Eclectic Homeschooling: Does Doing What Works Really Work?

I cringe when I’m asked what homeschooling method I use. I also cringe when asked what curriculum I use. My reply to both of these questions usually begins with “Well…”and then depends on whether I’m taking to another homeschooler or a random stranger.

Eclectic homeschooling defined

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My response to a random stranger is usually, “We use My Father’s World. It’s a history based curriculum that involves lots of reading of great kids’ books.” That answer will usually suffice, because they’re probably just asking to make small talk after the stunning revelation that I homeschool. But that answer is only partially true.

If I’m asked the question by another homeschooler who actually seems to be interested in what I’m doing, my answer will probably be much longer. You see, we use a wide variety of homeschooling methods and materials. Three of my students use My Father’s World as their base curriculum. It involves lots of reading and uses many Charlotte Mason teaching methods. One uses Notgrass history which is much more like a textbook. We use online classes for some subjects. We use workbooks for some subjects. We use Apologia for some science, and it’s technically a textbook but it reads more like a living book. In some subjects we alternate different curricula throughout the year because there are things I like about a variety of curricula in that subject, and I feel like we cover it better if I use bits and pieces of all. Sometimes we do hands-on projects like lapbooks. Sometimes kids’ fill in the blanks on worksheets.

I am an eclectic homeschooler.

What’s an eclectic homeschooler?

I looked up the definition of “eclectic” , and I found these three definitions:

selecting or choosing from various sources.

made up of what is selected from different sources.

not following any one system, as of philosophy, medicine, etc., buts electing and using what are considered the best elements of all systems.

My favorite by far is the third.  For me, eclectic homeschooling means looking through all of the many, many resources for homeschooling that are available- and believe me, there are MANY!- and choosing the best.
It doesn’t matter so much who the publisher is. It doesn’t matter so much what methods of learning it uses. It doesn’t matter so much how many other people used it and loved it. What matters is that I’m selecting the best elements for each individual student in my homeschool.

Why be an eclectic homeschooler?

When I was a teacher in traditional school in the days before I had kids, I saw over and over and over cases in which kids struggled with schoolwork because the curriculum just didn’t fit them. It didn’t match up with the way that they learned best. And students as young as first or second grade already felt like failures because they weren’t learning with the curriculum and methods that we had to use with the whole class.
When I began to homeschool my own kids, I knew that this was what I didn’t want. I wanted to use methods and curriculum that would help my kids to succeed. That means that, although I’ve often identified with various homeschool methods, I’ve not limited our curriculum and learning activities to those that fit exactly with that method. It means that even though I personally don’t think workbooks are a great teaching tool, I’ve used workbooks because I have a student who does well with them. It means that even though I love reading great books, I’ve limited the reading of one of my students because he’s not a strong reader and gets bogged down in long books.

Does eclectic homeschooling work

Cautions of eclectic homeschooling…

Although I’ll be the first to recommend that you become an eclectic homeschooler and do what works for each of your students, there are some cautions that I’ve learned in almost 14 years of homeschooling this way.

Avoid bright, shiny curriculum syndrome. 

You know what I mean. You’ve had the next year’s curricula picked out and purchased for months now. And then your friend comes over, excited and bubbling about the brand new writing program she’s using with her kids this year. All of sudden, you just have to have that program. It will definitely work for at least one of your kids. You’ve never seen anything like it!
Take a deep breath. Spend some time researching and considering and praying before you run out and buy something else. Maybe check out the website and see if you can get access to samples you can try. Perhaps your friend will let you borrow her teacher’s guide and try out a few lessons. Yes, this may be the perfect curriculum for one of your children. But it may also just look good because it’s new and different.

Be realistic about your budget.

In this post, I talk about my $200 mistake in changing math curricula. Fortunately I learned my lesson, and I’ve learned to consider my budget before jumping into changes now. Just because I can tell that one or more of my kids needs a change doesn’t mean we can afford the change right now. Maybe I need to try to make what we have work for a while.
I’m very thankful for the Schoolhouse Review Crew because I’ve had the opportunity to try out many great curricula and programs without sinking money into something that may or may not work. But when I didn’t have the Crew, I obviously couldn’t buy everything I wanted just because I thought it would be good for one of the kids to try.

Changing curricula over and over for a subject area can leave students frustrated in that subject.

Up until the last year or so, we’ve played the change-math-curriculum-every-year game. It hasn’t been very successful for us. It began when my oldest were about 2nd and 3rd graders. I didn’t like the math curriculum we were using but I couldn’t put my finger on what I didn’t like. 
I’ve posted in some detail about the disastrous results in that post I mentioned above, but the short version is that I ended up changing curriculum on the spur of the moment. Because I hadn’t researched the curriculum and really thought out what I was doing, the curriculum didn’t work very well for us. Thus ensued a succession of math curricula. We’ve finally landed on something that works. But in the meantime, my kids have really struggled with math.
It’s good to make a change when it’s needed. And homeschooling is all about flexibility. But I’ve learned that sometimes we just need to use a curriculum consistently for a while and see if we can make it work. 

There is some value to kids in learning to use materials that aren’t perfect for them.

My oldest children are high schoolers now. In fact, I’ll have a senior this year! When we headed into the high school years, I began keeping a transcript for each of them. I made a list of the courses required for high school graduation in our state, and I’ve been keeping track of the classes they’ve taken that meet those requirements.
One of my children- whose name I won’t mention- did not appreciate his/her science class in 9th grade. He/she really didn’t care for the curriculum we were using. But when I suggested other curricula that we already owned, that wasn’t acceptable either. He/she really wanted something easier. Much easier. And when I wasn’t in agreement, he/she asked in a very sincere manner if homeschooling weren’t all about adapting to what the student needed. Hmmm. Maybe they do listen to me.
We had to have a long conversation about the balance between knowing when to change things up because they legitimately aren’t working and knowing when a student just needs to stick with a curriculum that’s good even though it’s hard or not in a style he/she would prefer. I think that as students get older- especially if we’re preparing them for college- they may need to have opportunities where they use a curriculum or program that’s not ideal but that they can adapt to and make work for them. That’s good practice for college and for the real world.
And so…we’re eclectic homeschoolers. We do what works. If you look on my curriculum shelves, you’ll see quite a hodgepodge. With a little attention to some of the cautions I’ve mentioned, eclectic homeschooling is a great thing. It’s a privilege we have to pick and choose from hundreds of homeschooling resources to find the ones that work for each student in our family.
*Just a note...I know some of my large family homeschooling friends may be shaking their heads right about now. I only have four children. (I’ve been goggled at as if they were twenty sometimes, but they’re only four. I promise.) With my four children, it’s doable to have students working on different things. As we began homeschooling, I used the same curricula for all as much as possible, only branching out when it was really necessary. Now, my children work much more independently. If you are homeschooling seven, eight, nine kids, I totally get that you can’t be very eclectic. I think I would be a crazy person if I had seven kids all using different curricula! I think the real key is that we do what works in our own families.*

Some of my favorite resources…

In this series of homeschool methods posts, I’ve been sharing some resources that fit with the homeschool method in the post. Since there is no category in the homeschool curriculum catalog that is called “Eclectic,” I’m just sharing some of the posts I’ve written that talk about curricula, programs, and resources that have been our favorites in various subjects.
Homeschool history resources

 Homeschool fine arts resources

Homeschool language arts resources

Homeschool math resources

Homeschool science resources

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