How do you choose?
One of the most overwhelming decisions to make as a new homeschooling mom is what style of education best fits your family, followed closely by which curriculum to use. There are so many options and comparing one style to the next, one method to another, can leave your head spinning. Then, there is the debate between what works best for Mom vs. what will work best for the kids (a debate that gets even more complicated when you have more than one child’s needs to consider).
As I mentioned before, I have always wanted to homeschool, planned on it even. So I started looking into methods and materials several years ago. At the time, I could just go with what appealed to me. My kids were still young and had yet to demonstrate any particular learning styles that would apply. Since they weren’t old enough for ‘real’ school, we could focus on basic information (alphabet, colors, shapes, counting, etc.) and not worry too much with curriculum.
Then, my oldest started Kindergarten at a local charter school. That was not in our plan, but as a mom, the one thing I have learned is to be flexible! Things change every day, and what works now may not work next month or year. Such is the case that we found ourselves in – now we’re a homeschooling family once again, and the decision-making process hasn’t gotten easier!
I can say that before school started, my boys were blank slates in a way. Obviously, they developed learning styles and individuality by that point, but in Kindergarten, everything is still so new and the experience is so different from everything that had come before that to some extent, they’re willing to put up with a less-than-idea situation to enjoy the environment at school. I think that’s what happened with my oldest. Once the work started getting harder, he had more difficulties paying attention – the work mattered more, and his inability to focus really started to work against him.
Then, there’s my youngest. PeaGreen is a great student. He loves math and reading and has met or exceeded all the expectations that the school tested for, and he loves the environment. He enjoys being around the other kids and showing off his skills for his teachers. Everyone always tells me how polite and how cooperative he is – and part of me hates to take him out of an environment where he is doing so well. But, there is the fact that he has interests that are not being developed in the classroom. And though he is doing well, I wouldn’t necessarily equate that with thriving.
That is the bottom line – that’s what I want for my kids. I want them to thrive, to really get the most out of the educational opportunities presented to them. I also need to find a way to make sure that my needs are being met in this process. I am a very scheduled, organized person. My youngest is like me in that regard, but LittleBoyBlue has no sense of urgency or timetable that he lives by. So how do you go about finding balance?
As far as method goes, I am deeply drawn to unschooling. I love Holt’s take on the mind of a child and just the philosophy in general. It fits very well with my own personal philosophies on child-rearing and on the surface, seems like it would be a good fit. There are many “takes” on unschooling, but basically, unschooling promotes the idea that children will learn what they need to know when they are ready and want to learn it. Like with walking and feeding themselves, when there is interest and need, there is motivation. You cannot motivate someone – motivation comes from within. In my life, I have experienced that validity of this assertion.
My mom never pressured me to read. When I was little, she always had a book snuggled into a leather book cover. It was in her purse, by her bed, in the living room, by the pool – it went everywhere. For a long time, I didn’t realize that she replaced the book; I thought it was the same book. It was the constant presence of the book that piqued my interest and made me want to learn to read. It was a struggle, but by 4th grade, I had blazed through the entire Nancy Drew collection at the school library and found the beginning of a life-long love affair. Books are my passion, and all because my mom never forced me to learn to read.
However, as much as I love this method, and however much it calls to me, as a highly scheduled person I know in my heart that this method will not work for me. My kids might take to it like ducks to water, but I would feel frazzled and constantly be worrying that they were falling behind (although I suppose that in unschooling philosophy, there is no “behind”). My husband and I both are adamant that the boys have some form of secondary education…well, that’s not entirely accurate. We want that door open to them if they choose to step through it. That means that on some level, we need to be conscious of the standards and expectations for the state. That doesn’t mean that we need to start college prep now, in elementary school, but it does mean that I feel like we need to lay a good foundation. Central to that, I believe, is to instill a love of learning. So although unschooling is in my heart, we will most likely not be a pure unschooling family.
