Monday, June 04, 2012

homeschooling approaches - it's more than curriculum choice

I sometimes answer questions from new homeschoolers or those considering homeschooling as part of my volunteer work. Here is one response I wrote to a parent of a 12 year old who is considering homeschooling next year. This response was to his follow-up question asking me what curriculum I use. I know that I can sometimes be very defensive (and offensive as a result ;-0) and strident about homeschooling, but this is actually an even-tempered response that might be informative and helpful to some of my friends. That is why I am sharing it here [originally published as a Facebook note].


We used Singapore Math last year. Before that, we didn't really use anything or you might say we used a bit of everything, just not packaged curriculum. My kids are self-motivated and we've always had lots of learning materials and books in the house and available to them. We love the library and its amazing the resources available there. We've also been involved in co-ops with other parents and homeschoolers.

What lead me to this approach was reading Mary Hood's book The Relaxed Homeschool -- she has a PhD in education and her book made a lot of sense to me. A very relaxed approach has worked well with my kids though I understand that others want or need more structure ororganization in their homeschool. I also enjoy books by John Holt, especially Teach Your Own and Learning all the Time.

Since your child is 12 and has been in school, this relaxed approach may be very unappealing to you (or might seem slightly insane). Also, you may have concerns about academic performance and having the ability to return to school in the future. This is why it's good to join the lists and talk to a variety of homeschoolers. There are many ways to homeschool and to prepare your kids for college and beyond.

I don't know your reasons for looking into homeschooling and this might not appeal to you, but if your child seems burned out by school and needing a new perspective, you might want to look into the concept of deschooling - the idea of which is to get one's intrinsic love of learning back. I just googled the term and found a lot of information--

What I love about homeschooling is the ability to question the educational assumptions of institutional school. We started our journey when the kids were very young, so I spent a lot of time reading educational theory and about various approaches to education and I didn't need to worry about what they were learning or how fast. Now, as my kids get older (I have a 12 year old as well), I am beginning to get a bit more concerned about whether our relaxed approach will continue to suit us well. You might want to think about your goals for homeschooling as well as for your child. My goals for my kids are that I want them to be good, honest, productive people with strong family relationships. I'm a little murky on how the whole college thing is going to work and I do expect that my kids will get at least bachelors degrees. I follow what the homeschoolers with older kids are saying on the lists and I know that it will work out. So far, our needs are being met.

Like I said, my approach might not appeal to you at all and that's why it's important to talk to other homeschoolers. There are plenty of people who use curricula that they love and are happy with (and they may have used several different ones over the years because what works well one year might not the next). I would suggest that you not jump in too quickly or spend too much money because what works for one kid might not work for another and you don't want to sink a couple of hundred dollars into one curriculum only to learn about another curriculum that might work better. One thing a lot of us homeschoolers like to keep in mind is that we don't really have a timetable like the schools do. You are not required to have math, science, language arts and history taught every day. If your child has a strong interest in a subject or topic, you might be able to use to study cross-curricularly, something that schools may not be able to do, especially at the higher grades where each subject has a different teacher (one approach that does this is unit studies; but you need not formalize it).

Sorry, I feel as if I've babbled a bit. I suppose my main point is that homeschooling is an opportunity for you to look at education from a different perspective than the school system has offered, if you choose. There are many museums to visit and activities to do and lots of ways to learn that look nothing like what an institutional school has to offer. Otherwise, there are a number of packaged curricula that might work well -- going on a list and describing your child (learning style, special needs or gifts, what they like) might help you find out what worked in families whose children are similar.