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A Traditional Textbook Approach to Homeschooling: Should You Do "School" at Home?

I was a traditional school teacher before I had children and became a homeschool teacher. Many times when people hear that, they sometimes assume that this qualifies me to homeschool my children and somehow makes me a more capable teacher of my own children. But that just isn't true.

I often reply that being a teacher before homeschooling has actually made homeschooling harder- especially in the early days. You see, I thought that the very word "school" meant that we somehow had to follow the rules and routines of my classroom teaching days.

Textbook approach to homeschooling

In my early homeschooling days, my older kids sat at desks. We started each day with the pledges and a day board with calendar and weather just like I'd used at school. We used workbooks- the same curriculum and workbooks that I'd used as a classroom teacher. Because homeschooling meant that we do "school" at home. Right?

Before long, I realized that this wasn't working. It wasn't working for the kids. And it wasn't working for me. I didn't want to follow the rules of school at home. I wanted to adapt to what my kids needed. I wanted to use a variety of materials. I wanted our learning to be more than just a few hours a day completing workbooks.

I can just imagine that some readers, at this point, are cheering me on. "Oh, yes. Textbooks are awful. We don't want to do school at home." But I can also imagine that there are others of you who are bristling. You use a traditional textbook method for homeschooling, and it's working great for your family. You're going to write me heated emails telling me exactly how well doing "school" at home works.

Here's the thing: A traditional textbook method of homeschooling might be just the thing for your family even though it didn't work at all for mine.

I've been sharing a variety of popular homeschooling methods in this recent post series. But, if you missed the first post here, you can read it and see that I'm not slamming any method in this series. Instead, I'm encouraging you- new homeschooler or veteran homeschooler- to be using a method that works for your family. Don't just do what I did when I began homeschooling and use a certain method or certain curriculum because that's all you know, and you can't imagine using anything else. Instead, read about a variety of methods and choose what will work for your family.

Using textbooks and workbooks for homeschooling

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The Traditional Textbook Homeschool Method

Using a traditional textbook approach to homeschooling doesn't necessarily mean that you have to begin your day with pledges and a day board as I did. What it does mean is that you'll probably choose a curriculum with textbooks and workbooks.

Although some homeschool families that use textbooks and workbooks pick and choose different curricula for different subjects, many choose to buy boxed curricula where all of the textbooks and workbooks come from one publisher. Curriculum usually includes textbooks with information to read and workbooks where the student responds to the information with worksheets that test comprehension. Some publishers have only workbooks for the younger grades, and parents are supposed to teach the information (or students watch a teacher on a DVD or streaming).

In a traditional textbook approach, the academic subjects are usually very divided. What the student is learning in one subject doesn't really have any relation to any other subject.

If you're looking for a resource that will help you to have a structured, traditional school day at home, Managers of Their Schools may have some information you can use. I'm not nearly as structured as the Maxwells who author this book, and there are areas where I don't agree, but there is some good stuff here too- especially if you want a structured, organized homeschool day.

A Few Cautions

Although I do think that the textbook approach to homeschooling can work for some families, I have a few cautions to offer based on my own experiences and from other families I've known who were using this approach.

~ Don't ever feel as if you have to do everything the curriculum says you have to do- every workbook page, every problem, every question.

I had a young homeschooling mom call me for advice. She had begun homeschooling her children who had originally been in traditional school. She was using a boxed textbook/workbook curriculum that had quite a bit of workbook type work. She- and her children- were all getting really frustrated, and this whole homeschooling thing just wasn't working very well for them. She began to tell me about their typical days. She made sure that she used the curriculum exactly as it was written, and her children were doing every single workbook page as well. They were working on school from around eight in the morning until almost four every afternoon.

I would be frustrated too! I told her to take a deep breath. And then I told her that it was perfectly okay not to read every word and do every worksheet and every problem in the curriculum.

You know your children and your situation better than the textbook/workbook author. Only have your children do what they need to do and what fits them.

~ Read real books.

One of my biggest issues with a textbook/workbook approach is that we can get so busy with them that we don't read our children real books as well. I missed real books when I tried to use this approach. But you don't have to give up reading real books to use a textbook. Just make sure that -even if they aren't built into the curriculum- you include lots of good books.

If you're looking for some great book recommendations, I'm always sharing booklists for various ages and topics because I love all things reading. You can find some of my booklists as well as other great suggestions on my Booklists for Kids Pinterest board.

Traditional Textbook Curricula

A Beka Books- This is the curriculum that I used as a teacher and began with as a homeschooler. It's very structured and has scripted lessons for teachers. If you're uneasy about how to get started homeschooling, and your worried about how to teach a subject, this boxed curriculum might be a really good fit for you. There are DVD and online versions of classes available with this curriculum also.

BJU Press- This is a curriculum similar in style to A Beka Books. You can purchase it book by book or as whole grade level sets. There are also online and DVD options.

Notgrass- We used history curriculum from Notgrass last year. It's a textbook approach that covers history and Bible. There is also a booklist that, if used, covers your literature for the year. There are many things I like about Notgrass, and Charles loved it. I wasn't as wild about using it as the primary history and Bible for Ashlyne and Rachel because I missed reading more real books. We used their literature suggestions along with other time period books I found to supplement.

Apologia- I almost didn't list Apologia, but technically it's a textbook approach to science. Students read a textbook and answer comprehension questions. There are also science labs included. The reason I almost didn't list it here is because- although technically a textbook- the writing style in the Apologia books reads much more like a great living book.

Alpha Omega Publications- Alpha Omega has a variety of homeschool curriculum options. They offer digital and online classes as well as a unit study curriculum. They also offer two textbook options- Horizons and Lifepacs. The textbooks in the Horizons curriculum are primarily for the early grades except for some math and electives. This is a traditional, teacher-led, textbook-based curriculum. The Lifepacs are available for all grades. They are in the style of a textbook/workbook combo and are mostly student-led, with students working through the Lifepacs- about ten per subject per grade level- independently and at their own speed. Charles has used Lifepacs fairly successfully for math, but he tried doing science with them, and he just couldn't comprehend enough to do it on his own.

A traditional textbook approach might be a great fit for your family if you want structure and if you want your curriculum more laid out and prepared for you ahead of time. Often families with many kids in a range of ages find it easier because they don't have to plan and prepare for multiple grade levels at once. Most of that is done for them in the packaged curriculum.

Do you use a traditional textbook approach? Tell us what you like about it and share your favorite resources in the comments.

More about homeschooling methods...

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