The Many Ways of Homeschooling – choosing a curriculum
To understand the variations in homeschooling, it is helpful to contrast differences and also look at common denominators.
Here are some of the things we homeschoolers have in common. We’ve all decided to take our kids out of the system of public and private schools — which probably makes us a bit braver, or more rebellious or more pessimistic about institutions than parents of schooled kids. Sometimes our kids are thrust upon us because school just isn’t working for them. Whatever way we arrived at homeschooling, we then have to work with our kids, our budgets, our resources, our temperaments and our beliefs to find the approach to education that works for us. We all have ample times of being sure we’ve chosen the best of all worlds and other times we’re sure we’ve ruined our kids lives. We all go through some sorting out of our ideas about education and what it means to be a success in life, as we try to differentiate between what’s true and what’s just “the way it’s done”, or “what we’ve always believed”.
When we start looking at the different approaches, they are really not so much different categories as gradients of straying from the school model of education. These range from structured programs like a certified curriculum giving a standard diploma, but done at home rather than in school, through tutored programs, cooperative ventures, and into less structured approaches. While we will tend to feel more comfortable in a particular point in this spectrum, most of us will all, at one time or another, partake of a little of everything.
Most new homeschoolers feel most comfortable with a structured curriculum and may be concerned about “keeping up” and getting credentials. Parents who expect their kids to go to school sometime in the future tend to feel it is important to stay in sync with the schools. This approach is most like school, just done at home or in small groups. There are accredited programs that can be done on the internet or purchased as software or enrolled in as correspondence schools or bought and supervised by the parents. (for sources for curricula, see http://www.homeschoolingwhyandhow.com/resources/) These families find that their kids can do all their school work in a fraction of the time it takes in school and thus they have far more free time than schooled kids. This free time presents more educational opportunity and, structured or unstructured, they will be learning something in this time, too.
The next step away from the school model involves letting go of the packaged curriculum and designing your own and this style of homeschooling probably is embraced by the majority of homeschoolers. At the most conservative end of this part of the spectrum, the families will put together their own books and activities, but still use school subjects as their basis. Some will use workbooks such as the Costco grade-by-grade workbooks. Some will use tutored programs to make sure that the “important” things are covered.
Less conservative are those who let go of the subject-organized school day and decide for themselves what they feel is important to know. Some will do projects and may spend months or even years focusing on a particular aspect of life, such as American Indians or Hawaiiana. It is in this stage that parents control over their children’s education is looser. Here the parents will begin to tailor the learning experience to fit the child’s interests so that an area of passion becomes the basis for most aspects of the curriculum. This could be called “unit study”.
As parental control relaxes even more, the curricula merits of the interests become less and less important until the kids are free to indulge in their passion without regard for any criteria it might meet. Thus one family spend a great deal of time with computers and horses, another is deeply involved with music and airplanes and we organize our lives around skating and water sports. This approach is often called “unschooling”. I feel that term is misleading, however, as it still uses school as a reference point and implies standardized goals. But in actual practice, the goals are not really standardized at all. They are Life Goals. These children (and their parents) learn about music or horses or bodyboarding because they love these things and want to increase their understanding and enjoyment of them for their own sake, not because to do so will add up to some sort of “education”. So some refer to this approach to education as “natural learning”, which I think is more descriptive yet enables us to talk about it in a way that calling it “living” would not. This approach requires a great deal of trust that people have an inner compass that will point them toward what is best for them, both achievements and challenges.
That all seems fairly straightforward and neat until one looks at how these things are put into practice. The family who enjoys “natural learning” will likely have spent some structured time helping their kids learn to read and do basic math or art or music lessons. The family who has their children in structured programs may go to great lengths to support their kids’ passions in the abundant time that remains. At sometime or another, most of our kids will have done a workbook. Few parents can resist sharing with their kids from time to time articles or books they feel are “important”. Thus we all pick and choose and find that at different times, different approaches work best.
Sooner or later, though, we all come to the point where we recognize that it is now the young person’s responsibility and delight to choose his own path and to learn what he or she finds interesting or worthwhile, regardless of what others believe. We are there to support the learner, but it is his or hers to decide what is important and what is not.