When we research the various approaches to learning, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all of the options. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, points of confusion, advocates and detractors. So when searching for the right homeschooling approach, how do you decide between the options?
You don’t have to!
We read about a classical method that is all laid out for us, so we buy the appropriate books that correspond to each child’s age and jump in. Down the road we feel something isn’t right, that the method isn’t delivering as promised or “didn’t work for our family,” so we drop it and try another. But there was something missing in our delivery. We expected the books and the content to carry the load and deliver the principles of the methodology. We forgot to take the time necessary to understand the reason those particular materials were chosen.
Materials should never become the focus. They are merely the tools to help us provide our children what they need to meet the goals we have already established — or in the case of the classical approach mentioned above, the tools that will help us implement the distinctives of a particular approach.
Rather than become encumbered by someone else’s content plan — the books, materials, scope and sequence they choose to implement the foundational principles they believe constitute “education” — we can become familiar with the principles behind a particular approach and choose those that will work in our family — those that speak to us as tutors, mentors, and moms.
When we have an understanding of why we are doing what we are doing, we will be better able to develop our own content consistent with our plan and vision and based on our family’s interests and needs.
Let’s consider another example. Ambleside Online has provided to the homeschool community with a free online curriculum that implements the distinctives of the Charlotte Mason approach. Many well-meaning moms have found the “grade-level” of their children, procured the necessary materials, and hopped in — assuming they are now delivering their children a Charlotte Mason education. Down the road they become surprised that they are only reading books all day. They don’t believe this is what “education” is supposed to look like. They move on to something more traditional. Take a look at what they have missed. For example, language arts takes a dedicated mom/mentor to provide the copywork, dictation, and narration assignments.
If we are not educating ourselves and learning what Charlotte Mason had in mind by reading her works for ourselves and implementing her ideas, we are not providing our children with a Charlotte Mason education! Further, it may be that we will not agree with all of Miss Mason’s ideas, or that a particular child may need another approach to fill a particular need in a particular area. We could work through all of the suggested books on the schedule and still not provide our children with what we thought we were.
We see then why it is so important to first establish our goals and know what it is specifically that we hope to accomplish. If we have determined that a basic set of skills is of primary importance, then reading, writing, and arithmetic will get the focus while our children are younger. If we believe phonics is essential for a reading foundation we will choose those materials that focus on phonics. If we have determined to allow our children time to investigate and explore, we will hold our curriculum to such limits as will allow an hour or so free time each day.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
- What are the distinctives of this approach? And do I agree with each?
- How does this approach define education? And do I agree with the definition?
- On what foundation is the approach based? And do I agree with that foundation?
- What are the goals of this approach? And is this what I am trying to accomplish for [insert name of each individual child]?
- Where is the learning emphasis placed? On the tutor? On the child? On the materials used? And where do I believe the learning emphasis should be placed?
- How are basic skills covered in this approach? And do I agree with the methodology?
- How does the child learn about the world around him — past, present and future — using this approach? And do I agree with the methodology?
Sometimes it does take years of exploring and tweaking on Mom’s part to find the right approach for the family and each child. But that freedom and exploratory nature will not be possible if we are thoughtlessly bound to a particular method — or a particular set of materials.
Ready to develop your approach?