Homeschooling is the wild west of learning. You can pick and choose whatever you like. It’s all up to you. But over the years there are many homeschooling philosophies or ways to Homeschool that has evolved. In this blog post, we will go through all the major methods and their respective curriculum.
Standard Curriculum Home Education
Just as it sounds, this means that children educated at home follow a standard curriculum, which may be an NCERT/CBSE curriculum or one for another examination body.
Some parents chose to home educate so that their children can follow a curriculum that is not available in local schools, for example choosing to follow the curriculum for A Levels rather than state examination boards.
Others feel that studying for the IGCSE or NIOS examination at home will suit a particular child better than being in a school setting, or that the way or the sequence in which the Primary Curriculum is approached can be adapted at home to better suit a particular child.
With standard curriculum learning there will be set textbooks, project work may be required and there will be examinations and/or assessments, though these don’t need to be taken.
- Curricula already exist, are readily accessible, and are usually free and there are many to choose from
- Existing teacher’s workbooks and guidelines are available
- Widely recognized certification is available, which is important for some families and individuals
- Homeschooled students can approach state or exam board curricula more flexibly – for example, concentrating on a small number of subjects or even single subjects in one year and moving on to others in subsequent years.
- Homeschooled children following a standard curriculum can easily integrate into school if this becomes desirable
- Requires a major input of time by both parent and child, which is especially difficult when more than one child is being educated at home
- Following a curriculum and sitting exams can be just as stressful for a home educated as a school-educated child.
- Parents with restricted knowledge in some subject areas may have difficulty helping their child to learn
- Requires a very systematic and ‘school-like’ approach to teaching and learning, which is often seen as contrary to the ethos of homeschooling
- Keeping children motivated and fending off boredom can be difficult
The Montessori Method
The Montessori method was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori and focuses strongly on the needs, talents, gifts, and special individuality of each child. Because each child is treated as an individual and activities are self-contained this is a popular method of homeschooling.
Maria Montessori was a pioneer in many ways and was the first female Italian doctor. After qualification she was charged with educating the “idiots” of Rome, a description she abhorred. Her experience with these impoverished and often uncared-for children led her to develop a new method of teaching in which they flourished in an atmosphere of love and respect. She opened her first school, in Rome, in 1907.
The central tenet is the unique individuality of each child and the belief that children learn best when they are allowed to progress at their own pace. The method aims to foster a natural joy in learning, encouraging self-reliance and independence. The result will be a well-rounded, confident individual thinker with a clear sense of purpose.
Exams and assessments which compare a child’s progress to norms or standards are discouraged.
Even though most people associate Montessori with very young children, the method is suitable for learners of all ages and in a home-schooling situation can be used to educate older children as well.
The main aim of Montessori education is to allow a child to explore and learn free of fear, encouraging life-long learning through the pleasure of mastering new skills.
In Montessori education, children learn from practical experience – by seeing, doing, and experimenting. Everything is child-oriented, with the parent or teacher acting as a facilitator. The teacher must listen to and respond to signals from the child as to what direction learning should take, guiding them but never dictating.
With young children, the emphasis is on discovering the world through the senses, developing the child’s observation skills, and encouraging them to learn through their own experience. The materials used are designed to activate the senses and a lot of emphases is placed on getting out and about to discover more about the world.
Older children are encouraged to move at their own pace to a more abstract way of thinking, again learning by doing, with reading, writing, and numeracy skills taught through interaction with nature, art, music, and literature rather than by rote learning.
While children are encouraged to learn for themselves, their teachers must observe them very closely, watching for signs of interest in a particular direction and then providing the means to pursue the interest to its conclusion.
You need to be very careful when researching Montessori on the internet, as the name is not protected and the vast majority of sites exist just to sell you something many give the impression that they have some legal status or special expertise when this may not be the case.
The best site to use for further research is the Montessori Index, which is non-commercial and careful to provide supporting information for all its content.
Materials and Supplies
Montessori Door-to-door sells a range of Nienhuis toys and equipment from its base in Co Cavan. Nienhuis makes some of the most respected equipment for Montessori education, including The Pink Tower, Bead Frames, and Grammar Boxes. The company was established with the support of the Montessori family.
Michael Olaf Montessori in the USA carries a huge range of books, equipment, and other material.
