There are many homeschooling methods, but only two main approaches to home education:
- The traditional classroom experience at home
- Homeschooling as a lifestyle choice
No matter how one begins homeschooling, families who continue to homeschool eventually end up on one end or the other of this spectrum.
Homeschooling works very well when parents provide the resources, instruction, software, tutors, and co-op classes, structured according to age-graded standards with pre-arranged lesson plans, and scheduled during certain hours of the day. This follows the pattern of the traditional classroom and public school schedule.
Homeschooling can be a lifestyle choice, with the needs, interests, abilities, and goals of the family creating the plan and pattern for the homeschool. It is an 'organic' approach, if you will, and flexibility is a main component. The lifestyle approach tends to be more delight-directed and unpredictable on a daily basis, although there may be an overall plan in place.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Traditional Schooling
When homeschooling is reduced to academic instruction and rote memorization occurring at set hours with inflexible goals, the family may become the servant of the curriculum. It doesn't help that some families take this approach for questionable reasons:
- A lack of internal discipline and self motivation
- Insecurity about providing a quality education
- The parent’s education was inadequate
- A desire to adhere to societal norms
These attitudes can set up a family for failure before they begin.
- If you lack discipline and motivation, no curriculum in the world will keep you on track.
- If you feel serious doubts about providing a quality education, you may communicate this to your kids, who will then also feel insecure about your choices for educating them. A solid academic program may be able to compensate for your own inadequate education, but even with curriculum as a crutch, you as the parent still need to be able to bear the weight of being an independent homeschooler.
- If you are using a particular program because of peer pressure, well - do I really need to tell you why it's a bad idea to jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it?
I'm not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons to use traditional classroom methods, online programs, and boxed curriculum. Sometimes there is a definite need for a more rigid structure and familiar mechanisms due to life’s demands. If homeschooling is about meeting the needs of the family, and the family needs to use traditional methods to meet their desired homeschool goals, then that is what they should do.
For instance, we settled on ALEKS.com for math, and although there are many wonderful delight-directed math curricula available. We are happy with ALEKS.com because it has been the best fit for my kids.
The reality is - you need to KNOW why you are homeschooling in order to know HOW to homeschool.
Otherwise, you risk creating a stressful environment resulting in frustrated parents and resentful kids.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Homeschooling Lifestyle
The Homeschool Lifestyle doesn’t preclude schedules and routines, rigorous study, or a focus on academic excellence. You can live the Homeschool Lifestyle using boxed curriculum or online learning or Charlotte Mason. It's how you use it that makes the difference.
The relaxed homeschool lifestyle can be cuddling on the couch reading together, doing fun experiments in the kitchen, going on nature walks to catch bugs and collect leaves, reenacting historical events, and going on regular field trips.
But relaxed homeschoolers can become comfortable to the point of carelessness and even apathy. Those who need more structure will flounder in this method, discouraged and embarrassed that they can’t make it work like their enthusiastic homeschooling friends. Delight-directed homeschoolers and unschoolers sometimes make their lives sound blissful and easy. But this is not helpful when what folks need is to know the Homeschool Reality.
It is OK to allow your parental instincts and common sense guide you to methods that work for your family.
A Homeschool Reality is that colleges and careers demand proficiency in the core skills of reading, writing, communication, and math computation and concepts. These are the tools of life. Language is how we express ourselves, do business, tell stories, and cultivate relationships. Math is the language of the universe, from chemistry to business.
This is where curriculum comes in handy, because it organizes the concepts and skills that need to be mastered in a sensible way. The educational materials we buy or borrow are not the dictators of our time and attention. They are the tools we use to carve out a path to our goals.
There are other harmful ideas attached to education that require debunking so we can deal with our Homeschool Reality in a healthy and productive way.
- Separate subject areas. Information is connected. We know this, but we have been taught to disconnect subjects like Literature, Science, History, and Art. Trust me, your students will not spontaneously combust if we combine them into one class. Separate subjects are a convenience for schools to be able to compartmentalize student progress. It doesn't do anything to help the student internalize and apply what they've learned to imply that they can pursue a career in the sciences without strong reading and writing skills, or be an artist without any foundation in language or science.
- Emphasis on grades. We shouldn’t measure our child's progress by limiting their time working through a program or book, then calculating a percentage and giving them a letter grade, then expecting them to move on. A better measure is to allow them to work toward mastery without creating arbitrary time limits. Another measure to take into consideration is their work ethic, patience, determination, and endurance. If students are doing their best to work through new concepts and develop necessary skills, then they are doing exactly what they need to be doing.
- Academic competition. Schools often use competition as a motivation, but this does a disservice to our children by programming them to measure success by what other people are doing. We should not determine our child’s progress or abilities by comparing them to other children. It is disrespectful to them as individual human beings, and breeds the worst kind of stress, insecurity, resentment, and covetousness.
The most common reason for Homeschool Burnout is our own unreasonable expectations.
We’ve imagined what homeschooling should be like, and we refuse to give up on that flawless picture.
- If we don’t face the reality of our abilities, our resources, and our family’s needs, we are being delusional.
- If we ignore our child’s interests and innate curiosity because of what others might think, we are being irrational and discourteous.
- If we are tossed to and fro by every shiny new homeschool curriculum promising to hold The Solution to our academic desires for our kids, we are unstable.
- If we come unglued at every mishap, we aren’t putting our faith in Christ, we aren’t bearing the fruits of the Spirit, and we aren’t being a good example to our kids.
To homeschool effectively, you need to focus on what serves your homeschooling family best - do not look to the right or the left, but to Scriptural principles, to your spouse and children, and to the facts of your life.
In any battle between Homeschool Reality and Wishful Thinking, Reality will not only win, it will beat Wishful Thinking into a puddle of despair and defeat.