Winslow Homer Detail from Boys and a Kitten
Several months ago one of our librarians asked me a really interesting question, “How do you know if your children are keeping up with the kids in school?” The question itself sort of surprised me because I honestly had never given it much thought. I guess it just didn’t occur to me that my children should be learning in parallel to students in a public classroom. The librarian was somewhat surprised with my response “Why should I worry about that?” Looking back I could see that her question was really “How do you know if you children are learning what they need to know?” but her underlying assumption was that the public school has this information and that there is in fact some fixed amount of knowledge that children must acquire at some rate or they will be “behind”.
Now I will grant you that there are certain things which must be mastered in order to move on to more in depth and complicated knowledge. After all, one wouldn’t expect a child to be able to do division if they couldn’t even count, nor would you expect a child who didn’t know the alphabet to read, but in general knowledge doesn’t have to be acquired in a set in stone manner. A child’s interest in a subject can in fact be more of a motivation to learning than any set rubric.
Every once in a while I meet with someone who thinks that homeschooling means the children sit around a table and spend their day doing workbooks, reading textbooks or listening to mom lecture on a topic. Basically that homeschooling should reproduce the classroom in the home. Since the average American has only been exposed to the classroom model of education there is little surprise that this is the supposition. Add to that the fact that some homeschoolers really do try to “do school at home” and the fact that the movement is called “homeschooling” and we create the almost certainty that school is the right way to educate and that parents should educate their children the way the state does.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many different methods and theories when it comes to education. I am a pillager. I hunt through varrious methods and find what works for us and go from there. Here are a few of the methods I have shamelessly stolen from.
Unschooling What I like about unschooling is the idea that learning takes place organically. You don’t need to be following a set agenda at all times for your children to learn important things. If you provide your children a rich environment they will explore and learn better and more deeply then they would if forced to learn things they in which have little interest in a structured environment. Basically it is belief that children are designed to learn, they want to learn and all they really need is the tools. The most important thing I have taken away from unschooling is to get out of the classroom/box mentality, to be very hands-on, to spend time investigating and trying out those things we are learning. Our science and social studies are very unschool inspired.
Classical on the other end is the classical approach which is usually very structured. Certain subjects are introduced and mastered then built upon. There is something the resonates to me very strongly with this method. Logic and rhetoric, real critical analysis are here, built into the system they are built upon. We borrow a great deal from this method. We approach reading, grammar, mathematics and history with a strong classical flavor.
Charlotte Mason somewhere in here is Charlotte Mason. There is almost nothing I can agree with more than the basic idea that education isn’t about acquiring a set of facts or getting a job. It is about expanding our minds and our hearts, building our souls and consciences. Education is every bit as much about forming good habits and excellence in character as it is in learning dates and data.
I am by no means unique in the “take the best of each” approach to education. My children benefit from different approaches and so does my sanity.