6 Questions to Ask When You're Choosing a Homeschooling Method
One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is the flexibility. I know many, many homeschool families, and almost every one has differences in the ways that they homeschool. Different materials, different methods, different goals- it's all about what works for your family.
Sometimes new homeschoolers who have had kids attending a traditional school or a new homeschool mom who was once a traditional school teacher has difficulty with this. In traditional school, it's all about sameness. Everyone uses the same books, is taught using very similar methods, and moves at the same pace. So new homeschoolers who have traditional school experience are sometimes left asking, "What in the world is all this buzz about homeschool methods and how in the world do I know which one to choose?"
If you're a new homeschool mama- or even have been homeschooling a few years but think your family needs a change, here are some questions you need to ask when you're considering the homeschool method that is right for you. This post isn't going to go into detail about the major homeschooling methods. If you want to know more about those, you can visit this post to learn about six of the most popular homeschooling methods. These questions are designed to help you think more clearly about which of those methods is best for you to use.
Why are you homeschooling?
It is vastly important that you know the answer to this question...for many reasons. Choosing your homeschooling method is an important one. Why you're homeschooling can guide many, many of your choices about methods, curricula, co-ops, and even the extracurricular activities you choose.
Some non-homeschoolers think that all homeschoolers homeschool for religious reasons. But this isn't true at all. In fact, as the number of homeschool families continues to grow, more and more secular families are choosing to homeschool. Maybe you're homeschooling because of a child with special needs. Maybe your local schools don't have a good reputation. Maybe you're a military family, moving from place to place and choosing to homeschool to give your children stability.
Your reason for homeschooling will definitely impact your homeschooling method. If you don't have any problem with the public school structure and curricula, but your child has physical needs that make going to school difficult, you might choose to use a traditional school method in your homeschool, or even use online classes from your school district. But if you're homeschooling because you don't like the way that the traditional schools teach, you might choose a totally different method.
Are you homeschooling long term or year to year?When we first began homeschooling, my goal was to homeschool until my youngest child was school aged and then return to teaching in a Christian school- where I had been before children- and put the kids in school. When that was the idea, I was using a more traditional method of homeschooling so that the kids would be prepared for traditional school.
I quickly realized that I wanted this homeschooling thing to be long term. And God closed some doors where the Christian school was concerned. So I no longer cared about a method that prepared my kids for school. I wanted a method that prepared my kids for life and gave them a desire to learn. So we ditched the more traditional methods. I use mostly Charlotte Mason methods now, although I definitely am an eclectic homeschooler.
Knowing whether or not you plan to homeschool long term can give you insight into what method of homeschooling you choose. If you know for a fact that you want your kids to go to school when they reach middle school age, you probably won't choose unschooling as a homeschool method when they're younger. You'll probably want to use a method that will prepare them for a traditional school.
What is your ultimate goal for your children after school?Some parents have a very strong plan for their children to attend college. Others plan to leave it up to the child to determine what will happen after school. You're ultimate goal for what you're kids will do after school is important, also, as you think about your homeschooling method.
Kids who are prepping for college probably need a more structured curriculum as they head into high school. They'll need the information necessary to do well on standardized tests. But if you know your child isn't going to college, you may make different choices, even keeping an unschooling approach all the way through high school.
There isn't a "right" answer to this question, by the way. Some parents strongly believe that all kids should go to college, and some couldn't care less. They just want to prepare their child for life after high school- whatever that looks like.
I remember talking to a mom who is an entrepreneur and who teaches families to be entrepreneurial and to prepare their kids to be entrepreneurs. She's been very successful at very untraditional businesses. And her oldest child - at 20-had already made over $1,000,000. With his first $1,000,000, he made it possible for his dad to leave a corporate job and come home with the family. This mom was speaking at a homeschool convention and talking about the unconventional "teaching" that their family used throughout the teen years to prepare their kids for working independently and coming up with unique ways to own their own businesses. I asked her how they converted those things to a high school transcript. Her answer: they didn't. It was honestly the first time that I realized that we didn't have to be stuck in the rut of traditional graduation and college requirements in order to be successful.
What you personally think about this definitely has an impact, though, when it comes to choosing your homeschooling method.
How many children are you homeschooling and what are their ages?Do you homeschool an only or do you have ten children? Or are you somewhere in between? I've known large families that use a textbook based method of homeschooling, and every child has his or her own unique curriculum. I couldn't do this. It's too much work!
In my experience, it's been much easier to choose methods like unit studies and Charlotte Mason's living books that the whole family- or at least groups- use at once, instead of totally independent work. As my kids get older, their work does become a little more structured, and they become more independent learners. But for teaching multiple ages, I love homeschool methods that allow me to teach children together.
If you have an only child or are one of those brave souls who can handle ten independent curricula, you might find it easier to use a traditional textbook method. But if you, like me, want to combine as much learning as possible, take a look at some of the less-structured, multi-age methods of homeschooling.
What are your kids' learning styles?Do your kids learn better with hands-on materials? Or are they auditory learners? Do they take notes well? Can they read and recall information easily? Knowing how your children learn is very important when you are looking at homeschooling methods.
As a former traditional school teacher, I can tell you that only a small percentage of the class really learned best in the way that traditional school works. Many of the children don't learn best in those structured, textbook-oriented ways at all. This is why they struggle in school. Most of the times that I've seen kids fail, it's not because of a true problem with the child. It's that the teaching methods in the school don't fit the learning style of the child. So...the child can't keep up with the rest of the class and is then labeled a failure. Then the child is behind, and because the teacher has to keep moving with the rest of the class, this child falls behind more and more until he's now labeled with a learning problem.
As a homeschooler, you don't have to be stuck in this cycle. You can choose methods that fit your kids. Is your child good at reading and recalling information? You could probably use a traditional school method in your homeschooling. Do you have a hands-on learner? You could use unit studies and delight-directed learning. Do you have an auditory learner? Use Charlotte Mason's methods and read aloud from great living books.
Choose a homeschooling method that will help your child to succeed. If you need help determining your child's learning style The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias is one of my favorite resources.
What is your teaching style?I think that it's most important to choose a method that will fit your child's learning style. But it is also important to consider your teaching style. Because if you just can't do well with the homeschooling method you're trying, it isn't going to work.
If you need structure to be successful, you probably aren't going to want to use a delight-directed homeschooling method. If you love to be creative and think of your own lessons and materials, you probably won't be successful using a traditional school method.
I had a friend who was thinking of homeschooling come and observe us one morning. I am NOT a structured teacher. We use lots of gentle teaching methods from Charlotte Mason, and we do lots of fun unit studies. On this particular morning, I was spending a good bit of time reading aloud and then we were working on a lapbook. While I read kids crawled in and out under tables. When we worked on the lapbook, there was lots of talk and laughter and lots of mess. I knew the kids were learning because I know my kids. My friend, however, was pretty horrified and quickly determined that this homeschooling thing was not for her. I tried to explain that this was just one homeschooling example and that the way we do homeschooling isn't the same way everyone does homeschooling. But...I don't think she was convinced. What we do works for me. It obviously wouldn't have worked for her. But other methods might have.
Choose the method that fits your child's learning style. But also be reasonable about what is going to work for you.
Do you have a preferred homeschooling method? How did you decide it worked for you?