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Approaches to Homeschooling
This approach to homeschooling is also known as school-at-home, structured homeschooling, scope and sequence schooling, or school-in-a-box. It is the method which most closely follows a traditional school model, and strives to mirror that type of classroom setting in the home. Traditional homeschoolers usually purchase a complete curriculum which includes textbooks, teacher’s guides, tests, schedules, and grading and record keeping materials. Each child will most likely have his own set of textbooks and workbooks, and will study each subject separately according to grade level.
Most traditional homeschoolers follow a structured schedule each day, Monday through Friday, September through June, following a traditional school system. The study proceeds according to written lesson plans. Daily work is turned in and graded, lessons are followed by tests, and grades and records are kept. A report card may be issued on a quarterly or semester basis.
Some families relax this approach somewhat, still following structured schedules and grade levels, but choosing their own curriculum and creating their own lesson plans.
The greatest benefit of this method is the security of knowing all necessary material is being covered, and there will be no gaps in learning. If and when the time comes for these children to re-enter the school system, they will be able to make the transition with the greatest degree of ease.
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The foundation of a classical education is a three-part system of learning called the trivium. The elementary school years are spent largely memorizing facts. In the middle grades, students learn to think through the study of logic. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves with force and originality.
Grades 1-4: The Grammar StageThe first years of schooling generally grade one through four, are called the “grammar stage.” During this period, education involves learning facts. Young children enjoy and are very good at memorization, even when they may not understand the significance of what they are learning. During these years they are presented with the rules of phonics, spelling, and grammar, poetry, stories of history and literature, the multiplication table, geography, dates, events, plant and animal classifications; anything that lends itself to repetition and retention. In this way, classically educated children are learning the factual foundation of each subject which they will study in depth later. The grammar period also includes a language, usually Latin or Greek, and the children spend time learning and memorizing its vocabulary and grammar.
By fifth grade, a student begins to think more abstractly and analytically. This introduces the second phase of classical education, the “logic stage.” During this time students begin to see and understand cause and effect. The facts they learned in the grammar stage are taking on meaning for them, and they are able to order facts into organized thoughts and arguments. They are beginning to think independently, and to use reason to ask questions. They study formal logic, learn the fundamentals of good argument, and practice written and oral argument. Each subject has its own logic. In science, they learn the development and testing of hypothesis. In math, logic is applied to the more abstract concepts of algebra and trigonometry; in writing, learning to write a well-constructed and defended thesis; in reading, criticism and analysis of books; in history, the “whys” behind the events of the past.
Grades 9-12: The Rhetoric Stage
The final phase of a classical education, the “Rhetoric Stage,” builds on the first two. Students have obtained knowledge of the facts (grammar) and are able to order those facts into arguments (logic); now they must develop the skill of communicating forcefully and persuasively (rhetoric). Rhetoric is the art of communicating well. At this point, students learn to write and speak with originality. They may also begin to direct their studies in the areas of their interests, and take part in extra-curricular training such as college courses, travel, and other specialized opportunities.
In the classical system of education, academic subjects are all interrelated. The study of history is used as the foundation for organizing all of them, beginning with ancient civilizations and moving forward to modern eras in all the disciplines.
Jesse Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind, suggests that “the twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. The child studies these four time periods at varying levels,” from simple during the grammar stage, to complex during the rhetoric stage. This carries the classical student through all the school years in consistent systematic study.
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Charlotte Mason was a nineteenth century British educator and writer who started her own schools so that she could implement her ideas and philosophies. A surface examination of her methods can leave the impression that they are simplistic and too idealistic to be effective; however, her six-volume series on education proves differently.
Miss Mason was a keen, well-educated thinker who had opinions on every aspect of the life of a child: teaching a baby to appreciate clean hands, recommending that windows be open a bit even on the coldest of days, and sheets be aired before making beds. She was a great believer in the benefits of fresh air, exercise, and time spent in an open country setting. She believed that setting good habits early in childhood was of primary importance, especially the habits of close attention and observation. Her belief was that education should encompass all of life, and that it took place most effectively in real-life settings rather than places artificially arranged to provide it.
When it came to the various aspects of formal education and curriculum, she firmly felt that children are capable of dealing with real ideas and real knowledge. Therefore, constant first-hand exposure to great literature and other works of art and music were the core and foundation of her lessons and curriculum. These she termed “living books,” and anything else was disparaged as “twaddle,” that is, anything which talked down to children, attempted to pre-digest knowledge, or simply had no redeeming value in presenting ideas or knowledge.
The main components of a Charlotte Mason Education Short lessons done well are preferred over lessons which become too long and tiresome, and result in loss of attention and sloppy work.