The Steiner or Waldorf Method
The Waldorf method is the brainchild of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, educator, and social thinker. In addition to the Waldorf method of education, he was also the founder of the Camphill Movement and an early proponent of Biodynamic agriculture. He was also the originator of a branch of philosophy called Anthroposophy, which emphasizes the importance of clear and free thought.
The Waldorf method is not called after the famous hotel, but even more strangely after a cigarette factory in Stuttgart to whose employees Steiner delivered a series of lectures on education. The lectures formed the basis for the development of what is now one of the best-known and largest methods of alternative education in the world.
The Waldorf method aims to develop the full potential of each child physically, mentally, and emotionally without setting goals that are defined not by the needs of the child but by society or other outside parties.
All subjects are approached from three angles: the intellect, applying logic and independent thinking, the heart, emphasizing feeling and their expression, and the hands, with craftwork and art giving expression to the feelings. Art is integrated into every part of the curriculum and from the outset, a sense of environmental awareness and responsibility is fostered.
To help each child to fulfill their full potential, to be able to think clearly and independently, and to make free and informed choices and through those choices find their paths in life.
Steiner defined three stages in a child’s development – early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.
In early childhood – up to the age of 7 – children should remain at home, do not have any structured teaching, and are not taught reading. Instead, they learn through play, art, storytelling, and contact with the natural world.
From the age of 7, a more structured approach is taken, with the study of subjects like history, geography, science, and maths integrated with arts, crafts, and physical activity. Subjects are not taught in bite-sized chunks as in traditional schools – with an hour of this and a half-hour of that – but by immersion in one subject for several weeks, followed by weeks of concentrating on another. During these periods learning is encouraged for its own sake, with no measurement against standards and no exams. This method of teaching allows children to follow their particular interests in any subject area in a quite in-depth way.
From puberty on children are expected to have the skills to become self-directed learners, to think for themselves, and to begin a search for their own beliefs, developing a sense of meaning in their lives.
While a central tenet in Waldorf education is that children should have the same teacher for many years, which makes it seem a perfect candidate for homeschooling, there is also a lot of emphasis placed on group interaction which is harder to provide in a home setting. For this reason, many people choose to educate their children at home until the age of 7 and then send them to a Steiner School.
A good place to get an overview of Steiner and his educational philosophy is at Waldorf Answers, which does indeed answer many common questions.
The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship provides accreditation for schools in the UK and Ireland and is also involved in curriculum development and teacher training.
Wonder Homeschool is a personal site maintained by a home-schooling family from Oklahoma, which has a great wealth of articles and resources about the practical application of the Waldorf Method (and other methods).
The Telegraph Newspaper (UK) of October 21st, 2006 published a good article about one family’s decision to move to Steiner Education, though in a school setting, not at home.
The Charlotte Mason Method
Charlotte Mason was a formidable educator, born in England in 1842. At the age of 18, she began teacher training, and before she even finished her training was already headmistress of a school. Her method of teaching emerged from a series of lectures she gave to the congregation of an Anglican Church, which led to the establishment of the Parents’ Educational Union (PEU), a training college for teachers, and several schools, mainly in the north of England.
Her belief that children should not be given simplified texts or have their surroundings simplified or scaled down often leads to her being seen as the direct opposite of Maria Montessori, who believed that the young child’s school environment should be scaled down to his size.
The Charlotte Mason method of education has increased massively in popularity in recent times in the USA especially, where it is especially widely used by Christian Homeschoolers.
Mason did not agree with the simplification of books or the reduction of ideas presented to children, coining the word ‘twaddle’ to describe the simplified text with which children often learn. She believed these were an insult to children, who are innately equipped to deal with complex ideas and concepts.
Being exposed to complexity awoke a child’s natural desire for knowledge which in turn led to a great capacity for attentiveness and the combination of these two things was what would motivate a child to learn. She believed that external motivators such as rewards, prizes, marks, punishments, and so on were detrimental and they were not used in her schools. She advocated a very broad curriculum.
Mason also believed that children “are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil“, a not uncontroversial belief in her day, and from this flowed her emphasis on the importance of the formation of good habits from infancy.
To create individuals with both a depth and breadth of knowledge and life-long curiosity and love of learning and to establish good habits that will serve a person throughout their life.
The teaching of good habits begins before children can walk, with a structured routine of regular meals, bed and bath times, and daily exercise. Once a child can walk and talk they are trained in routines and behaviors until these become habits.
