Monday, 25 June 2018

C Columns

Eclectic to Classical: Six Different Ways to Homeschool

By Daniel Bobinski



With  Idaho’s  annual  homeschooling  convention  coming  up  (June  1-2  in  Nampa),  I  want  to  take  this  opportunity  to  encourage  parents  to  consider  homeschooling.    


Why?  Because  I’m  a  firm  believer  that  each  child  is  unique,  created  by  God  with  distinctive  skills  and  abilities.  Learning  occurs  best  for  each  child  in  different  ways,  and  the  one-size-fits-all  approach  used  by  institutional  (public/private/charter)  schools  or  state-regulated  “school  at  home”  may  not  work  best  for  your  children.


As  an  example,  consider  my  15-year  old  daughter.  She  abhors  repetitive  math  worksheets,  so  if  she  had  attended  an  institutional  school  I  have  no  doubt  she  would  have  been  labeled  “math  deficient.”  She  thrives  with  hands-on  learning,  so  we  selected  a  hands-on  curriculum  for  her,  and  today  math  is  her  favorite  subject.  She  loves  algebra  and  can’t  wait  to  learn  calculus.  In  standardized  testing  she  has  scored  at  the  college  level in  math  for  the  past  three  years.  That  never  would  have  happened  in  an  institutional  school  or  even  state-regulated  “school  at  home,”  where  she  would  have  been  forced  to  use  worksheets.  


You  can  learn  different  ways  to  do  homeschool  at  the  convention,  but  even  if  you  plan  on  attending,  I  thought  an  overview  of  the  different  ways  to  choose  curriculum  might  spark  an  “I  can  do  this”  mindset.  At  least  six  different  approaches  exist.


A  common  method  is  called  Eclectic  homeschooling,  and  it’s  the  style  my  wife  and  I  use.  Eclectic  instruction  is  when  parents  choose  different  curriculum  and  styles  for  teaching  different  subjects.  For  us,  as  I  mentioned,  math  was  taught  using  manipulatives  and  math  games,  but  we  taught  history  using  a  Classical  method  (see  below)  and  humanities  were  taught  using  Unit  Studies  (see  below).  For  reading,  we  chose  books  from  various  genres,  and  a  book  report  was  due  each  month.  For  spelling,  we  created  our  own  curriculum.  We  simply  researched  spelling  words  online  for  the  various  grade  levels  and  created  a  custom  spelling  list  with  25  new  words  each  week.  To  aid  in  learning  those,we  created  crossword  puzzles  and  word  searches  using  free  online  tools.  Time  devoted  to traditional  school  subjects  was  scheduled  around  activities  like  gymnastics  and  robotics  classes,  and  we  regularly  scheduled  field  trips  either  by  ourselves  or  with  other  homeschoolers.


Another  approach  to  curriculum  choice  is  called  Classical  Homeschooling.  It’s  the  time-tested  method  that  produced  such  famous  thinkers  as  Galileo,  Martin  Luther,  Thomas  Jefferson,  and  Albert  Einstein.  It  works  well  for  children  who  have  a  natural  verbal  intellect,  especially  those  who  like  to  read  and  talk  about  what  they’ve  read,  and  also  for  kids  who  can  memorize  things  easily.  Grades  K-6  emphasize  grammar,  junior  high  emphasizes  logic,  and  high  school  emphasizes  rhetoric  (application  and  communication).  


This  method  also  works  well  if  you  have  multiple  students  because  there’s  a  lot  of  interaction.  There’s  plenty  of  reading,  writing,  and  studying  great  works,  but  also  activities  and  games.  Kids  will  learn  Latin  along  the  way,  too.    


Unit  Studies  are  another  way  to  do  homeschooling,  and  they  are  available  in  all  the  major  subject  areas.  Large  families  with  children  of  varying  ages  often  choose  Unit  Studies  because  units  are  easily  modified  to  meet  each  child’s  level  and  capability,  but  they  can  be  used  for  just  one  child,  too.  