Time spent outside, in all sorts of weather, is given high priority, especially for younger children. Some of it is directed time for nature study, some for free play. Regular time is set aside for older students to practice daily exercise.
Attention is given to developing good habits in all areas of life. “Habit is ten natures,” was Miss Mason’s philosophy – that is, good habits can overcome inborn character weaknesses.
Daily narration is of primary importance. After a child listens to or reads a piece of literature, he tells the story back to the teacher. This encourages the habit of reading and listening with close attention. Children do not begin to write their narrations until about age 10.Copywork is simply copying, carefully and accurately, a small selection of any good writing, including every mark of punctuation. This also requires close attention to detail. The amount required is appropriate to the age and ability of the child. This serves as handwriting practice as well.
Even beginning readers should read quality literature. Some sight reading is taught along with phonics to give young children the ability to read simple living books, rather than “See the red jet.”
Living books are used exclusively, rather than textbooks. Living books (and there are living books for all curriculum areas) contain real ideas from great minds, or at least from a writer who has a genuine personal excitement about his subject. “Twaddle” is held in great contempt. Reading living books puts the child in direct touch with great minds, great character, and high ideals. This is also accomplished through consistent exposure to good art, music, and poetry.Science consists of first-hand nature study, again practicing close observation. This includes narrations and drawings of observations. Learning to recognize and identify local trees, plants, and animals and is encouraged.Literature and history are studied together, again using living books. Whatever period is being studied in history, literature from the same period is brought in. Both nonfiction (primary sources and first-hand accounts) and fiction are read. Geography is included in this as well.
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The unit study approach takes a theme or topic as a subject of study for a block of time, anywhere from a day to a month or six weeks – as long as the student’s interest holds. Unit studies are very flexible and can be utilized to some degree with most methods of home education. In an unschooling approach, the child may choose an area of interest for this study, and then receive guidance from the parent. In a traditional approach, the parent could create a unit that corresponds to the sequence of the teaching; perhaps a unit on castles and knights when the history curriculum reaches that period.
In any case, the unit study ideal is to cover all areas of the curriculum within that topic, showing how all information, all education, and all of life is integrated, not artificially broken up into “subjects.” For example:
|Science||Atoms, electrons, magnetism, how electricity is generated, water power, electrical storms|
|History||Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison|
|Language Arts||Outlines and summaries of reading, corrected for grammar and spelling, new vocabulary; creative writing|
|Economics, Math||Electrical bills, electricians|
|Geography||Locations of rivers and reservoirs|
|Practical knowledge||How a house is wired, how a light switch works|
|Art||The beauty of a city lit up at night|
|Science||Arachnids, scientific classifications, different kinds of spiders and webs, medical uses of spider web, habitats of spiders|
|History||The story of Robert the Bruce and the spider, with historical background|
|Language Arts||The Greek myth of Arachne, the African stories of Anansi the spider, writing a myth or a folk tale (also geography), new vocabulary|
|Geography||Locations of different kinds of spiders, habitats of spiders|
|Practical knowledge||Beneficial spiders, spiders in gardens|
|Art||Dew-covered spider webs, nature walks to observe and draw spiders|
Activities can include field trips, cooking special meals, any variety of crafts and projects, interviews with specialists in the field, and numerous trips to the library.
Unit studies are helpful when teaching multiple grade levels. Any unit study topic can usually be easily adjusted (from an 8th grader doing a detailed and labeled drawing of a spider’s anatomy to a 2nd grader drawing a picture of a spider on its web). Because of their flexibility, unit studies can also accommodate different learning styles.
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Unschooling is an educational philosophy based on nurturing each student’s interests and needs. Unschoolers believe that a child will be sufficiently motivated to educate himself by his own natural curiosity. It is also known as “natural learning” or “child-directed learning.” There are no set schedules or time frames, no specific courses of study, and no separation of subject areas.
The unschooled student directs her own education. The student chooses how, when, why, and what she learns. The parents act as facilitators and advisors rather than teachers. Emphasis is on providing an environment rich with opportunities for experimenting and exploring, along with a wealth of resources and support. The starting point of unschooling is a child’s natural curiosity, and she is allowed to follow her own interests in whatever way and for as long as she desires.
Unschoolers believe that learning any specific subject is less important than learning ‘how’ to learn. Rather than striving to reach a certain body of material, they feel that it is more important to encourage a love of learning so that when the need arises, the student will be able to teach himself what he needs to know. They also believe that the rigid structure and age segregation of a traditional school is actually counter-productive to true learning.
The term “unschooling” was coined by author John Holt, who founded the unschooling magazine Growing Without Schooling.
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