As wide a range of subjects should be taught as possible, with short sessions on each subject, just 10-15 minutes long for young children, becoming longer as they mature. Since she advocates that no specially simplified children’s books should be used, but rather whole texts as originally written, there are no textbooks and libraries are a wonderful resource for those using her methods.
Narration is at the core of the Mason Method, with children trained to ‘narrate’ or tell back what they have learned from the text they read or have read to them, to teach them to read actively and place the emphasis on what they know rather than what they do not know. Initially, the narration is oral, as children become older it is written. Narration can also be in the form of art or drama.
Children learn to read and write through regular short sessions of copying and dictation. Keeping journals is an important concept, with children encouraged to create their books, scrapbooks, and diaries on a variety of subjects and in particular about their regular nature walks and contacts with art and culture, both central to a Mason education.
Proponents of unschooling would take issue with it being called a method at all since a rejection of the notion of educational methods is at the center of this approach to learning.
Many of the foundations on which the unschooling approach is based are drawn from the writings of John Hunt, who was born in New York in 1923 and the mid-20th century and was one of America’s foremost education thinkers and a proponent of school reform. Eventually, he concluded that the model of teaching children in schools was inherently flawed and that home-based experiential learning, free from structured lessons and the notion of subjects was a superior approach.
“It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong,” he said, “but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.” [source]
John Holt believed that many homeschooling methods were little more than the creation of ‘mini-schools’ in the home and that such an approach missed the point and did not take the idea of homeschooling to its logical conclusion – which he called ‘unschooling’.
Unschooling is sometimes called ‘natural learning’, ‘experiential learning, or ‘independent learning. The central philosophy is that children learn best in the world, by living, rather than through a structured system of lessons, defined subjects, or set curricula. Unschooled children learn all the time, not in lessons but by using everyday activities as a conduit to natural learning which moves at a pace set entirely by the child.
Those unfamiliar with the concepts can see unschooling as simply letting children run wild, but a closer look at what happens in families using this approach gives the lie to this idea. While it is true, if unusual, that some unschooled children will reach the age of 10 or older without being able to read, the same child may be an authority on astronomy or have a remarkably in-depth understanding of mechanics. Reading and other skills will come when the child perceives a need to use them as tools.
Unschooling aims to harness the natural enthusiasm of the child for learning and to create well-rounded, independent, individuals who have the knowledge and experience they need to make their way successfully in the world, following a path that is suited to their abilities and aligned with their interests rather than one that is dictated to them from outside.
It is difficult to define how unschooling is implemented as each family, each child, and each parent will have their own unique experience of it. Essentially there is no scheduled learning, no curriculum, no textbooks, there are no set goals, and no outside standards applied. Learning is child-led, with the role of the parent being to facilitate the child in following his or her passions and interests.
This can seem like a recipe for anarchy but rarely is. Children are naturally curious and able to learn from their world without any formal teaching necessary. Take the situation of children playing with, for example, a train set. They will learn about movement and mechanics, and they may become interested in trains generally, with that interest leading them to enquire and learn about the history of transport or individuals involved in the design of trains. While subject labels will not have been attached to any of this learning, it is clear that simple play could easily lead to the practical acquisition of knowledge about history, geography, science, and biography.
Often the most difficult thing about moving to unschooling is the trouble that parents have in letting go of all notions of subjects as discrete and, many unschoolers would say, artificially divided fields of knowledge, and adopting the notion that learning is everything a child does. It is a misconception that “book learning” is somehow banned in unschooling, this is not so and the contrary is often the case with children motivated to read to experience the pleasure in reading they observe in their parents, and free to read whatever they want, whenever they want.
A common question is what happens when or if a child wants to pursue a career that requires academic qualifications – how are they to gain access to them? The answer is that unschooled children decide what they want to do, so if acquiring an academic qualification becomes important to them, they will work to do that and it is the job of parents to support and facilitate their choice.
It is not easy to find an authoritative source of online information about unschooling, but this site has a large number of contributions from parents and children and gives a good feel for what they experience.
There is more to be learned from books about unschooling, including those written by John Hunt, which are available online from Amazon.
Sudbury Valley School takes the concepts of unschooling and puts them back into a school setting – albeit a school about as far from the traditional model as it is possible to get.