When we first began homeschooling, I read up on all the different homeschooling methods. There were elements I liked from many of them, but trying to narrow down our style to just one seemed impossible. I felt a lot of pressure (self-imposed, no doubt) to identify with just one method. I guess that was more for the convenience of saying “We’re Classical homeschoolers” or “We’re Charlotte Mason followers.” I’ve learned a few things through the years and I realize that we don’t have to pigeon-hole ourselves to just one method any more than any one cookie-cutter style of education fits all. We are relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers, but that can look different from day to day and family to family.
We tend to meander, following rabbit trails of interest, noticing that our style seems to be a little more like unraveling a plate of spaghetti than pouring syrup on a flat stack of pancakes. We like to see the connections in each subject and see where they lead us.
If you’re trying to narrow down your own educational philosophy (or relieve the stress of thinking you have to choose just one), here are some things I learned in our journey:
1. In the beginning, I thought we would be classical homeschoolers. I read The Well-Trained Mind and Teaching the Trivium. I took a year of Latin in school and wanted to teach Latin to my daughters just because I know firsthand how much it improves vocabulary and spelling. Let’s be honest, I’m an intellectual snob at times and classical homeschooling just sounds impressive. I mean The Well-Trained Mind says it all, right? Well, we gave Tapestry of Grace a shot. We tried Memoria Press Latin. Neither was a fit for us. They’re both great resources that work for many, many homeschoolers, but it wasn’t us. (I still want to teach my daughters Latin, though!)
2. From classical I moved to my Charlotte Mason phase. Love narration. Love nature walks and study (as long as it’s not bugs). Love living books. Ambleside Online is free. Hey, this is looking good! I can be an intellectual snob with the Charlotte Mason method! You mean Nancy Drew is twaddle? We have to look at and study bugs? Moving on . . .
3. From there I entered my Sonlight phase. Everyone raved about it. It’s all about the books, for crying out loud. What’s not to like? Um, the price tag. Sorry, Sonlight, but we can’t manage those prices on our single income. In fact, this is the problem for us with most “packaged” curricula. Love the idea of Sonlight, though! Their suggested reading lists are great resources!
4. Around this time, I began to lose confidence in my ability to plot our own course of study. That’s when prepared curricula started looking good to me. I didn’t want the standard “school in a box” so I was happy when I found Heart of Dakota. Great Biblical foundation, Charlotte Mason-esque, yet easily laid out for me to follow day by day. I still like Heart of Dakota, but we don’t do so well sticking to a schedule with two preschoolers in the house. I didn’t like the feeling of “falling behind” if we didn’t do everything as it was planned out in the guide.
5. I started filling in the gaps with online learning then. Big Sis likes to use the computer. It was something she could do independently. We had some free trials. Although we still like to do some learning on the computer, it just seems too impersonal to use as our only method. I like the hands-on involvement in learning with my daughters. I just don’t feel that by staring at a screen all day.
6. Eventually we entered our lapbooking phase and we still enjoy that to this day. There’s only so much you can cut and paste, though, before you start to feel that it becomes busywork. We have a few unfinished lapbooks on the shelf because Big Sis got burnt out on the topic before she finished the lapbook. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great way to learn, but it’s not the only way we learn now.
7. Following on the heels of lapbooking, we came back to the literature-rich unit studies of Five in a Row. We had used some of the lessons sporadically through the years, but we’re now at the level of Beyond FIAR. Great books, great lessons, but it does require some prep time on my part that I don’t always have. Sometimes we just like to read the books for fun without over-analyzing. Who knew you could make a whole unit study on Homer Price?
8. Unit studies have been another favorite. We really like Amanda Bennett, as well as The Prairie Primer. Unit studies are an awesome way to learn about something thoroughly inside and out. For subjects of particular interest to Big Sis, we usually go the unit study and/or lapbook route. Not every lesson could sustain enough interest for us to do this way.
9. Speaking of interest and hands-on activities, we love Montessori, field trips, notebooking, and delight-directed homeschooling methods as well. It isn’t practical for everything, but it’s great to just follow the joy of learning. For instance, I don’t think “delight” would ever take us down the path of algebra, but we’ll have to cover it just the same. Other than the basic requirements, I’d say that interest and enthusiasm lead us in most everything we do. Learning about the pilgrims was much more powerful by visiting Plymouth Rock than by merely reading about it or seeing pictures of it. Those kind of field trips aren’t always possible, obviously.
10. Unschooling. I really like it as a concept, but the rule-follower in me worries. We do come very close to unschooling often. Summertime might be considered a time of unschooling for us. As long as I have to turn in paperwork to the state, I don’t think it will be our only method. I do believe kids develop an appreciation for learning this way, though.
After making this list of 10 things we’ve tried/liked/not liked/modified, you can see why it’s not easy to claim just one method. We’re homeschoolers who like Charlotte Mason with a twist of Montessori, heavy on the literature, unit studying, lapbooking, hands-on, Latin-learning, field tripping, nearly-unschooling, interest-led learners. In a word, eclectic.
What is your homeschool method?