One  benefit  of  Unit  Studies  is  you  don’t  have  to  come  up  with  ideas  —  they  provide  HUNDREDS  of  options  for  you.  And,  they  are  usually  very  hands-on.  For  example,  when  studying  the  five  senses,  our  daughter  built  an  ear  using  cardboard  and  tunnels  so  she  could  crawl  in  to  see  the  different  parts.  She  also  read  about  Helen  Keller  and  studied  how  to  accommodate  people  with  disabilities.  Essentially,  Unit  Studies  uses  a  big  picture  approach  and  emphasizes  real  life  experience.  


Yet  another  approach  to  homeschooling  is  often  referred  to  as  Charlotte  Mason.  The  originator  of  this  method  (Mason)  believed  that  children  absorb  much  from  their  home  life  (their  “Atmosphere”),  that  good  habits  of  character  should  be  developed  (their  “Discipline”),  and  that  children  should  be  taught  using  a  practical  approach  (“Life”).


The  Charlotte  Mason  approach  is  much  like  Unit  Studies  but  based  more  in  literature.  That  is,  activities  usually  complement  the  content  of  a  book.  For  example,  if  an  assigned  reading  is  “Little  House  on  the  Prairie,”  projects  might  include  churning  butter  and  making  clothes.  The  idea  is  to  allow  children  to  be  creative  and  be  involved  in  real-life  situations.  Lessons  tend  to  be  shorter  and  varied  so  learners  don’t  get  burned  out  doing  repetitive  tasks.  


Moving  away  from  all  formal  curriculum  is  a  method  called  Unschooling.  This  method requires  much  initiative  from  parents,  because  they  must  cue  in  on  what  interests  their  child  and  find  materials  and  activities  that  direct  learning  in  that  area.  The  upside  is  that  you  have  maximum  freedom  to  explore  learning  on  your  terms.  Because  there’s  no  formal  curriculum,  learning  often  occurs  in  spurts,  but  the  advantage  is  that  students  have time  to  become  experts  in  their  areas  of  interest.


With  Unschooling,  parents  may  need  to  nudge  students  so  they  still  get  essential  learning.  One  “unschooler”  I  know  whose  passion  was  programming  didn’t  see  a  value  in learning  language  arts.  It  wasn’t  until  his  parents  told  him  programmers  needed  to  be  able to  present  their  proposals  in  written  form  that  he  got  motivated  to  study  language.  


Lastly,  let’s  talk  about  “Box  School,”  the  method  that  most  resembles  traditional  school.  Parents  who  want  to  homeschool  but  want  a  straightforward  approach  can  get  pre-packaged  (boxed)  coursework.  Little  creative  thinking  is  required  by  the  parent  —  the  textbooks,  study  schedules,  and  record-keeping  paperwork  for  all  subjects  come  in  one  box.  Think  “plug  and  play.”  This  can  provide  a  comfort  for  the  parent,  but  may  not  be  as  much  fun  for  the  students.  That  said,  you  can  also  buy  box  curriculum  for  just  one  subject,  and  you  don’t  have  to  get  all  your  curriculum  from  one  supplier.  We  used  a  box  curriculum  for  language  while  our  daughter  was  in  first  through  third  grades.  


Finally,  know  that  homeschooling  does  not  have  to  be  expensive.  We  spent  less  than  $200  each  year  on  curriculum  until  our  daughter  reached  junior  high.  If  you  have  any  interest  in  homeschooling,  I  recommend  attending  the  June  conference  in  Nampa  (see  Not  only  will  you  get  your  questions  answered,  you’ll  learn  that  you’re  not  alone  in  the  effort,  and  that  much  support  abounds.


Daniel  Bobinski,  M.Ed.  runs  two  businesses.  One  helps  teams  and  individuals  learn  how  to  use  Emotional  Intelligence.  The  other  helps  companies  improve  their  training  programs.  He’s  also  a  homeschooling  dad,  a  best-selling  author,  and  a  popular  speaker  at  conferences  and  retreats.  Reach  him  at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or  208-375-7606.

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