Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What Kind of Homeschooler Are You, Anyway?

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that there are just so many different ways to homeschool. Meeting a new homeschooling family for the first time is often a time to compare notes on programs and curricula, books and methods, and to learn how a completely different family is putting things together and making them work for their own unique situations and needs.

The homeschool spectrum, at least as it appears to me, seems to fluctuate between fully prepackaged curricula homeschoolers on one end, and total unschoolers on the other, with lots of interesting stops in between. In addition to the method chosen, there are endless varieties of style, too, and it's always fascinating to encounter some of these variations. For example, I might once have thought that the prepackaged curricula folks would be most likely to be recreating the "school classroom at home" experience, but that's simply not true--there are unschoolers who meet in a classroom in their homes, complete with blackboard, globe, and other school paraphernalia, while on the other hand you might find people who order and stick to a homeschool program's complete curriculum but who do their schoolwork wherever life happens to take them.

At some future day, some insightful homeschooler will probably create the homeschooling equivalent of the Myers-Briggs personality test, designed to help aspiring homeschoolers to determine ahead of time which methods/styles/curriculum types will probably work best for them based on personality, temperament, educational goals, family structure, numbers and ages of children, perceptions of children's learning styles etc. Until that happens, though, moms will keep learning the best way we can: by doing, evaluating, changing, re-committing, and slowly becoming aware of what works for us and what doesn't.

If that test I envision above ever does become a reality, I'm pretty sure I'd come out an ETDCAH homeschooler. The acronym translates "Eclectic Textbook Do-it-yourself Curricula All over the House," which pretty much describes what I use, how I use it, and where we do most of our teaching/learning.

I choose the "eclectic textbook" approach because I see it as being a good fit both for my strengths as a homeschooling teacher, and my weaknesses. I love to discuss the things my children are learning and studying with them, but as I told my DH the other day, if I had to answer the question "What are we doing for science class today?" in any other way than "The next ten pages of your textbook, dear," I'd break out in a cold sweat. This doesn't mean that we never float away from the books for a bit to encounter something of interest that the books don't specifically cover, of course. But for most of the subjects I teach, I need the backing of some educator somewhere who already figured out what the average fourth or sixth or seventh grader should be studying. Trying to "wing it" with lesson plans and other materials is something that some homeschoolers find exhilarating, but as someone whose exterior organizational skills fall far short of her interior ones I like the security of knowing that lessons will proceed in an orderly manner.

That said, I also choose the D-I-Y curricula approach for flexibility. In our eight years as homeschoolers, we've sometimes tried a book or workbook that just hasn't worked out. Though the prepackaged curricula would offer an even higher level of the security I just talked about, for me the big negative there is not being able to swap out books in certain subjects if the materials the school chooses aren't a good fit. Some prepackaged curricula programs will allow you a certain amount of swapping anyway, but since you've already paid for the materials the school provides you're taking on an added expense, and I'm not sure I'd be motivated enough to look around for different materials if I were buying a neat and tidy set of schoolbooks. In addition, I choose the D-I-Y approach because here in the great state of Texas I have complete freedom to measure our educational accomplishments any way I like, and so I don't need a school to keep records for me or administer tests. In a different state I might have to weigh the "pros" of having a school involved in those things against the "cons" of my flexibility and relative freedom.

And the "All over the House" part?

In an ideal world, I'd love to have a real classroom, a spacious, airy, window-laden room with a chalkboard at one end and a wall of bookshelves opposite to it. I would have a real teacher's desk, the girls would each have a good-sized desk as well, and back by the bookshelves would be a love seat and a couple of really good reading chairs, for group study. The walls would have religious art, a holy water font, and a beautiful crucifix; a small cart would hold a small t.v. for educational videos and a c.d. player for classical music during quiet reading time, and a craft table would provide the remaining furniture. The only phone in the room would be purchased at a used office-supply store and wouldn't ring; it would just show a blinking light when someone was calling, so I could listen to whatever message the caller left and return emergency calls right away.

To a certain extent, my living room slightly resembles this vision. There are a few desks, there are couches, there are bookshelves, and the religious art is pretty much how I described it. Unfortunately, it remains a living room in an open-concept house, which means that it has to double as a place where people can gather for purposes other than education, so the "craft table" is a small art cabinet, and the "teacher's desk" is the flap of my secretary desk. We don't have a chalkboard (not yet, anyway!), our sole television is in another room altogether, and group study is easier to conduct at the kitchen table than on the living room couches for the most part. Quiet individual study usually has to take place in a bedroom, and any research involving the computer means we all troop off to the master bedroom (though again, that may change soon!).

In the comment box below, please tell me what kind of homeschooler you are! Do you use real learning methods? Charlotte Mason? Montessori? Do you unschool? Where do you do your school work? Have you ever changed radically from one style to another?

What kind of homeschooler are you?


Susan said...

I was planning to post on this question today. So, in lieu of a comment, feel free to stop by.


Red Cardigan said...

Will do, Susan! :)

Opal said...

This will be our third year with Seton. This year, I have felt more comfortable with switching and adding books; the science just wasn't cutting it. So I guess we are mainly boxed curriculum. We do have a room that has desks/map/computer but we are not limited to this space. There are times when reading is done side by side on the couch. One of the reasons we use Seton is for the help and recorded grades. Yes, I know I could grade my own and do, but in the event that anything happens and they have to go to a school outside of home (please Lord no) then they would have transcripts. Their religion and english programs are great too, in my opinion. I also like the fact that I can log in and print out their lesson plans and adjust them accordingly; that is a big bonus in my opinion. It helps me to stay motivated and on track. Now, since we have a daughter who will be entering high school in two years, we may stay enrolled for the help and courses offered online, but we may pull the others back to partial enrollment.
My sister is starting for the first time this year, not with Seton and is using a mixed variety of books. One thing that strikes me as odd with "unschooling" is the fact that "school" is never mentioned. She intends to teach them that you LEARN everywhere which is ok to a point because you are leaving out the "formal" part in my opinion. We still start school and end school. :0)

You amaze me by being able to create your own curriculum. I am surely not there yet! What a blessing!

MommaLlama said...

Great post! I guess I'm kind of a mix and match homeschooler. I think the great thing about homeschooling is that you can make it work for each child. All three of my boys are different in the way they approach things, and so the way I teach them each is a little different. This year I'm using more Seton materials, but it is still a mix from different companies when it comes to grammer, religion, and art. In our home we converted one of the bedrooms to a gameroom a number of years ago, then we started schooling it doubled as a classroom. We have desks for the boys, maps, charts, a TV, and bookcase along with all their toys. But we aren't tied to that room... we use the kitchen table for art, the living room for reading, and for the moment the master bedroom for the computer (but we are about to put one in the gameroom closet for them).

I would say my main style is structured. And will be till all of the boys can read well. Once that happens I think we will break out of the mold a little and they will have a lot more input as to what and how they learn. Right now the basics are really my focus!

Anonymous said...

Your dream classroom sounds perfect!!! Maybe one day we'll get that "bonus room" we're dreaming of!

Erin said...

Hoping to post on this soon:)

Alexandra said...

Eclectic textbookers here as well. We also sneak in a little C.M. here and there. Ds is a big reader, so he almost educates himself.