition tracing back through the ancient and medieval eras.

Curricula and Teaching Materials

At the heart of the classical method is a list of Great Books. These great books are the time-honored, vetted texts which have proven to be important contributions to the great conversations across the history of Western and global civilizations. Both of these lists are arranged by chronological order, but the Wise-Bauer list is comprised of roughly 100 books while the Adler-VanDoren list is much longer. Most of these books are in the public domain or can be found free at libraries (or cheap at used books stores).

Networks and Groups

Since many homeschool families use the classical method, there are lots of compatible homeschool networks to choose from, and quite likely one in your area. Two sites to help you find shared support are the Communities page at Classical Conversations and the Forums page at WellTrainedMind.

Charlotte Mason Method

Based on the teachings of 19th century homeschooling pioneer, Charlotte Mason, this Christian homeschool style utilizes short periods of study, typically 15-20 minutes maximum for elementary students, and 45 minutes maximum for high schoolers. These short periods are coupled with nature walks, nature journals, history portfolios, and lots of practice in observation, memorization, and narration. Reading plays a big role in CM homeschools, especially biographies, classics, and other "living books" (i.e., stories, with heroes, life-lessons, and important socio-ethical implications). This method sacrifices lectures and expertise, and in return gets a child-directed observational approach that is easy on the budget, fairly flexible, and which lets children discover and learn at their own pace. See also: SimpyCharlotteMason.com and Amblesideonline.org.

Benefits

In some ways, the Charlotte Mason (CM) method borrows some of the best from the Classical method, Unit-studies, and even Unschooling methods to come up with a fairly-well proven yet student-directed methodology. Moreover, it’s generally less expensive than School-at-home or Classical homeschooling. Yet it’s more structured than Unschooling or Montessori. Charlotte Mason method has many distinctives, making it a popular option for contemporary homeschoolers.

Drawbacks

Charlotte Mason methodology is not without its drawbacks. Parent-teachers pursuing the CM method would do well to remember these concerns, and prepare to compensate, before these issues become problems in their own classrooms.

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