Philosophies & Approaches
The following is a list of popular home schooling approaches:
The Schoolroom Method
This method of instruction would be similar to a classroom style—complete with textbook curriculum, grading, testing, and schedules. Usually a homeschool curriculum package is used with the typical grades and subjects that are taught in a school. The “school-at-home” family will usually have a daily schedule and will typically also have school days and vacation days.
The classical approach to education is based upon the philosophy that the best education involves teaching children to think, not teaching "subjects." The core of the classical syllabus is what is known as the Trivium, which consists of three parts: "Grammar," "Dialectic," and "Rhetoric." The first part, "Grammar," is not the subject of grammar; rather, it is the study of the basic facts for different subjects. This stage covers the ages of approximately 6 to 10, the stage when children are the most receptive to, and will readily memorize, information. The "Dialectic" stage begins at approximately age 10, when children naturally begin to demonstrate independent or abstract thought. During this stage, children begin to build understanding and the ability to respond to the information acquired during the first phase, while integrating that information into a comprehensive whole. In the "Rhetoric" stage (which lasts from teen into adulthood), the aim is to produce a student who can use language, both written and spoken, eloquently and persuasively to express what he/she thinks. Emphasis is placed on the ability to intelligently discuss a wide variety of subjects traditionally taught in the Western world, such as Latin, Euclidean Geometry, and the classical authors.
Theme Unit Studies
Theme Unit Studies (or Thematic Units) are an integrated thematic approach to learning several subjects/concepts through a main topic. Topics or themes can be chosen by the child's interests, experiences in family life, books, events in the news, etc. This method can be used with different grades at one time to incorporate all the children of a family. Unit studies can be made up by the parent, taken from a book of unit studies, or procured from sources online. To bring together studies in various subjects that correlate with the theme, the teacher uses all sources available: online, library, community, etc. For example: Theme study of Gold Rush for K–5: (covers 2nd, 4th, 5th history; K–5 life science), 2nd/4th/5th history: studying events leading up to and subsequently after the Gold Rush (a unit appropriate for the 2nd grade social studies, 4th grade California, or 5th grade U.S. history subjects). Science: learning about plants and animals in California, thus covering K–5 Life Science standards. Language Arts: reading, discussion, and writing activities (e.g., reports, letters, stories) focused on books covering the Gold Rush. Health: learning about health and living conditions at the time of the Gold Rush compared with today. Art: creating craft replicas of items used during the Gold Rush. Music: learning the songs that were sung during Gold Rush days, presenting a musical about that era. PE: playing games of the pioneer children. Technology: playing “Oregon Trail,” making a “Gold Rush” website, researching facts online, using the library database for finding books relating to the theme, using online sources for pictures and documents.
As many teachers, parents, and philosophers throughout the ages have noted, children are naturally inquisitive and will readily try out any manipulative items that are made available to them. (In fact, it is often difficult to keep a young child from touching an item of interest!) With this in mind, several educators have built systems of learning based largely on the practical use of handicrafts and manipulative materials in every subject. Two of the most famous of these are the Waldorf approach to education and the Montessori Schools. Although Rudolf Steiner (who started the Waldorf School) and Montessori do differ in some of their philosophies, there are more similarities than differences in their approaches to learning. Some background about both of these well-known educational systems may be helpful in understanding their purposes.
Rudolf Steiner began his first school in 1919 at the Waldorf factory in Germany. The Waldorf philosophy emphasizes education of the whole child—head, heart, and hands. It is geared to the child's stages of development and incorporates all elements—intellectual, artistic, spiritual, and physical. The goal is to produce individuals who are educationally well rounded, having learned skills in all areas: practical (carpentry, knitting), creative (art, music), and intellectual (the academic subjects).
Meanwhile, Dr. Maria Montessori, a renowned educator, began her first preschool in 1907. Her experiences there influenced her philosophy about education. She believed in providing learning experiences with a focus upon child-led purposeful, sensory, and tactile activities guided by a trained adult. The environment would be “shaped” by the trained adult who would be providing appropriate manipulatives and tactile activities for the child to choose and explore. Montessori schools abound in America and throughout the world.
Some distinctive features of both Waldorf and Montessori education include the following:
- The formal teaching of academic skills is de-emphasized in the early grades. In the Waldorf schools, the alphabet and the four processes of math are introduced through the use of fairy tales and imaginative characters. Formal reading/math skills are not emphasized until second or third grade. Montessori encourages reading/math explorations, but children learn to read and acquire math skills when they are developmentally ready, rather than at a pre-determined age.
- During the elementary school years (first through eighth grades) the students have a teacher who stays with the same class for (ideally) the entire eight years of elementary school. Obviously, these philosophies are well suited to home schooling!
- Certain activities that are often considered "frills" (art, music, gardening, foreign languages, etc.) at mainstream schools are central at Waldorf and Montessori. In the younger grades, all subjects are introduced through artistic or tactile experiences. The Montessori Association produces many hands-on educational materials for use in their schools, and these can often be purchased online. There are also “Waldorf-inspired” curriculum packages for the homeschool setting that can be purchased.
- There are few "textbooks" in the first through fifth grades. All children in the Waldorf system have “main lesson” books, which are created by students writing and illustrating information about academic subjects. Montessori children use materials from the real world instead of a regular “text.” Upper grades use textbooks to supplement their main lesson work.
- Learning in Waldorf and Montessori schools is a noncompetitive activity. There are no grades given at the elementary level; the teacher writes a detailed evaluation of the child at the end of each school year.
- The use of electronic media, particularly television, by young children is strongly discouraged in Waldorf schools. The preference is to provide an authentically rich environment through storytelling and literature, arts and handcrafts, music, and physical games. The emphasis in Montessori schools is also to provide a stimulating learning environment with many hands-on activities.
The philosophy of “Natural Schooling” is based upon the belief that education is imbedded in the process of life. It is an ongoing and natural endeavor, and learning can happen anywhere and at any time. Therefore, the parent makes the child a part of the family’s daily activities, and incorporates the entire community into his/her daily learning. The world is the child's school and the child follows his/her own interests in learning. Proponents of natural schooling believe children are naturally inquisitive and will learn all the basic subjects if given the time and opportunity. All subjects are incorporated into their everyday experiences. For instance, math is taught in relation to how it is used in the real world, not as an isolated set of numbers. Children being educated through this approach often begin "apprenticing" in future careers even before they become teenagers. They are encouraged to explore their own areas of interest and to achieve to their utmost ability. It is very important, however, for parents to help shape the life experiences so that all academic skills are eventually achieved.