Moving right along, I am also drawn to child-led styles of learning, such a Montessori style education. There is so much beauty in childhood, and too much time spent behind a desk really interferes with the child’s ability to bask in it. I think that traditional schooling focuses so much on academic achievement that they lose sight of educating the whole person. As Winnie the Pooh says, “There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.” And if your child has any kind of learning disability, developmental delay or other factor that affects their ability to learn in the box, then his self-confidence comes under constant fire. Even a gifted child who cannot learn in a classroom full of distractions will start to believe that he is dumb if his grades are consistently low. Dr. Maria Montessori in her book, “Secret of Childhood” asserts that it is in a child’s nature to learn when allowed to take part freely in activities of their own choice within a well-ordered physical environment. Montessori method appeals to my sense of order and like unschooling, allows the child to direct his learning. This method has a great deal to do with my current project of preparing our homeschooling space. I want an inviting, child-friendly space that is warm and that they want to be in. If the past few days of me constantly reminding them, “Stay out of the room unless Mommy is with you! It’s not ready yet!” are any indication, then am well on my way to meeting that goal!
Waldorf education is another method that appeals to me deeply. As a highly scheduled person, the rhythms and seasons of Waldorf education feel right. I loved the natural rhythms and routines that my boys and I had before they started school, and it feels good to be able to connect with them in that way again. Not that school didn’t have its own rhythm, but it was one that was created for a group and left little room for individuality or flexibility. Additionally, the focus on art and building of one’s sense of connection to his own creativity wrapped up in nice, neat unity study-type lessons works for me. I used to write unity studies based on themes and literature when my kids were in preschool. It was challenging, and incorporated my kids interests in our learning. Though true Waldorf style schools are not what one would call traditionally “child-led”, that’s the feel that Waldorf style has always invoked in me.
Then there are highly regimented, hard-core styles like Well Trained Mind and Thomas Jefferson Education. As much as I love the ideas there, I don’t know that I have the confidence or the necessary self-discipline to really make such intensive styles work for our family at this time. I have The Well Trained Mind – I love this book! I want to BE that mom when I grow up.
I only learned about TJE right before LittleBoyBlue started Kindergarten, and by then, we were not planning on homeschooling, so I didn’t look very far into it. But it’s an option that I know comes highly recommended and I hear is particularly good for boys. TJE also promotes the idea that you cannot be responsible for making someone else learn. It promotes “leadership education“, and that is appealing to me. I want my kids to be leaders!
Then, you have curriculum… from boxed methods like Abeka and Sonlight, which offer everything you need – “school in a box”. You can make your own, pulling from here and there, or you can buy boxed curriculum by subject (useful when you lack confidence in a particular area).
So what’s a mom to do? How can you be sure that you’re providing the best for your children?
For us, it came down to starting with knowing what didn’t or wouldn’t work for our family and knowing what aspects of homeschooling appealed to us most. For me, I need a schedule or routine or rhythm – whatever you call it, I need a plan of some sort to follow and be organized. I know that LittleBoyBlue needs freedom to move around during lessons. Being tied to a desk will not work for him. He also needs short lessons that are engaging so that he can excel. PeaGreen needs to be able to follow his heart. He also needs his accomplishments recognized. In school he’s a good student, but is passed over because he is neither gifted nor a disruption. He needs space to shine.
My plan is to take from here and there and create our own method. We’re following Ambleside Online’s Charlotte Mason curriculum for the most part, but will tweak where necessary. Mason doesn’t favor unit studies, but I do and will use them where they fit. I don’t follow all the religious methodology that is so central to CM’s style, and so we will omit much of that in favor of our own spirituality. I do like her divisions by year instead of by grade, and so we will adopt and adapt that for our use.
That may seem like a lot of work, especially when all of these methods and materials are available already put together and ready to use. But one of the greatest benefits to homeschooling is that you can customize and pick and choose bits and pieces from everything out there to create an individual method and style that fits your needs. Just as no one school is right for every child, no one homeschooling method is going to be right for every family. Being flexible is a key component to my method. I believe in giving something a good try, but ultimately, if it doesn’t work out, then I want to remain open to the next adventure.